Paris-Manchester 1918
Conservatoires in time of war

Military bands

The press photograph (EI-13 [2565]), incorrectly titled Concert at the front, was in fact taken at the rear, in the soldiers’ quartering area, as the intact terrain indicates. The strong light, the state of the trees and the presence of two French flags leads us to suppose that this may have been a concert for the 14th of July.

Among the musicians we can recognise a tuba player, saxhornists (on the right), saxophonists and trumpetists (on the left), a small flute, clarinettists and trombonists (from behind, on the right). The audience is exclusively military personnel, with the noteworthy, and surprising, exception of a child (behind the trombonists). Behind the musicians there is an upright drawing-room piano, which was probably borrowed from a civilian living locally. A set of curtains serves as backdrop and wings.


The postcard signed by Fernand Halphen [Est. Halphen 003] shows Bandmaster Lieutenant Halphen conducting, surrounded by the regimental band.  Halphen gave almost 50 concerts between 1914 and 1916, making this photograph difficult to date. According to Laure Schnapper, this concert was played in front of a civilian audience on Sunday, 23 April 1916 on the Place Longueville, Amiens.[1]

The wind and percussion, facing the bandmaster, includes one or two flautists, clarinettists, saxophonists (from behind, on the left), two trombonists apparently playing valve trombones, a regimental drum, a bass drum, bugles, eight saxhorns and, in the centre, a tuba player. We may suppose that the soldiers sitting close by are singers, inactive at the moment the photograph was taken. The audience is mainly civilians in their Sunday best, among whom some officers (in the foreground, on the right), wounded (seated on the right) and children are visible.

[1]Laure Schnapper (ed.) (2017) Du salon au front. Fernand Halphen (1872-1917), Paris: Hermann, p. 292 -296.

[Est. Halphen 003, recto]


[Est. Halphen 003, verso]

to Nadia and Lili Boulanger
F Halphen
13th Territorials.

Agence Meurisse (1916) A Concert at the Front, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Prints and Photographs Department, EI-13 (2565) [on line].
Document description:  photographic negative on glass; 13×18 cm (positive print).
Catalogue :

Anonymous (ca. 1916) Fernand Halphen Conducting a Military Band during the 1914-1918 War, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Music Department, Est. Halphen 003 [on line].
Document description: photograph, print from the original; 8.5×13.5 cm.
Caractéristiques du document : photographie, tirage d’après l’original ; 8,5×13,5 cm.
Catalogue :

Francfort Didier (2014) “Musiques militaires”, in Gétreau, Florence, Entendre la guerre. Sons, musique et silence en 14-18, Paris: Gallimard/Historial de la Grande Guerre, p. 24-35.

Hirschfield, Claire (1992) “Musical Performance in Wartime: 1914-1918”, The Music Review, No.53/4, p. 291-304.

Leterrier, Anne-Sophie (2014) “Les concerts au front”, in Gétreau, Florence, Entendre la guerre. Sons, musique et silence en 14-18, Paris: Gallimard/Historial de la Grande Guerre, p. 76-87.

Visse, Sandrine (2014) ‘Les “concerts” au front pendant la Grande Guerre: entre engagement dans le conflit et vie artistique en marge’, in Doé De Maindreville, Florence and Etcharry, Stéphan (eds.), La Grande Guerre en musique. Vie et création musicales en France pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, Bruxelles: éd. Peter Lang, p. 27-50.