Gilmore's Two Extraordinary July 4th Concerts, Six Years Apart

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (or P.S. Gilmore), from Ballygar, County Galway, was an emigrant like a million others fleeing the famine in 1849. By 1872, Gilmore was Ireland's best-known face in America. Musician, Conductor and Bandmaster; he was a household name to Americans across the young country.  He led the most famous musical organization of the 19th Century called  “Gilmores Band." For his final 23 years, he had set new standards in performance never seen on the American continent. He developed an organization whose status would now be measured against the best offered by all the greatest Bands from Europe in his new conception -- the “World's Peace Jubilee” in Boston. This festival of music over 18 days was organized by Gilmore ostensibly to celebrate the end of the Franco-Prussian War and, therefore, the greatest war the Victorian age had seen. From a personal perspective, however, Gilmore wanted to test his band and that of the Marines against the Europeans. How would they measure up in this contest? Because of this, the secondary name for this great Jubilee was the "International Musical Festival."

Over 18 days, performances took place with each band competing with the best the world could offer. The great event culminated with the Great National Day, July 4th, where all participants contributed to the Independence Day celebrations with vigor and delight.  This also was one of the first times since the Franco-Prussian War that the armies of Prussia (Band of the Kaiser's Regiment) and that of the French (Band de le Garde Republicaine) met away from the battlefield. Another participant of the festival, the Band of the Grenadier Guards from England, had to get permission to “invade" America as their band was also part of the Grenadier Regiment in England.

Attended by 50,000 people inside the wonderful Coliseum, with a further 60,000 seated on the ground outside, President Grant, his cabinet, Governors, Mayors, foreign dignitaries, and persons from across the land came to hear the acclamation of American greatness created by Gilmore. The orchestra numbered 2,000 musicians with a further 22,000 in the choir.

The throngs at the 1872 World's Peace Jubilee, Boston

It is impossible to fathom the size and complexity of the day without being utterly confused with the detail, but please note this is only an excerpt from the day's program. Please also note that the four concerts began at 9:00 a.m. and finished at 12:00 a.m. (midnight).

1st Concert  (9:00 a.m.)

  1. The Star Spangled Banner -- performed by Band of the Grenadier Guards England
  2. Homage to Columbia         
  3. Tannhauser  (Wagner) -- Kaiser Franz Grenadier Guards Prussia
  4. Selection of Verdi

2nd Concert (2:00 p.m.)

  1. Star Spangled Banner -- sung by Madame Peschka Leutner
  2. Waltz -- Band of the Grenadier Guards  England
  3. Air Varie -- Band of Le Garde Republicaine France
  4. Solo for Cornet -- Emperor Franz Quartet

3rd Concert (6:00 p.m.)

  1. March "Erin" -- Irish National Band
  2. Colleen Bawn
  3. Lily of Killarney -- Irish National Band
  4. Beautiful Blue Danube -- Johann Strauss and his Viennese Orchestra
  5. Star Spangled Banner -- Madame Eminia Ruserdorff
  6. Solo for Cornet  7th Air E -Vaire  -- Matthew Arbuckle and Gilmores Band                                                                                                                                                                

4th Concert (9:00 p.m. to Midnight)   

  1. Grand Promenade Concert and Dance Festival
  2. Overture  Zampa -- Band of Le Garde Republicaine France
  3. Gems of Ireland -- Irish National Band
  4. Air Varie -- Band of Le Garde Republicaine France
  5. Waltz Kate Kearney -- Irish National Band
  6. Fantasia -- Band of Le Garde Republicaine France
  7. Quadrille "Erin go Bragh" -- Irish National Band

It is important to note that the Irish National Band that appeared at Gilmore’s insistence was hastily gathered together by his friend in Dublin, Sir Robert Prescott Stewart -- the First Professor of Music in Trinity College, Dublin. All previous reports that Gilmore threatened to cancel the concert if the Irish weren’t included are wholly untrue as the English were represented by the Grenadier Guards.

The World's Peace Jubilee, whilst a financial failure, was a musical victory from which America and Gilmore learned so much. He knew they needed to reequip, redevelop, retrain, and rehearse more in order to attain the required standards as set by the Europeans. He also learned that the Bands of the Marines were, at this stage, substandard and not fit for purpose.

For the next six years, P S Gilmore worked tirelessly. He moved to New York, and his quest for perfection never wavered. They played six days per week, often two concerts per day, and for 11 months per year sometimes having only one week off for Christmas. The grueling schedule meant that, to America and New York, Gilmore set new standards ... and the public benefitted.   He developed and collected a wonderful library of music and suggested in a few interviews from that period that his band “can now play, from memory alone, any one of 2,000 pieces.”

By 1878, like a prize-fighter,  P S Gilmore was ready -- ready to bring his organization to Europe on the first tour of the "old World" to test the talents of the “New World" and let his peers decide; ready to elevate the status of his adopted home, his "Haven of Hope," as he termed America. They set out and played in Dublin to acclaim, across the U.K. to packed houses, then into Europe through Holland, France, and onwards to Germany. Whilst in the U.K. and performing in Scotland in Aberdeen and Dundee, they received an invitation from a person requesting a private performance.  That person was Queen Victoria who was in her summer residence at Balmoral Castle. Gilmore respectfully declined because he did not wish to be late for the Great National July 4th celebrations in the Trocadero in Paris at the 1878 Paris Exposition. And when, on July 4th, he indeed played in Paris against the French and Belgians, he won the Exposition medal for America. “Le Gaulois” and “Le Figaro” newspapers sang the praises for the performances given by Gilmore’s American Representative Band of the 22nd Regiment NY. Later in Berlin, the composer Franz Abt said to Gilmore, “You have the best band in the world. You may feel satisfied of it." In being named the “Worlds Greatest Band," Gilmore had brought America onto the field of entertainment as a recognized equal for the first time ever.

The Trocadéro, site of the 1878 Exposition, Paris

Please note: The word “band" is used in this article and was the popular term of the day as the more powerful version of the feminine variation “orchestra." However, Gilmore's band was, in every sense, their version of today's symphony concert orchestra, having the range and ability equal in every way. The concerts of the day included all compositions of Europe's classical composers, including selections of various sonatas, waltzes, polkas, and the like. 

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Tags: Band Music, Fourth of July, Music, United States

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on July 4, 2014 at 5:17am

 A great article about something I'd NEVER heard of before. What an event that must have been. The sights, and especially the sounds! I love Johann Strauss' music, and that "Jubilee Waltz" he wrote especially for this celebration was something I'd never heard before today. Thanks, Jarlath! 

Comment by Kelly O'Rourke on July 5, 2014 at 4:33am

Very interesting!

Comment by Jarlath MacNamara on July 5, 2014 at 7:43am

For more info on P S Gilmore and parts of his long career please visit  . 43 years at the top of society in America he was loved by the Irish but also by Germans , Norwegian , Russian , Italians and all emigrants . In fact he brought Ireland and the Irish touch to huge areas of population that had few Irish in its midst . One of the Famine Millions  that we know little about !

Comment by Gerry Regan on July 9, 2014 at 10:04am

Jarlath, a stunning acknowledgment that American history remains rich ground for mining neglected stories of the Irish experience worldwide. I salute your work with PS, and look forward to learning more from you about his inspiring story. Did Gilmore handle the business end of his band? How was that managed?

Comment by Jarlath MacNamara on July 9, 2014 at 12:04pm

Gerry Thank you for those thoughts .Just reading about William R Grace the first Catholic Mayor of NYC a contemporary of P S Gilmore , and well known to him , born in Laois in 1832 , another of the Famine survivors , and how well he did and his company is till a quoted stock on the NYSE  . Has there been much work done on him ?  So many of the the survivors we know little of ! .  Getting the Gilmore story done and delivered however is priority and that has to be finished . Will keep you posted and thanks to you and Wild Geese for your support .


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