The Grand Peace Jubilee


(From "Classical Music in America - A History of Its Rise and Fall" by Joseph Horowitz)



"Let us Have Peace"

A Great National Peace Jubilee!

June 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19, 1869




The Reverend Edward Everett Hale said a prayer. The mayor of Boston proclaimed, "Let the gladsome music resound." There followed an Address on the Restoration of Peace and Union by the Honorable Alexander H. Rice, a speech lasting some forty-five minutes. Many in the vast Temple of Peace could not possibly have heard a word. And yet the quality of attention was intense and the applause frequent. Rice's oration sealed the occasion with its synthesis of patriotism, religion, and art. It ended as follows:


The imagination aspires to grasp, but fails in the effort to conceive of the possible greatness of a free and united people occupying a territory almost boundless in geographical extent, diversified in climate and pro­ductions, and rich in the nameless treasures of Nature. . . .


Let the multitudinous harmonies of these days of Jubilee symbolize a real unity of friendship and brotherhood which shall be universal and unending. We bid you Godspeed in a new career of honors and useful­ness; and we invoke for our beloved and common country that right­eousness . . . which is able to keep the foundations of the Republic secure, until the final triumph of Peace and Virtue on the earth can be celebrated only in that great Jubilee of the "innumerable company" whose hallelujahs shall roll in seraphic sweetness with the ages through the eternal year.


Two concertmasters - Carl Rosa and Ole Bull, of whom the latter was as famous as any violinist known in the United States - strode from the rear of the orchestra through acres of instruments, chairs, and bodies. Then came the conductor, Patrick Gilmore: the "projector" of the Jubilee, realizing the great effort of his life. He praised God and proclaimed a new era of brotherly love.


The peal of the great organ, specially built for the occasion, signaled the singers to rise. Gilmore's baton descended and all commenced Luther's chorale "A Strong Castle Is Our Lord" (today known as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"). This first taste of music in the great space was startlingly soft. The hall had been pronounced good for sound because a single violin could be heard in its farthest corners. But, as all recognized at once, two voices pene­trated no farther than one, and ten thousand voices did not magnify in vol­ume what one thousand might have produced. The singers tended to lag behind the orchestra. The farthest voices entered later than the nearest. And yet these imperfections were swallowed up in a sublimely ponderous mass of sound. If not very loud, the chorale was grand, solemn, and full. It was answered by an equivalent ovation - the gentlemen applauding, the ladies waving white handkerchiefs.


Next came Wagner's Tannhauser Overture, performed by a "select orches­tra" of six hundred under another baton, then a Mozart "Gloria," then the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria" with the stately Euphrosyne Parepa-Rosa, whose soprano penetrated the building-albeit in miniature, like a picture seen through the wrong end of someone's opera glasses.


Closing the first half was the national air: the "Star-Spangled Banner," begun by twenty-five hundred basses in unison. An equal number of tenors assayed" And the rocket's red glare." The full chorus of ten thousand sang:


Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free

And the home of the brave!


The second verse was begun by sopranos and altos in duet. The third was reinforced by organ, drum corps, bells, and-just outside the hall-cannon. The audience demanded, and received, a repeat performance.


After intermission, the concert continued with an American hymn, Rossini's William 'Tell Overture and the "Inflammatus" from his Stabat Mater (for which Madame Parepa-Rosa returned), the Coronation March from Meyerbeer's Le prophete, and the afternoon's piece de resistance: the Anvil Cho­rus from Verdi's II trovatore, with drum corps, bells, cannon, and a hundred anvils. Filing in two by two, one hundred helmeted, red-shirted Boston fire­men strode to the stage, each shouldering a blacksmith's hammer. Then, in two rows facing the auditors, they struck on cue: right, left, right, left. The cannon, in two batteries, ignited on the first beat of every measure. Electric signals, sent from a small table on the stage, ensured flawless synchronization. The enthusiasm of the crowd was frantic - fans, hats, parasols, even babies were waved aloft. The firemen marched out - and back in again, to encore the entire number. "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" concluded the program. The audi­ence joined in the singing of the final stanza.


The four remaining concerts of the Jubilee attracted audiences as large as twenty thousand. The visiting dignitaries included President Ulysses S. Grant. The repertoire favored oratorio arias and choruses by Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. There were also two movements apiece from Beethoven's Fifth and Schubert's "Great" C major Symphony. The Anvil Chorus had to be repeated. The final concert, on Saturday, June 19, featured six thousand Boston schoolchildren whose silvery voices none could resist. The following day, an extra "sacred" concert encored some of the most successful numbers of the five days. There followed a benefit concert for Patrick Gilmore, for which two-thirds of the festival's singers and instrumentalists donated their services; twelve thousand attended, for a profit of $32,000. The festival proper netted $7,000: $290,000 minus $283,000 in expenditures. Gilmore pocketed all $39,000 - to which, everyone agreed, he was eminently entitled.


The Peace Jubilee was a triumph for the city of Boston - its choral tradi­tion, distinctive to New England; its musical leaders, who rehearsed and con­ducted the performers; its public schools, which systematically taught singing. And it was a mighty national influence. Taking stock, the New York "Tribune acknowledged many "comical aspects" attendant to the grandiose plan, yet pronounced the result "a pretty serious affair, a magnificent gathering of enthusiasm" certain to "be felt by a class of persons whom the ordinary con­cert does not reach, because they never go to it." The New York Sun took an even bigger view: "The largest gathering of singers and players ever brought together has just been held in the United States. The enterprise has been con­ceived and executed on a scale in keeping with the vastness of the country, . . . and with the expedition and fearlessness that characterize all our attempts in untried fields of effort." It offered proof that "our people can think of some­thing beyond mechanical inventions and the almighty dollar." It was a "recog­nition of American art."