Learn more about Julius Fucik
Sometimes known as the “Bohemian Sousa” for his work with military bands, Julius Ernest Wilhelm Fucik (July 18, 1872 – September 25, 1916) was a Czech conductor and composer, the creator of over 400 marches, polkas, and waltzes. His marches are regularly performed as patriotic music in the Czech Republic, but his worldwide reputation rests primarily on two works, “The Florentiner March” and the “Entrance of the Gladiators” (Vjezd gladiatoru). The former piece is popular across Europe, while the latter –often performed as “Thunder and Blazes”– is widely recognized as one of the most popular themes for circus clowns.
Fucik was born in Prague and studied music at that city’s conservatory. He learned to play violin with Antonin Bennewitz and the bassoon with Ludwig Milde. He also practiced various percussion instruments. His composition teacher was Antonin Dvorak.
In 1891, Fucik joined the 49th Austro-Hungarian Regiment as a military musician. He was initially stationed in Krems by the Danube, where he played under the conductorship of Josef Wagner, the so-called “Austrian March King.” In 1894, he left the army and assumed a position as second bassoonist at the German Theatre in Prague. In 1895 he took up the conductorship of the Danica Choir in the Croatian city of Sisak. During this time, he composed several pieces of chamber music, mostly for clarinet and bassoon.
Fucik rejoined the army in 1897 as the bandmaster for the 86th Infantry Regiment, which was based in Sarajevo. That same year, he wrote his most famous piece, the “Entrance of the Gladiators.” This work was originally titled “Grande Marche Chromatique,” but Fucik’s interest in Roman history led him to rename it as he did. A small band under the direction of Canadian composer Louis-Phillipe Laurendeau performed the piece in 1910 under the title “Thunder and Blazes.” Laurendeau’s arrangement of the piece is the most familiar: it is known worldwide as the song to which circus clowns perform.
In 1900, Fucik’s band relocated to Budapest. There, Fucik found that eight regimental bands were available to play his compositions. With more musicians at his disposal, he started to experiment with transcriptions of orchestral works.
Fucik moved again in 1910: he returned to Bohemia as the bandmaster of the 92nd Infantry Regiment in Theresienstadt. The band enjoyed one of the best reputations in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and when Fucik toured with them, his concerts in Prague and Berlin attracted audiences of over 10,000 people.
In 1913, Fucik settled in Berlin and started his own band, the Prager Tonkunstler-Orchester. He also opened a music publishing company, Tempo Verlag, to market his compositions. With the outbreak of World War I, his fortunes began to wane: his business failed because of the economic disruption caused by the conflict, and his health suffered. He died in Berlin at the age of 44, two years before the war’s end. He was survived by, among others, his brother, the opera singer and bass player Karel Fucik, and his nephew, the journalist Julius Fucik, who was later to meet a sad fate of his own, as a victim of the Third Reich.
Fucik is buried in Vinohrady Cemetery in Prague.