Twenty pianists at ten pianos performed a program of four-hand duet pieces. In the history of musical entertainment, the tradition was raised to a new level after the end of Civil War in America.
On July 10th, 1872, Johann Strauss Jr conquered New York. Conducting an orchestra of over 1,000 musicians at Manhattan’s Academy of Music at the invitation of bandmaster Patrick Gilmore, his performance of “Blue Danube” was received with waves of wild enthusiasm. Audiences became gripped by orchestral spectaculars.
Monsters & Masses
French conductor Louis Jullien was born at Sisteron in April 1812, the son of a military bandsman. In 1833 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, but left early in 1836 to pursue a career in more popular forms of music. By 1838 he directed an orchestra at the Jardin Turc (Turkish Garden) where he made his name by concocting a quadrille based on tunes from Meyerbeer’s popular opera Les Huguenots accompanied by gas flares, alarm bells, and musketry.
In 1839 he fled to England to escape his creditors and soon monopolized the London concert scene with an eclectic choice of programs. Jullien effectively created the promenade concert. At the first of his “Concerts monstres,” in celebration of Queen Victoria’s accession, some 12,000 people sang “God Save the Queen” with each bar punctuated by cannon shots.
In 1853, he ventured to cross to New York for a six-month concert tour bringing twenty-seven instrumentalists with him to which he added sixty local musicians. Promoted as “Monster Concerts for the Masses,” he started the series at Castle Garden in August 1853. Returning to New York in May 1854 he gave a series of farewell concerts which culminated in a “Grand Musical Congress” at the Crystal Palace which was managed by P.T. Barnum and included 1,500 performers.
To his critics Jullien was a charlatan, but audiences flocked to see his jeweled baton in action. He left a memory of musical showmanship that, in due time, would be outclassed by an Irish immigrant who shared a military background with his French predecessor.
Having settled in Boston in 1848, he was in charge of the Salem Band that performed at the inauguration of President James Buchanan. At the outset of Civil War, Patrick enlisted with the 24th Massachusetts Infantry serving as a stretcher-bearer and musician.
Two years after the capitulation of New Orleans to Union forces in 1862, a memorable “Promenade Concert” took place at the French Opera House. Gilmore conducted a brass band of thirty-two African-Americans in support of Michael Hahn’s campaign to become the first post-war Governor of Louisiana. All classes and races were invited to the party. It was here that Gilmore premiered his composition “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
Hahn’s inauguration concert took place in March 4th, 1864, on Lafayette Square. For that event, Gilmore assembled a brass band of 500 musicians, a choir of 10,000 voices, fifty cannons, and four regiments of infantry who accompanied the music by firing their rifles.
In June 1869 he organized the National Peace Jubilee. More than 11,000 performers participated in a five day celebration to commemorate the end of Civil War. Oliver Wendell Holmes was commissioned to write a hymn to peace (“Angel of Peace”) which was performed on the opening day at which President Ulysses Grant and his cabinet were in attendance.
At the same time and on the other side of the world, a virtuoso musician was attracting a keen following in Vienna. The son of an inn keeper, Johann Strauss the Elder was born and (musically) bred in Vienna. From 1830 onward he and his orchestra mesmerized a mixed audience with his fiddling of waltzes, polkas, and gallops.
Amongst his devotees were many new arrivals from Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and elsewhere. These immigrants brought with them their own musical traditions and an addiction to the violin. Strauss’s ebullience, his “divine madness,” swept them off their feet. Branded the “Austrian Napoleon” by his followers, Strauss sparked the waltz craze in Vienna and beyond.
Not long after he had abandoned his family for a young seamstress, his teenage son Johann Strauss Jr formed his own band. Father and son found themselves in competition with one another. The younger Strauss quickly gained a large following.
While in August 1848 his Royalist father conducted the premiere of his triumphal “Radetzky March,” Strauss Jr became the voice of youth. His marches and dances were acclaimed in rebellious student circles. Reactionary Vienna became wary about the young composer’s popularity. His “songs from the barricades” (Barrikaden-Lieder op. 52: later renamed Freiheits-Lieder or “songs of freedom”) were banned by the authorities.
When his father died in September 1849, Strauss Jr merged their ensembles and his career continued to soar. His passionate fiddling drove followers into a musical frenzy. Critics accused Strauss of degrading Vienna’s moral standards. For the younger generation, seeking release from sexual constraint, he was a liberator. They called him the Waltz King. In the years that followed he became Europe’s most sought after performer.
His appearance at the 1867 Paris World Exhibition was wildly celebrated. He conquered London by contributing to the “Prom” concerts. His composition “An der schönen, blauen Donau” (Blue Danube) became a global hit. America took note of the master fiddler. Strauss would eventually make the journey across the Atlantic – but not without hesitation.
War & Peace
The year was 1872. In Europe, Germany had defeated Austria and crushed France. Globally, war was spreading. Seven years since the end of Civil War, an American movement sprang up that staged festivals to promote world peace. These events attracted big names.
When Patrick Gilmore set out to organize the World’s Peace Jubilee in Boston, calls went out to Giuseppe Verdi and Hans von Bülow. Both accepted the invitation. Participating bands included the French Garde Républicaine, the Prussian Kaiser Franz Grenadier Regiment, the National Band of Dublin, and the British Royal Grenadier Guards.
The surprise presence was that of Johann Strauss Jr who had agreed to bring his orchestra to Boston and New York to make his American debut with a series of concerts. His hatred of travel was well documented. A massive financial contract brushed aside his anxieties.
With such talent arriving from Europe, the Boston promoters went all out. They built a wooden hall that held an audience of 100,000 and offered space to a ‘Grand Chorus’ of 20,000 singers and musicians. The festival took place over a period of eighteen days. Strauss was billed as a superstar.
The packed opening concert on June 17th, 1872, created a sensation. Conducting the “Blue Danube” with “violin, bow, feet, head, and body,” Strauss’s performance was cheered to the rafters. After fourteen concerts in Boston (including one mega concert before an audience of 50,000) and three more in New York, he was bombarded with concert invitations but chose to return to Vienna.
Having succeeded in organizing these monster concerts, Gilmore moved to New York to become bandmaster of the 22nd Regiment. In 1876 he leased an arena which he named Gilmore’s Gardens, using the venue for concerts and shows. The site was later renamed Madison Square Garden. In 1886, he led the festivities surrounding the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Two years later he started the tradition of seeing in the New Year at Times Square.
When Gilmore died in 1892 an estimated 500,000 mourners lined Fifth Avenue for his funeral at St Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan. He was buried in Cavalry Cemetery, Queens, New York City.
Although phrases such as mass media and mass entertainment did not emerge until the 1920s, the development towards a widening of scale in these spheres had started much earlier. A rising middle class had time and money at its disposal. A literate audience demanded to express itself. The production of pianos and the printing of sheet music exploded in Europe and the United States. The call for public entertainment and cultural participation were telling indicators of a broadening interest in the arts.
Musical extravaganzas gained popularity with concertgoers compelling composers to push further the limits of musical form. Orchestras expanded, instrumentation and acoustics improved, new venues were opened. Virtuosi dazzled audiences with performances, elevating the musician’s status from modest servant to towering genius. Emerging recording technologies enhanced the presence and valuation of music in society.
The term “showmanship” came into circulation in the late 1850s. It is no coincidence that the word emerged during the period that monster concerts came into fashion – mass performances for mass audiences. Jullien and Gilmore installed military precision in instrumental organization; Strauss added the spice of exuberant virtuosity to the mix. The monster concerts in which these musicians took part set new standards of aptitude.
The fine balance between discipline of orchestration and rapture of performance would become a hallmark of Broadway’s musical entertainment.
Illustrations, from above: the 4,000 seat Academy of Music on the corner of East 14th Street, Manhattan; Conductor Louis-Antoine Jullien in action (The New York Public Library for the performing Arts); inauguration of Michael Hahn on Lafayette Square, New Orleans, on March 4, 1864; copper engraving of Johann Strauss’s Der grosse Galop (1839) by Andreas Geiger; National Peace Jubilee flier; World’s Peace Jubilee building, Back Bay, Boston, 1872; Gilmore’s gravestone at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York City; and Blue Danube, op. 34, Philadelphia, by Johann Strauss Jr Eclipse Publications, [n.d.].