An Entertaining and Historic Summer: Band Music and the Portsmouth Peace Treaty of 1905

Notes by Richard C. Spicer


The Treaty of Portsmouth -- The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, fought between Russia and Japan in Korea, Manchuria and the Sea of Japan, was history’s first modern war. With the largest land and sea battles ever fought between two nations, the war is now known as “World War Zero” for the modern weapons employed, huge armies and navies engaged and its effect on European colonialism and the international balance of power. President Theodore Roosevelt’s adroit diplomacy convinced Japan and Russia to negotiate a treaty at a neutral location in the United States. Roosevelt’s choice was Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with its secure U.S. Naval Shipyard, eager state and local government officials and hospitable local community. With the U.S. Navy and the Governor of New Hampshire as the official hosts, the delegations from Japan and Russia negotiated in Portsmouth in August and September of 1905. The negotiations were supported by President Roosevelt’s back-channel diplomacy and the local community’s social events that fostered good will among the Russian and Japanese negotiators in a process now known as multi-track diplomacy. Negotiations culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth on September 5, 1905. On December 10, 1906, Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomacy in securing an end to the war.


In 1905 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, “an uncommon commitment to peace became a common virtue.” From the diplomats’ arrival on August 8th, 1905 through their departure on September 6th, local citizens played a prominent and unprecedented role alongside the official national, state and local government and U.S. Navy hosts, in creating an atmosphere for peacemaking, helping to host the foreign visitors in a spirit of friendship, gracious hospitality and nonpartisan support.


After the Treaty was signed, a tradition of commemorating the historic world event began in Portsmouth and neighboring communities. In September 1906, ceremonies at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard focused on the placement of a commemorative plaque on Building 86 where the Treaty negotiations had taken place. The following year, the City of Portsmouth held a grand, three-day celebration. Subsequent years brought other remembrances, leading to the summer-long Centennial celebrations of 2005. This concert continues that tradition, and honors the spirit of the Treaty summer of 1905.


Music accompanied all, of course, as entertainment, as ceremonial element, and as commemorative medium; and because this was the heyday of the concert band—every town, every company, every military entity and outpost had one—band concerts and compositions necessarily played a prominent role in this history. This concert brings to life some of the finest selections of the band music heard in many related concerts that took place in Portsmouth between 1905 and 1907. What is perhaps even more significant about this music is its insignificance, in a way—for this concert repertoire was the commonplace, popular music of the day. A point of this program, then, is to demonstrate the pervasiveness of musical culture in America one hundred years ago, such that when an important event like the negotiation of an international treaty occurred, music quickly surrounded, supported, took advantage of, helped define, became forever an integral part of and thus transformed the event itself.  Remembering the event afterwards without that music is not impossible but certainly lacks a vital dimension that once had given additional shape. These notes elaborate further upon the connection between band music and the Portsmouth Peace Treaty, creating context with respect to contemporary Portsmouth history in the summer of 1905, providing the further details regarding the prominent role played by the bands here in 1905-1907, and outlining the process we have followed to translate the history of band activity a century ago into the dynamic performance of this concert.


Setting the Scene -- Portsmouth did not lack for news and entertainment during the summer of 1905. The town had already made history on July 22nd when engineers used fifty tons of dynamite to blow up Henderson’s Point, a navigational obstruction near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, thereby staging the largest explosion ever seen anywhere. A week before that, an impressive entourage of automobilists arrived at Hotel Wentworth. taking part in an American Automobile Association racing tour from New York to the White Mountains and back, in competition for the coveted Charles J. Glidden trophy. The natural world repeatedly offered its own interest in the summer of 1905, too. At Short Sands in mid-July, a large black fish terrified bathers as it swam towards shore, rose, and dove like a sea monster. Later in the season, in early September, beach-goers at Kittery Point observed a strange brilliant white light, rising from the sand to a height of about six inches, accompanied at the same time by a sulphurous odor—attributed by many as a strong earthquake like the one that had rumbled through Portsmouth on August 30th. Earlier that morning, daybreak had featured a partial eclipse of the sun, too, viewed by motivated early risers with a smoked glass shield.


For those wishing more predictable, traditional forms of entertainment, however, there remained obvious alternative choices. The circus came to town in early June in the form of Hargreave’s Big Combined Shows (Circus, Menagerie, and Hippodrome), with 500 men, women and horses, including America’s foremost bareback rider, and the second largest living elephant in captivity.  The usual vaudeville acts visited the Music Hall, too, but everyone awaited the late-August arrival of the nation’s largest variety show—Richard’s and Pringle’s Famous Georgia Minstrels—which pulled into town finally in a special train of fifty palatial Pullman cars filled with comedians, singers, dancers, acrobats and aerialists, and brass band and drum corps musicians.  It was the hit of the summer—and it undoubtedly featured the blackface minstrelsy that was all the rage in this country for more than a century.  Four of the Russian envoys, in fact, were strolling about town on the morning of the show, purchasing souvenir postcards, when a minstrel band passed by to advertise the performance; wondering at first what this strangest of scenes was all about, the Russians, upon explanation, were impressed to observe that “the Americans have a great eye for business.”  Local officials invited an even larger Russian delegation to attend the show that night, where they occupied a block of the best seats in a nearly full house and were much observed by all; never having witnessed a minstrel show before, they “seemed delighted at the performance, cheering at times lustily.”


Even more prevalent than the minstrel show as a form of popular entertainment was the band, and one thinks immediately of John Philip Sousa, who was then in his heyday with his professional touring ensemble and most famous of all bands. Sousa, in fact, visited Portsmouth several times during his career, loved the town, and performed at several local theaters including the Music Hall; but he was then on international tour. Nevertheless, there was no absence of band music in Portsmouth that summer.  The resident Portsmouth City Band gave its usual concerts on the Fourth of July, as well as in September, probably for Fireman’s Day; three pieces in this program are from those concerts.  In addition, for the first time, an excellent Army military band from Portland, Maine came down to Fort Constitution for two weeks in the end of July to provide additional public concerts, bringing with them, too, a baseball team of soldiers from three forts in Portland that faced off on the grounds of Hotel Wentworth against an opposing team from Fort Constitution. The band, of course, accompanied the games, before settling into a public concert series. During the group’s final performance on July 25th, attended by “one of the largest crowds that ever turned out on such an occasions,” the selections forming the program, “all lively up to date pieces, were played with a snap and ease that showed careful training, and the people were quick to discover that it was an excellent band.” 


Bands and The Portsmouth Peace Treaty -- On July 1st, 1905, local papers carried the unexpected news of the death of Secretary of State John Hay at his New Hampshire summer cottage on Lake Sunapee. In Portsmouth a few weeks later, the visiting Army band from Portland chose to play “The Diplomat” at one of its last concerts, likely in tribute, for the march was written by Sousa the previous year in celebration of Hay’s long diplomatic career, beginning as the young private secretary to Abraham Lincoln forty-five years before.


John Hay therefore was not the one to make the history that upstaged everything else during the eventful summer of 1905 and brought Portsmouth to much more significant world attention—nor was Roosevelt here in person. Rather, it was an assistant secretary of state, Herbert H. D. Pierce, who arrived with his wife to oversee the Treaty negotiations and settled in at the Niles Cottage on New Castle Island as his base of operations. It probably was he who arranged to bring up a crack military band from Fort Banks in Boston to entertain the foreign delegates, not only at Hotel Wentworth, on a rear bandstand built for the occasion, but also at the numerous dinner parties Mrs. Pierce hosted at the Niles Cottage. Affiliated with the Tenth Army Artillery Corps, and “said to be in best in the army of Uncle Sam,” the twenty-seven-piece band arrived on August 9th, to be stationed for four weeks at Fort Constitution where the Portland band just had played. Within two days of the group’s arrival, Portsmouth Mayor William Marvin  already had spoken with the bandmaster and successfully secured the band, beyond diplomatic duties, to provide additional public concerts twice weekly for the people of Portsmouth, on Friday evenings in the center of town at Market Square (then known as “The Parade”) and on Sunday afternoons out at the fort. Nothing but enthusiastic comments followed in the newspaper coverage through the band’s final performance on September 2nd:  “A large crowd turned out to hear the music, and hearty applause was given each number.”—“The band is one of the best which has been heard in this city in many months.”—“During its stay in this vicinity the Tenth Artillery band has acquired an enviable reputation.”


The Portsmouth Navy Yard, where treaty negotiations took place, had its own small band, too, as did the numerous naval vessels employed to transport the envoys from place to place, including President Roosevelt’s yacht, the USS Mayflower.  On August 8th, when the Russian and Japanese delegates first arrived by separate ship from their private meeting with President Roosevelt at his summer home on Long Island, “the bands of the vessels discoursed lively music, while preparations were being made to convey the visitors to the Navy Yard, and the strains of ‘Anona,’ ‘Hiawatha,’ and other popular airs sounded especially pretty on the water.” One of the few photograph of any band to survive (below) shows the Navy Yard band during the ceremony that then followed as the delegates came ashore. “The Naval band assisted in the brief function at the landing,” reported the Herald.


After a welcoming breakfast hosted by Admiral Mead and an inspection of the rooms in Building 86 prepared for the conference at the Navy Yard, the delegates were ready by early afternoon to travel across the Kittery bridge to Portsmouth for a welcome parade organized by the New Hampshire National Guard. Headed up by the Second Regiment band, the National Guardsmen surrounded the envoys and marched up Market Street, across the Parade, down Congress Street, through Middle Street, and down State Streetto the Rockingham County Courthouse (no longer standing), where New Hampshire’s governor John McLane and Mayor Marvin met the delegates.  “Three bands would have been better for the regiment on the line of march. . . .  The Second Regiment Band scored a hit with its excellent marching music, but could not provide sufficient music for the number of men in line,” was the Herald’s principal observation of the musical accompaniment.



Formed in 1879, the Second Regiment Band of Concord was directed for 56 years by cornetist Arthur Nevers from 1884 to his death in 1940. It continues today as a community band (Nevers’ Second Regiment Band) and thus remains one of the very oldest in the state; probably only the Exeter Town Band, established in 1847, has a longer record of continuous existence.


It was the Navy Yard band that played an especially prominent role during subsequent commemorations in 1906 and 1907. Ceremonies in 1906 occurred only at the Navy Yard on the anniversary afternoon of “Peace Day,” September 5th, and they focused on the unveiling of a commemorative tablet emplaced on Building 86, where Treaty negotiations had taken place.  We know little about the music heard during the event, however, except that “great applause followed the lowering of the colors, while the Naval band played national airs,” and that after the ceremonies “the Naval band moved to the grandstand . . . and gave a fine concert, which was much enjoyed by the large crowd that united to hear it.” The following year, however, the City of Portsmouth staged a large, three-day festival to celebrate “Peace Week,” and this included a host of band concerts, by three local town bands in addition to the Navy Yard band—all staged in Market Square, and all well advertised in the local papers.


 The anniversary day of Thursday, September 5th, opened the festival and was framed by band concerts morning and evening by the Navy band, with an afternoon performance by Emery’s military band of Dover. Half-way through the Navy band’s evening concert (featuring the William Tell Overture, excerpts from The Red Mill by Victor Herbert, and latest and greatest selections from The Spring Chicken and Society Circus!), a moving picture machine set up nearby projected onto a large screen the footage of the 1905 parade that had welcomed the delegates to town two years before. Friday afternoon, in turn, featured the North Berwick band, accompanied at the same time by bicycles races, running races, three-legged races, sack races, and “an exhibition on the high wire 75 feet above the ground.” But Hanson’s American Band of Rochester had probably the greatest competition during their Saturday afternoon performance (offering overtures from Herold’s Zampa and Offenbach’s Orpheus . . . and once again, selections from The Spring Chicken!), for it was at 4 o’clock, just during the band’s final hour, that Ether, the Boy Aeronaut, ascended nearly two miles in his hot air balloon and then cut away in a parachute—without question, the principal event of the peace celebration that day.


“Serenade for World Peace” Concert  -- Two factors have made it possible to bring the best of this music into performance in this program. First, we are fortunate that local newspapers printed complete programs for all the public concerts performed not only by the Portsmouth City Band but also by the Tenth Army Artillery Corps Band in the summer of 1905, as well as for all the commemorative concerts heard in September 1907. These provide a lengthy repertoire list from which to choose, as well as a window into the popular music of the day. Second, finding scores for these pieces (with complete sets of band parts) required the assistance of libraries, both public and private, that contain collections of historic band music from more than a century ago, whether from progressive accumulation over time or from more recent acquisition. Particularly helpful for this project were the extensive local library of the Exeter Town Band (acquired continuously since about the 1880’s and now a significant archival treasure); and the Chatfield Brass Band Lending Library in Minnesota, a large collection, now searchable online, built much more recently upon a century-old Midwestern town band library with the specific intent to loan such music to interested organizations such as the Seacoast Wind Ensemble. Because concert band instrumentation varied widely and did not become standardized until after World War I, some of the band parts from these turn of the century works required adaptation and alteration. In addition, much of this music was originally conceived for orchestras including strings, which are absent in the concert band or wind ensemble. Band arrangements therefore place a particular virtuosic demand on the clarinet section (the “violins” of the concert band), as well as on the first trumpets, who carry many of the melodic lines.


Most turn-of-the-century band concerts featured a dynamic combination of marches, classical overtures, popular opera excerpts, waltzes, solo numbers demonstrating the virtuosity of talented players, comical character pieces, and selections from the latest theatrical productions. Each half of this program follows that pattern; and each is about the length of a short concert that might have been heard at that time. Before the intermission, this repertoire ranges from a familiar Sousa march (“Semper Fidelis”) and popular overture (Rossini’s William Tell) to a “top pop” sacred song rendered as a cornet solo (“The Holy City”), a favorite opera excerpt (march from Wagner’s Tannhäuser), and a comical character piece (“The Hunting Scene Descriptive”).Concluding the first half before a final commemorative march are selections from Reginald De Koven’s Robin Hood, an important American musical (1890) in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan that for many years featured Portsmouth’s actor Henry Clay Barnabee as the Sheriff of Nottingham in countless productions around the country by the Bostonians, a prominent touring theatrical troupe. After intermission, the program opens with another Sousa march (“The Diplomat”), followed by excerpts from one of Victor Herbert’s finest theatrical productions, The Red Mill of 1906, an earlier classical duet for solo flute and horn, another favorite march from the opera stage (“Coronation March” from Meyerbeer’s The Prophet), a very popular set of waltzes for band performed several times in Portsmouth, and a medley of familiar national tunes from Atherton’s Southern Breezes, featured in the Portsmouth City Band’s 1905 4th of July concert.


Beyond Portsmouth, composers throughout the country wrote cheering songs for Roosevelt and stirring marches to capitalize on his accomplishments  and remember the treaty in festive fashion.  All were published in versions for band, as well as for the ever popular parlor piano, with pictorial sheet music covers that remain colorful collector’s items.  Each half of our program ends with such commemorative marches—the last by Harry Alford, just 22 years old when he composed “The Peacemaker March,” and later known, after the First World War, for his professional arranging bureau in Chicago.


In 1905 and in subsequent Treaty commemorations, The Music Hall, now a National Landmark and designated “American Treasure,” provided the venue for musical performances, film screenings and even a banquet for newspapermen hosted by F.W. Hartford Portsmouth Herald publisher and owner of The Music Hall. Today it is the perfect setting for this concert of turn-of-the-century band music.   


Note:  All quotations are from contemporary newspaper articles appearing in either the Portsmouth Herald or Portsmouth Times.

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