You know how when you go to circuses (maybe in the past, as most circuses now tour around the world) or carnivals, there’s this one song that I’m pretty sure most of us have heard before, that nearly all of us would associate with the circus itself. It is surprising to know that circus music was originally made for the soldiers to march on. A big career jump, if you ask me.

Julius Fučík, The Bandmaster

Fučík is a Czech composer and conductor of military bands. He learned how to play bassoon, violin, and percussion instruments as a student. He was also mentored by Antonín Dvořák, a world-known composer.

In 1891, he became part of the 49th Austro-Hungarian Regiment, doing what he loved as a musician. Shortly after, he left to become a bassoonist at a German theatre and then as the conductor of the Danica Choir in Croatia. He rejoined the army in 1897, this time as the bandmaster for the 86th Infantry Regiment, and wrote his piece titled “Grande Marche Chromatique,” which was later renamed “Einzug der Gladiatoren” (Entrance of the Gladiators) influenced by his love for Roman history.

So how did this glorious music become associated with clowns and circuses?

Rearranged by Laurendeau

Then came Canadian composer and bandmaster Louis-Phillipe Laurendeau, who rearranged the “Entrance of the Gladiators” for an American wind band a few years after Fučík composed it. At that same time, Circus troupes like Barnum & Bailey Circus and Ringling Brothers Circus were becoming a thing in the US. The song became a popular opening march to introduce clowns for circuses, intended to excite the audience with its lively, faster tempo. It became so associated with circuses that military bands dropped it from their list of marching songs and abandoned it to these entertainment companies entirely. This faster tempo version became known as “Under The Big Top.” Had musicians owned the rights to play their songs in public, rather than make their money just selling copies of the song’s notes on paper, Fucik and Laurendeau would have made bank since it was in use played all over the world for more than 100 years. Making Entrance of the Gladiators and the remix one of the most played songs in history. Although nothing can touch Disney’s “It’s a Small, Small World” which has looped something like 50 million times since it was first played.

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