le camp d'internement 1914-1919
Le camp d’internés 1914-1919

Dieser Internet-Auftritt verfolgt das Ziel, möglichst viele Informationen über das Internierungslager auf der Ile Longue zusammenzustellen, damit Historiker und Nachkommen der Internierten sich ein Bild von den Realitäten dieses bisher wenig bekannten Lagers machen können - nicht zuletzt auch, um die bedeutenden kulturellen Leistungen der Lagerinsassen zu würdigen.

Le but de ce site est de prendre contact avec les familles des prisonniers allemands, autrichiens, hongrois, ottomans, alsaciens-lorrains... qui ont été internés, pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, dans le camp de l’Ile Longue (Finistère).

Article published on 3 November 2012
last modification on 29 June 2015
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Written by Christopher Kunze. Translated by Barbara Stephan

The absence of a character comparable to that of G.W. Pabst did not prevent the music, in its multiple and varied forms, from occupying one of the first places among the cultural activities of the camp.

We are very well informed about the musical life, thanks to two sources:

  1. The magazine of the camp Die Insel-Woche with very numerous articles on music, announcements and concerts critics.
  2. A special brochure (kept in the departmental archives of Quimper) of six pages with the title “The Music in the camp for civil internees on Long Island”. It presents in detail the musical life of the camp, its diversity (from the popular entertainment to the classic works) and its evolution (rather rudimentary debuts up to concerts of very high level).
Music brochure
Title image by Paul of Kovács

The first lines of this report underline the musical poverty - and cultural, in general - which prevails for a while after the installation of the prisoners in the camp and throws, a striking light on the precariousness of the life of the prisoners at the beginning of the captivity:

“When, in 1914, we arrived on this deserted island, we could not think of playing music. The only thing which was listened to, was the sound of an accordion, also called”keyboard of the sailor“. Played by an experimented hand, the faithful bellows treated us with folk songs, and dances. It helped us to spend the evenings of the late autumn, when, after the day’s work (we had to build our own sheds), with the light of a lantern, we were lying on our straw bags. We sang or we played, alternately, and this song, by a single voice at first, soon became polyphonic. - At the approach of Christmas, a double quartet was formed, which, the evening before Christmas, gave a recital of Christmas songs… Directed by Felix Heyne who had rewritten from memory the partitions for four-part chorus and it can be said that this double quartet is not only the predecessor, but also really the initiator of the Association of German men’s Choir created six months later.”

Obviously, a men’s choir, one of the most symbolic formations of the musical life of Germany at that time, could not be absent. The one of the camp of Long Island counted up to 107 active members, practiced regularly and gave numerous concerts. Thanks to the acquisition of a piano (see Die Insel-Woche, p. 2), the choir was able to practice and to play Wagner, Grieg, considered difficult, which testifies of a respectable level, even excellent.

Winter concert 27.02.1918

The quoted brochure shows us the existence of several instrumental ensembles dedicated to the chamber music or to accompany religious services (Protestants and Catholics). It also evokes a theater orchestra and a real symphony orchestra, as well as some smaller popular formations which were reserved for the animation in the barracks on the occasion of birthdays or other celebrations.

In the article of the newspaper Die Insel-Woche already mentioned, a “Music hall” is quoted (a shed almost identical to the others) where certain musical events occur. At the beginning, to attract people, Die Insel-Woche is used as advertising media for the musicians. In the same text, filled with pedagogy and faithful to the founding ideas of the newspaper, the editor in charge of the music, Felix Heyne, tries to motivate his companions to attend more concerts, when he writes, for example: “April 1st, a concert given by the string orchestra Noack, took place in the music hall … The chosen program was appreciatively greeted by an enthusiastic but small public. … The good music is really too important for the amusement (exactly the sense of the used German word) and the entertainment of our companions against mind-numbing dullness of our existence of prisoners.”

Wagner concert 27.05.1917
given by the German Men’s Choir Île Longue

In reality, the pieces played during most of these concerts, correspond to the popular taste of this period: either it is The suite Per Gynt of Edward Grieg, The Farewell of Wotan or the excerpt Magic fire music from The ride of the Walkyrie of Wagner, or diverse steps, waltzes and folk dances. If the objectives of the concerts are “amusement“and”entertainment", according to the expectations of most of the audience, the musicians of the camp deserve however by no means the criticism of an accommodating programming. According to the reports published in Die Insel-Woche, the excellent instrumentalists of the camp were not afraid of attempting works of high requirement for themselves as well as for the audience. For example, the works given during a symphonic concert in May 1917: the Trio for piano, violin and cello in C minor, or the 2nd movement ( Andante) of the 5th Symphony of Beethoven or still the very famous unfinished Symphony in B minor of Schubert. Here is the end of the report of this concert, p. 2:

“And now, the symphony in B minor of Schubert. The dear small Franz, full of feelings and heart! Really, an experience that we do not have here very often! The magnificent theme of the 1st movement took the audience gently towards the depths of its soul where it was maintained under the spell of the soft and poetic melodies of this unique work. More than one went far in his thoughts - very far! Because it is a part of our homeland, full of profound love and desire, that was offered to us. - Special gratitude for cello and first violin solo!”

First symphony concert 08.03.1918
given by the Concert Orchestra of Île Longue

Regarding the crucial question of the supply of musical material (instruments, partitions, etc…), the available sources bring incomplete, but nevertheless interesting information. Namely:

“At first, the partitions were hand-written, page by page; after a few months, however, we had a hectograph (kind of copying machine) which facilitated enormously the reproduction. - during the years, numerous partitions and other material arrived from Germany and from Switzerland…” The author of the article specifies that we should not omit to cordially thank the donors.

Third symphony concert 03.05.1918
given by the Concert Orchestra of Île Longue

Who is this author? His name is unfortunately not mentioned in the brochure. The way he presents the musical events of the camp, as well as his style and his spirit, however let us guess that it is a person close to the Die Inse-Woche’s editorial team. This is the way he writes:

“It was important during our time of suffering, to chase away by all means, the grey spectre of boredom and dejection, and for this reason to fully participate. What is significant above all, is that all social levels participated, naturally, each in their own way. So, a small group for zither and guitar was formed, which, on several occasions, performed publicly. … Some of the musicians played on instruments built by themselves and we could see quite particularly magnificent copies of guitars and mandolins; there was also a cello of personal production and a violin made according to the model of an old master’s violin. And another happy phenomenon was the always increasing number of beginners who started to learn on different instruments. … Also In this domain, big performances were achieved, at the level of studies and work.”

Concert 20.05.1917
given by the Concert Orchestra Île Longue

Other articles about the music in the magazine Die Insel-Woche

  • new series, 1st year N° 2, p. 2 : Osterfest-Gottesdienst – (Easter Church service)
  • new series, 1st year N° 3, p. 2 : Musik - (Music)
  • new series, 1st year N° 4, p. 2 : Konzert der vereinigten Streichorchester – (Concert of the combined string orchestras)
  • new series, 1st year N° 5, p. 4 : Musik - (Music)
  • new series, 1st year N° 6, p. 2 : 1.Symphoniekonzert des Konzertorchesters – ( First symphonic concert of the orchestra of concerts)
  • new series, 1st year N° 8, p. 3 : Musik - (Music)
  • new series, 1st year N° 12, p. 3 : Konzert am 24. Juni 17 – (Concert of June 24th, 1917)
  • new series, 1st year N° 35, p. 2 : Das zweite Konzert des D.M.G.V.I.L. – (The second concert of the Men’s choir of Ile Longue )
  • new series, 1st year N° 36, p. 3 : Zur Harmonium-Frage – (The question of the harmonium )
  • new series, 1st year N° 38, p. 2 : Konzert am 16. Dez. 1917 - (Concert of Dec. 16th, 1917)
  • new series, 1st year N° 42, p. 3 : Musikalisches – (Musical)
  • new series, 1st year N° 44, p. 1 : Unsere Musikbestrebungen – (Our aspiration in the field of music), p. 2 : Musik – (Music)
  • new series, 1st year N° 45, p. 4 : Die Symphoniekonzerte u. Liederabende des deutschen Hilfsvereins – (The symphonic concerts and the recitals of songs of the Association of German aid)
  • new series, 1st year N° 46, p. 3 : Symphoniekonzert am Sonntag, den 10. Februar 1917 – (Symphonic concert of Sunday, February 17th, 1918)
  • new series, 1st year N° 45, p. 1 : Zum 1. Symphonie-Konzert – (About the first symphonic concert)
  • new series, 1st year N° 51, p. 3 : II. Liederabend – (The second evening of songs)
  • new series, 1st year N° 52, p. 2 : Zum 2. Symphoniekonzert – (The 2nd symphonic concert)
  • new series, 1st year N° 1, p. 2 : Musik – (Music)
  • new series, 1st year N° 3, p. 2 : Zweites Symphoniekonzert am 5. April 1918 – (The second symphonic concert given on April 5th, 1918)
  • new series, 1st year N° 4, p. 1 : Beethovens Pastorale – (Pastoral symphony of Beethoven), p. 4 : Zum 3. Symphoniekonzert – (The third symphonic concert)

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