Julius Fucik is what happens when you cross Johann Strauss, John Philip Sousa and this weatherman’s reaction to thunder during a snowstorm. Many people are familiar with the Sousa portion of the comparison: Fucik wrote quite possibly the most famous march in the history of the universe (Entrance of the Gladiators, aka Thunder and Blazes, aka that song you hear every time you have the nightmare with the clown carrying a pick-axe), and another march (Florentiner) that gets played pretty regularly. He studied composition with Dvorak, was a gifted bassoon player (he even wrote a piece featuring bassoon called “The Old Grumbler”), and founded his own music publishing company. He was a military bandmaster, composer, arranger, and possessed one of the all-time great mustaches.
But he also wrote a number of orchestral works. The heavy stuff has been forgotten (large-scale symphonic works, a Requiem, a Mass), but the light stuff remains, however fleetingly; Fucik composed a number of polkas and concert waltzes. Performances of these works are few and far between, only showing up when orchestras do some kind of European light music affair with other, less famous, Strausses, Lehar, Kalman, etc. and even then they rarely get as far as Fucik.
Perhaps that’s with good reason. Light classics ride a roller coaster of popularity: they were HUGE from the 20’s through the 60’s, with the repertoire being filled by people like Albert Ketelby, Eric Coates, Ernest Tomlinson, and Robert Farnon. They lost their cool for 30 years when seaside resorts, theaters, hotels and the like disbanded their groups in favor of recordings, came back in the last 15 years, and now seem to have lost a LITTLE bit of that cool again unless it’s New Year’s Eve. I wish I was older…the thought of staying in a spa resort that played concert waltzes on the beach sounds pretty appealing.
All that notwithstanding, it’s a fun little corner of the “classical” music world. It’s not deep, and it may not carry you on an emotional journey like Beethoven or Mahler, but it’s flashy, exciting music, and that can be a damn good time, especially during the dog days of Winter, which we are currently embroiled in (let the cries of Northern Hemisphere bias rain down upon me!).
The Winter Storm Waltz is a very nice 12-minute microcosm of Winter: alternating episodes of intensity (the utter destruction that ice and snow can cause) and rapt calm (sitting near a fireplace with loved ones watching people outside your triple-pane windows struggle with the utter destruction that ice and snow can cause). The main waltz theme is one of the many eminently whistlable tunes I get stuck in my head on occasion, equally suited to a peaceful statement like it receives the first time you hear it or a stormier account like it appears later. It’s just a great way to kill some time when you’re holed up on a frigid February night, out of methamphetamines, not sufficiently “with it” enough to follow one of the Jason Bourne movies, fearful you’re getting a cold, and not wanting to brush your teeth just yet.