Julius Fučík: Entrance of the Gladiators

Context

Julius Fučík was born in Prague in 1872, and this was a time where Prague was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Differently to many other composers of the time, Fučík began to learn to play the bassoon and percussion at an early age. As he began delving into composition, he studied under the popular Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák. In 1891, Fučík joined the Austro-Hungarian Regiment as a military musician. Fučík served his Regiment for 3 years, until he left and took a place as a bassoonist at the German Theatre in Prague. In 1897 he rejoined the army, this time based in Sarajevo. It was at this time where he composed his most famous piece, Einzug der Gladiatoren (‘Entrance of the Gladiators’).

In 1900, the band that Fučík was playing in was moved to Budapest, and this allowed the composer to premiere more of his works with different ensembles. The year 1910 saw Fučík move back to Bohemia where he became the bandmaster of the 92nd Infantry Regiment in Theresienstadt. This particular band was one of the best in Europe, so Fučík went on tour often, giving concerts in Berlin, Prague and Hamburg. Fučík was known at this point as a very successful bandmaster and composer, with his works being well-known within the band circles. Fučík died in 1916, aged 44.

 

The Music

Entrance of the Gladiators was composed in 1897, and it was initially entitled Grande Marche Chromatique, which reflected the extensive use of chromatic scales. However, Fučík decided to change this due to his personal interest in the Roman Empire. In 1901, Canadian composer Louis-Philippe Laurendeau took the military march and published a version for small band called Thunder and Blazes. After this, the piece became very popular with it being known as a screamer march (a march used in a circus to get the audience upbeat and hyped within a show. Therefore they are played at a faster tempo than usual marches and the usually are very complex). The work was then used in context, usually to introduce clowns and this image has stuck until the current day.

The piece can be divided into three sections:

I. Trumpet-dominated melody

II. lower brass chromatic scales

III. Trio section

The march typically lasts about 3 minutes, although this really does differ with how fast the march is taken! For this blog I will be looking into the small band arrangement by Laurendeau.

The march begins with a fanfare, led by the trumpets. The winds play a descending chromatic scale in between. This leads into the famous chromatic melody, which is led by the trumpets. Assuming this is the main section of the work, this would be when the clowns would come out of the circus tent to begin the show.

The second section is led by a new theme by the lower brass, most namely trombones and tuba. The trumpets and winds play a quaver motif to accompany this. After this section is repeated, the trio section then begins. The trio is slightly slower and has a less ‘screamer march’ feel to the sound. This leads us back to a recapitulation section where we hear the second lower brass theme played by the whole ensemble. The tempo fluctuates here at points, which slowly gets faster to reach the climax at the end of the march. The overall atmosphere created by this work is upbeat and full of comical fun!

Happy Reading!

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