A tale of two connected July 4th celebrations, 6 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 organisation 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 organisation 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 organised 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 vigour 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 were 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 days 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.)
2nd Concert (2:00 p.m.)
3rd Concert (6:00 p.m.)
4th Concert (9:00 p.m. to Midnight)
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 gruelling 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 organisation 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 recognised 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, Gilmores band was, in every sense, their version of todays 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.