The Circus’s Classical Music Connection
Think of the circus. The big top. The clowns. The elephants. The trapeze artists. The high wire. The jugglers. The aroma of hay, sawdust and popcorn.
Now close your eyes and think not just about the sights, but also about the sounds. The music. What do you hear? A very familiar, yet very unfamiliar tune.
Nine times out of 10 when you close your eyes and think about the music of the circus, the first song that comes to mind is, Opus 68 composed by Julius Arnost Wilhelm Fučík (1872-1916). He is the father of the most famous circus screamer of them all.
What is a Screamer?
What is a screamer? A screamer is the name of a circus march. This march is unlike a military march because of its fast tempo and upbeat style. The screamer was intended to put circus audiences in a fervor. To stir them up. To get them excited about the routine, the spectacle, which was unfolding before their eyes underneath the big top.
Julius Fučík was a Czech composer born in Prague. As a young student of music, he studied bassoon, violin and composition at a musical conservatory. A classmate, and friend, of Fučík’s while studying in Prague was, Antonín Leopold Dvořák, also a celebrated and accomplished Czech composer.
Fučík spent most of his professional life as the bandmaster of military brass bands. He was a prolific composer, creating nearly 400 various marches, polkas and waltzes. However, today, Fučík is almost exclusively remembered for his marches. In fact, Fučík’s musical legacy stands because of one work: Opus 68.
Opus 68, or as it is more popularly known: The Entrance of the Gladiators (the work is also known as, Thunder and Blazes) is arguably Fučík’s most famous work, though many of the composer’s other works are still widely played in the Czech Republic as patriotic music. This famous march, Opus 68, is almost universally recognized as one of the, if not actually the, most popular musical circus theme.
The theme was composed in 1897, when Fučík joined the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s army as the bandmaster of the 86th Infantry Regiment. It is speculated that it was Fučík’s affinity with the history of the Roman Empire, especially that of the Circus Maximus, which led Fučík to title his work, Einzung der Gladiatoren (Entrance of the Gladiators).
Another, though not quite so popular, work that is widely played under big tops by windjammers by Fučík is his Opus 214: Florentiner Marsch.
Today, taking an entire band of musicians on the road is no longer practical. The tradition of live music has been replaced by digital music via a laptop computer, assisted by a real live drummer.
Now, finally, whenever someone mentions The Carson & Barnes Circus or the circus in general and you immediately imagine hundreds of clowns pouring out of some old, run-down, jalopy in the center ring and a tune starts playing automatically as background, as though the Fonz just jump-started a jukebox in your head, now you know that familiar, yet unfamiliar tune, that probably will be playing on loop in your subconscious throughout the day has a name: The Entrance of the Gladiators.