taking our culture forward

Mooragh - "Beyond the barbed wire..."

Fri, 05 Feb 2021

80 years after his release from the Mooragh Internment Camp in Ramsey, the music of Peter Gellhorn has been brought back to life on film, recorded in the very location it was composed during World War Two.

The Isle of Man saw thousands of people interned in quickly-erected camps all over the Isle of Man during the War. The first to open was Mooragh Camp in May 1940, on the northern promenade in Ramsey. Very soon it saw the arrival of a great England-dwelling musician, Peter Gellhorn.

Born in Breslau, Germany in 1912, Peter Gellhorn was a professional conductor and composer based in England until the outbreak of war, whereupon he was arrested as an 'enemy alien' and interned in the Mooragh. While there, Gellhorn gave piano recitals, played the organ in the local church, directed ensembles and choirs, and composed several works, including a piece called “Mooragh”. Gellhorn was released on 21 January 1941 after intervention by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his role as chair of the Committee for the Release of Interned Alien Musicians, and he went on to conduct operas at Glyndebourne and Convent Garden as well as being musical director for the BBC Singers and teaching at several universities. He died in 2004.

'Singing a Song in a Foreign Land‎,' is a research and performance project which highlights the contribution of musicians who fled from Nazi Germany and Austria ‎to musical life in Britain and beyond, and in 2017, Culture Vannin worked with Professor Norbert Meyn from the Royal College of Music to bring the Alke String Quartet and professional singers from the college to the Island.

The ensemble gave several public performances and school workshops during their visit, but Culture Vannin also took the opportunity to film them performing Peter Gellhorn's music in Ramsey Town Hall and inside one of the apartments on Mooragh Promenade which was once a part of the internment camp.

It was especially fitting that Gellhorn’s daughter Barbara was able to accompany the ensemble on the visit. In an interview filmed on Mooragh Promenade, Barbara Gellhorn said: “The thing I remember most clearly is him talking about looking up at the hill and not being able to go there… hearing the music written here is really moving… It felt like he was here”.

In another film, Norbert Meyn recites the lyrics of “Mooragh” which Gellhorn had set to a poem by a fellow internee at the camp.

Interviews and musical performances are now available to watch on: Mooragh Internment Camp Music

More information about Peter Gellhorn, his music, and his time interned in the Isle of Man is available here: www.petergellhorn.com and more about the Royal College of Music's ongoing project here: https://www.rcm.ac.uk/singingasong/