Victor Hugo is a literary giant. His output of novels, plays, histories and poems was enormous. He was also a very active political figure, taking a prominent part in great 19th century debates including the issue of capital punishment, to which he was profoundly opposed. A European Union was one of his many visions.

His anti-royalist political views led to his exile and 15 years spent living in Guernsey. Those 15 years were some of the most productive of his life, seeing the publication of his great collection of poetry, Les Contemplations, the conclusion of Les Misérables, and the writing of Les Travailleurs de la mer, amongst many other works. Les Misérables became, of course, a hit musical. An earlier work Notre-Dame de Paris is better known to us as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and was even made into a Disney cartoon a few years ago. Les Travailleurs de la mer, or Toilers of the Sea was actually set in Guernsey. It is a powerful evocation of the human spirit and the forces of nature in conflict with each other.

The bicentenary of Hugo’s birth in 2002 was marked by a number of events, including a week-long international music festival. The festival was judged a great success and was the springboard for a biennial event, the last having been held in September 2006.  With support from Culture Guernsey and from many far-sighted commercial institutions operating in the Island, the festival has enjoyed memorable performances from such classical artists as:

  • Dimitri Ashkenazy
  • Camera Obscura
  • Jean-Philippe Collard
  • Coull Quartet
  • l'Ensemble de Caelis
  • Lise de la Salle
  • Divertissement
  • English Chamber Orchestra
  • I Fagiolini
  • Karina Gauvin
  • Veronique Gens
  • The Harp Consort
  • Ruth Kilius
  • The Lindsays
  • Martinu String Quartet
  • Musica Antiqua Köln
  • Michaela Selinger
  • Northern Sinfonia
  • Storioni Trio
  • St Petersburg String Quartet
  • Kathryn Stott
  • Roger Vignoles
  • Ysaye String Quartet
  • Thomas Zehetmair

Victor Hugo in middle age

Victor Hugo in middle age

The first festival began with a concert given by Camera Obscura in Hugo’s extraordinary home, Hauteville House, St Peter Port. The house is owned by the City of Paris and open to the public from April to September. It is well worth a visit.

Victor Hugo’s poetry has inspired composers from the very beginning. Each festival includes a Hugo Recital, the centrepiece of which is the premiere of new settings of Hugo poems by a contemporary composer commissioned for the purpose. In this way we combine Hugo’s literary work with modern composition, which seems an entirely appropriate way to commemorate his work and to ensure that it lives in the Channel Islands. Commissions from Richard Dubugnon and Olivier Kaspar have thus far been premiered in the festival and in time there will be enough settings from other composers to produce a songbook and recordings.

The 4th Victor Hugo International Music Festival will be held 18 to 28 September 2008 and promises to be a wonderful experience for music lovers and we look forward to welcoming you.