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. 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 July 2012. With support from the Guernsey Arts Commission and from many far‑sighted commercial institutions operating in the island, the festival has enjoyed memorable performances from such classical artists as:
John Mark Ainsley
Lise de la Salle
English Chamber Orchestra
The Harp Consort
Martinu String Quartet
Musica Antiqua Köln
St Petersburg String Quartet
Ysaye String Quartet
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. Past festivals included a Hugo Recital, the centrepiece of which was the première of new settings of Hugo poems by a contemporary composer commissioned for the purpose. Commissions from Richard Dubugnon, Olivier Kaspar, Guillaume Connesson and Thierry Escaich have yielded enough settings for a complete songbook.
2012 / 2010 / 2008 / 2006 / 2004