Annelies: The Voice of Anne Frank Program Notes

In Hiding

Annelies draws its inspiration and most of its text from the world-famous diary of Anne Frank (1929-1945). Born in Frankfurt to an assimilated, middle-class, German-Jewish family, Anne, along with her parents (Otto and Edith) and older sister (Margot), emigrated to the Netherlands in 1934, shortly after Hitler came to power, joining roughly 300,000 other German Jews who left their homeland by the end of the 1930s. The Franks enjoyed a better life in Amsterdam, but that changed after Germany invaded in May 1940 and began imposing restrictions on Jews there as well; for instance, the girls could no longer attend school with non-Jews. After their application to emigrate to the United States failed (their documents were lost when the U.S. consulate in Rotterdam was bombed), they planned to go into hiding on July 16, 1942, but left their home sooner, on July 6, the day after Margot received an order to report for relocation to a work camp. Since Jews could no longer use public transportation, they walked to the “Secret Annexe,” a space above Otto Frank’s workplace. Soon the family of Otto’s business partner joined them, and later a family friend. These eight people lived together, hidden inside the Annexe, for over two years, until August 4, 1944, when German police stormed the building and arrested them. The families were separated and sent to different concentration camps. Anne and Margot wound up at Bergen-Belsen, dying within a day of each other in late winter 1945, a few weeks before the Allies liberated the camps.

Only Otto Frank survived the war. When he returned to Amsterdam, Miep Gies, one of their Dutch helpers, gave him Anne’s diary, which Miep rescued from the Annexe after the arrests. On her thirteenth birthday, June 12, Anne had received an autograph book that she decided to use as a diary, writing it in the form of letters to “Dear Kitty.” Less than a month later, she brought it with her into hiding and continued her entries until days before their capture. Her writings reveal a normal teenage girl doing her best, against the odds, to grow into a loving, responsible adult. Sometimes she obsesses about quarrels with her mother and sister, the annoyance of living with the same few people in such close quarters, her romance with the other family’s son, her efforts to improve herself. She also thinks deeply about injustice, her Jewish identity, and the war. Even so, she takes joy in the beauty of nature and her own creativity. In spite of the constant danger, she somehow keeps hope alive.

Annelies, the first choral interpretation of Anne’s writings, differs from other familiar versions in several ways. The diary’s first published editions gave pseudonyms to the Annexe’s other residents and edited out passages that might have troubled 1950s sensibilities; later editions are more forthright. All the published versions naturally follow the chronology of events as they unfold. The play and movie versions present her story chronologically as well, focusing on Anne’s relationships with the other seven residents. They offer a portrait of the artist as a young girl, with their peril as Jews simply background. By contrast, Annelies scrambles the chronology, foreshadowing the terrible moment of arrest, recovering memories from Anne’s earliest days, and combining passages into a stream of consciousness. Where other versions foreground the other people in her life, Annelies portrays Anne alone with her thoughts, in hiding but bravely coming to terms with the dangers that surround her. Alone, except for the chorus that follows and echoes her thoughts.

Above all, Annelies uses music as well as words to tell the story. English composer James Whitbourn (b. 1963) worked closely with librettist Melanie Challenger for three years to make the plight of Anne and her fellow Jews immediately accessible to 21st-century audiences. Indeed, Whitbourn has written, “As I worked on the score, I became more aware of Anne Frank as a contemporary person.” Whitbourn came to the project after many years of composing and creating musical programming for the BBC; he is now on the Faculty of Music at Oxford University. Poet and ethicist Challenger worked on the libretto while she was also compiling Stolen Voices, a collection of diaries written by children in war zones (including that of her coauthor, Zlata Filipovic), from World War I to the war in Iraq. Sadly, while Anne’s particular experiences were unique, the suffering of children in wars continues around the world. The voices of these other children likely shaped how Challenger and Whitbourn present Anne’s story.

Less a narrative than a meditation, Annelies alights on short passages from the diary that hint at future emotions or echo earlier memories, with the chorus deepening the words of the soprano soloist. Almost from the start, in movement 2, we experience how their capture will take place—the claustrophobic anxiety expressed in whispered quartertones, the near silence shattered by the invading police, and then a desperate fantasy of escaping the ring of threats closing in. That fantasy reappears in movement 10 as the chorus cries, “Let me out!” Similarly, the march-like music about the ways that going into hiding upended everything (movement 3) foreshadows the rhythms announcing D-Day (movement 12); both mark major turning points. Two movements set texts in Anne’s first language, German. Movement 6 sets a poem full of longing as a chorale that could come straight out of a Bach Passion, while the brief prayer that ends movement 12 evokes a child’s sense of safety, from a time before the family had to leave Germany. Movement 13 begins with the lower voices dispassionately describing the attack on the Annexe, followed by Anne’s sense of foreboding from the previous year, and ends with mournful passages from the Old Testament in a dirge about the loss of so many lives. Even the instruments that accompany Annelies hold echoes dating from World War II: French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) wrote his Quartet for the End of Time (1941) while in a German prisoner of war camp, setting it for piano, violin, cello, and clarinet. But the last voice in Annelies belongs, as it should, to Anne.

Her final words recognize the very real dangers in our world and yet hold out a vision that things will change for the better. In that spirit, we close our concert with a remarkable work that developed out of the isolation imposed by Covid: alleluia (from quarantine), by Joshua Shank (b. 1980). Wanting to help musicians who could not work during the pandemic, Shank came up with the idea of crowd-sourcing a commission with small donations from choirs all over the country (including Choral Arts Ensemble). The commission raised nearly $11,000 for the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund and produced this uplifting work. With the choir literally divided in two, plus a separate quartet, Shank refracts sound like light through a prism, with sometimes over a dozen vocal lines happening at once. The effect resembles a city of voices, all trying to unify around a single word of praise but never quite in sync, until the end. As with Annelies, the music leads us through loss and separation to a renewed commitment to creating a world where no one must live in hiding again.

Susan Wladaver-Morgan