Musically Inclined looks at artists, songs, albums and scores across musical genres to see their impact on popular culture
Many names are immortalized in history; good, bad and sometimes a combination of both. Unfortunately, there are some names that deserve to be immortalized and have not while others that do not deserve the honor have achieved it anyway.
September 25th will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Julius Fucik, but if you don’t recognize his name don’t worry you’re certainly not the only one. Of the list of names of exceptional people that have eluded global immortality that of Julius Fucik ranks highly. So who was this man and why has universal fame dodged him? The former is a pleasure to answer while the latter remains ruefully unclear.
A composer and conductor of military marches and bands, Julius Fucik wasn’t just any other musician but a prolific fountain of wondrous melodies. With a catalogue of at least some 400, compositions his output ranged from marches to waltzes and polkas and a bevy of cultural songs of his native Czech homeland. Indeed today the Czech Republic is perhaps the only true place where he remains a household name, where he is often labeled as the “Bohemian Sousa” (a reference to John Philip Sousa, another grand march composer who is thankfully internationally renowned). While his music is popular with Czechs and a few others particularly in Eastern Europe, his name has been largely ignored in the Western world and seldom to be found in many discussions of notable musicians. Yet what is most noteworthy of Fucik is not so much the amount of his output but the enduring quality and innate musicality of his compositions. If his hundreds of scores aren’t enough to garner him more attention, then he should at least be recognized for one very special piece of music. Indeed it’s a tune everyone has heard and perhaps even hummed before and an undeniably iconic musical masterpiece.
If you’ve ever been to the circus or seen depictions of it on film and television then no doubt you are familiar with “Entrance of the Gladiators”, or as some call it “Thunder and Blazes” (above).
the theme of clowns, acrobats, and ferocious animals; ironically this wonderful march composed in 1897 by Fucik had no attachment to the touring circus scene at all. Noteworthy for its use of the chromatic scale Fucik bestowed the gladiator moniker as a title because of a personal interest in Ancient Rome. When Canadian band master Louis-Phillippe Laurendeau presented an arrangement of the piece in North America it somehow began to be used as an accompaniment for touring troupes and performers and by the mid 20thcentury had officially stuck as the definitive circus theme. It is indeed most curious then that not only is the original title of the piece often forgotten, but its composer is seldom known at all especially by North American crowds who love the music dearly. And so with “Entrance of the Gladiators” Julius Fucik did indeed achieve immortality, albeit a rather anonymous one.
So why is it that outside of Eastern Europe and especially in North America the name of Julius Fucik has remained so obscure? His premature death along with its timing may certainly offer one explanation; with the outbreak of World War I Fucik’s musical career (along with that of many others) suffered greatly and his fortunes, health and creative output were strained. With the future of Europe and the Austro-Hungarian Empire uncertain, Fucik’s death on September 25th, 1916 at just age 44 went largely unnoticed amongst the continuous turmoil. While he left an incredible body of work including such marvels as “The Florentiner March (above), “The Bear with the Sore Head” (below) and “Hercegovac March” history has largely forgotten this greatly talented man of music. Though his name did find a small resurgence in the Czech Republic and other European music circles, and “Entrance of the Gladiators” found lasting fame in North America, he remains largely an unknown figure.
With the 100th anniversary of his death upon us, it is worthy to commemorate a person whose musical gifts have enriched our ears. Rather perhaps we should not commemorate but instead, begin celebrating the music of Julius Fucik; a celebration that has undoubtedly been late. And so whether it’s any of his numerous marches, waltzes or polkas or everyone’s favorite circus tune Fucik’s music has proven it has a place even 100 years later. The next time you attend a circus performance then think not only of the clowns and acrobats but of the man whose fame has eluded him but has always been ready to take its well-deserved recognition.