Circus Music!

Calliopes - 2009-09-20 17-34-00
Circus calliope wagon as seen at a circus wagon show at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in September 2009.

Inquisitive reader Roho writes: “*doot-doot-doodeedoodee-doot-doot-doooo-doot* If it’s not already on your list, I’d love to see a look into ‘Entry of the Gladiators’.”

[Ringmaster Voice] Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, step right up and guide your ears toward this blog as the circus music is about to begin! [/Ringmaster Voice]

Most folks know this tune only as “circus music” or “merry-go-round music”. It is often heard pounded out of horn ensembles, marching bands, and calliopes, usually before clowns start running around and frightening small children. However, the original piece had nothing to do with circuses.

That is a snippet of a 1897 military march by Julius Fučík (pronounced “FOOT-sheek”). It was originally titled Grande Marche Chromatique, but was later renamed Entrance of the Gladiators because Fučík had a thing for Romans. (The clip above is from a recording by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra under Erich Kunzel. You can hear the whole thing here.)

Thirteen years later, a Canadian composer named Louis-Philippe Laurendeau came along and adapted Entrance of the Gladiators for a small band and re-titled it “Thunder and Blazes”. This adaptation of the music sold widely, and was picked up by circuses and used as a “screamer march” and as music for fairground organs and calliopes.

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