Skip to main content

Circus Music: Thunder and Blazes

Image result for clown 1950
Harty the Clown, Chief Clown at Billy Smart's Circus, 1950s.




One of the best-known marches today is not really known to a lot of people as a march.  It lasts about three minutes, moving through three different movements.  It was composed in 1897 by the Czech composer Julius Fučik under the title “Grande Marche Chromatique”.  He later changed its title to “Entrance of the Gladiators”, reflecting a personal interest in the history of the Roman Empire.  Fučik was well known and well regarded in his day for the many rousing, patriotic marches he composed in his short life.  He is still remembered today as a Czech version of John Philip Sousa, and his marches are still associated with Czech patriotic feeling.

Image result for Julius Fucik
Julius Fučik, Mr. "Thunder and Blazes" himself.




Despite his well-earned fame and prominence in the past, Fučik’s “Entrance of the Gladiators” would achieve its greatest fame in North America.  In 1901, sheet music for the piece started to be published and sold in the United States.  In 1910 the Canadian composer Louis-Philippe Laurendeau arranged the march for concert bands.  Laurendeau’s new arrangement was published under the title “Thunder and Blazes”, and it would soon enjoy a popularity that neither Fučik nor Laurendeau could likely have envisioned.

“Thunder and Blazes” was mostly used as what was called a screamer march.  Screamer marches were fast-paced, light, driving music designed to get circus audiences worked up and excited.  Most screamer marches were composed from the 1890s to the 1950s.  Their quick tempos accompanied the calls of the ringmasters as the circus tents filled with animals, acrobats, stunt performers, and of course clowns.  There were many screamer marches used in circuses, but “Thunder and Blazes” somehow became a favorite for the entry of clowns.  Specifically it was the second movement of the piece that came to be thought of as “circus music”, and specifically clown music.

André Rieu & his Johann Strauss Orchestra make a grand entrance to "Thunder and Blazes".  Give it a listen and try not to think of clowns!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Star-Spangled Banner: The Original Lyrics

If you’re an American (and quite possibly even if you’re not), you’ve certainly heard the tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven” numerous times.  It’s a stirring melody, and can often sound very proud, and if someone asked you to hum a few bars, you probably could do a creditable job of it, even if you have no musical ability at all.  The tune is that familiar.  Of course, it has another name that you probably know better: “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

But the song’s first name was “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  The song asserts that Anacreon is in heaven, right from the first line.  Whether Anacreon actually is in heaven, I’ll take no position on, but he most certainly is dead.  Anacreon was a Greek poet who lived from circa 582 BCE to 485 BCE, which is a remarkably advanced age for the times.  Anacreon was celebrated for his songs about drinking and love and having a good time.  Maybe not the weightiest of literature, but even the most serious poets and thinkers need to take a break now and …

The Rube Goldberg Device

Max and Hannah Goldberg wanted a bright, secure future for their son Reuben.  Max was the police and fire commissioner for the city of San Francisco in the late 19th century, but rather than civil service, he saw his son Reuben’s future was probably better suited for engineering.  Reuben had shown early talent for drawing, and his parents started paying for professional art lessons when he was eleven, which would certainly be useful for a career as an engineer.  Reuben graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1904 with a degree in Engineering, and went right to work for the San Francisco Water and Sewers Department.  That degree paid off promptly, but just how much it would be worth in the end, no one could even guess.

Reuben was restless, and after six months, he resigned his job with Water and Sewers to take another one with the San Francisco Chronicle.  The Chronicle needed a cartoonist, and Reuben was happy with the work, drawing sports cartoons for the paper.  …