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Program Notes for Annelies by the composer - April, 2015


Notes by the composer

"If Anne could be with us tonight, I know she would shed tears of joy and pride, and she would be so happy - happy the way I remember when I saw her last." These words were spoken by Bernd Elias, Anne Frank's first cousin, before the first performance of Annelies. His is a remark that stops you in your tracks, because it is easy to forget that Annelies (Anne's full name) was a real person, with friends and family, and not just a historical figure. She was a happy person, and a hugely talented human being. Today, she would still be only in her 80s had she lived. In her room in hiding, she had a photograph stuck onto her wall of Princess Elizabeth (of the UK), now Queen Elizabeth II, one of the famous people she loved to admire. It is sobering to remember that the British monarch is several years her senior and at the time of this release still carries out her royal duties. Anne Frank should have been a younger contemporary of hers.

   Yet Anne Frank did not grow up. Her death has kept her an eternal child, and her diary continues to speak directly to children and adults today. Anne Frank was a highly intelligent human being, full of perception and maturity, and her diary is a brilliant piece of writing in its own right. The fact that it sits within a story of such horror as the Holocaust makes its brilliance so painful.

   But at the time of writing the diary, Anne had not experienced the Holocaust first hand, though she was much more aware of it than her companions-in-hiding realised. By all accounts, she was always full of questions. One of the helpers, Miep Gies, who kept the supply of food to the annexe flowing, recalls that Anne (whom she adored) used to follow her down the stairs at the end of each day's visit and ask about what was really happening in the outside world. For example, she wanted to know the fate of the Jews she saw rounded up and arrested on the streets below. "I told her the truth", Miep said. Anne knew what was happening. But none of the housemates, not even her own parents, realised the depths of her understanding. The side of her character she called her 'finer side' was hidden from sight and reserved only for the pages of her diary.

   It is these penetrating observations that form the basis of Melanie Challenger's libretto. In Melanie, I saw many qualities which chime with Anne Frank's character, especially her penetrating understanding of other people. The idea for a choral work came from Melanie and from a time when she had been working on a music project with children from war-torn Bosnia. She approached me with the idea, and we worked on it intensely together for almost three years. From the outset, we were clear that it was those remarkable observations that were to form the basis of this work. Squabbles within the annexe, teenage romantic encounters and the like were all put aside, and the diary distilled into this sequence of beautiful, spiritually-charged texts. Melanie has skilfully made a translation which is suitable for me, as a composer, to set to music.

   Rarely have I found a text so compelling and the inspiration for so much thought, simply as a document in its own right. But as time went on, and as I worked on the score, I became more aware of Anne Frank as a contemporary person. Eventually, I came to meet Bernd (or Buddy, as he's often known), her cousin, and later one of her school friends, of whom she speaks so often in the diary. These personal family links influenced the kind of piece it was destined to be, and at times it felt as though I were putting together the music for the family's memorial service. It was to be a commemorative work, not only for Anne Frank, but for those by whose side she lived, those she watched with penetrating eyes, and those voiceless millions who shared her fate.

   Annelies Marie Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen camp, along with her sister Margot, having previously been held at Auschwitz. By that stage, she assumed her mother was dead, and she believed her father was dead too. In fact, he survived, and Anne's friend Hannah Goslar - the last person we know to have seen her alive - always wondered whether Anne would have found the strength to live if she had known her beloved father was not dead.

   The legacy of her death, though, has been remarkable. She always intended to publish her diary, and that wish has been fulfilled in a way she cannot have imagined. It has been a privilege to work on these texts.  

   The World Première in London was beautifully conducted by the American-Jewish conductor Leonard Slatkin. But even before its première, three movements of the work were performed at the UK's National Holocaust Memorial for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It was given in the presence of the Queen, whose face Anne Frank had gazed at on the wall of her little attic room all those years ago, and of 500 survivors of the Holocaust, their families, and several hundred others. The setting was Westminster Hall, an enormous 11th-century hall within the Houses of Parliament in London. It was a cold January day, and the hall was appropriately cold for the occasion. The work was introduced by Anne's school friend, Hannah.

   The Princeton campus of Westminster Choir College of Rider University was the venue for the US premiere in 2007. This was a new chamber version (a slightly different scoring from the final chamber version recorded here) written for James Jordan and his Westminster Williamson Voices. In distilling the orchestral scoring down to just a few instruments I found I could give another perspective on the piece.  

   All the instruments used are capable both of great beauty and of great passion. It is also a nice synergy that the final ensemble of piano, violin, cello and clarinet is the same group for which Messiaen wrote his Quatuor pour la fin du temps - a work written within a prisoner of war camp and first performed by Messiaen and three other prisoners of war. All these instruments are also associated with Jewish tradition and culture and while there is no actual quote of traditional Jewish melody within Annelies, I have often drawn on the melodic contours and expressions in my phrases.

   Just a few years after the US premiere, which James Jordan and I conducted between us, both of us would have the pleasure of working, at the Choral Institute at Oxford, alongside tonight’s conductor. The performance Alan Wellman directs tonight, like every live performance, will be different from any other. Annelies is a piece of musical portraiture, in which the essence of a young girl is portrayed in the fragile medium of the human breath. The particular portrait will be constructed in the minds of all who hear those sounds on this day and in this place. Through it, the wisdom and perception of Anne Frank is there to teach us all.

Tags: Annelies,, James Whitbourne, Josefien Stoppelenburg

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