Sakura Salon 11/23/14 – Annelies, by James Whitbourn



Though concert audiences have been moved by James Whitbourn’s riveting Annelies since its premier in 2005, the towering work had been unavailable on CD, until recently. Tonight we will listen to this 2014 Grammy nominated performance.

Annelies is the first adaptation of the diary of Anne Frank into a large-scale choral work (with small sections written in Dutch and German), 75 minutes in length, for soprano soloist, choir and instrumentalists. The libretto by Melanie Challenger is a translation and distillation from The Diary of Anne Frank. (Annelies is the full forename of Anne Frank, now commonly referred to by her abbreviated forename, Anne. Although her story had been choreographed for ballet as early as 1959, this is said to be the first authorized musical setting of the diary.)

The first complete performance of this moving work took place in April 2005, with Louise Kateck (soprano), the Clare College Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The U.S. premiere was on April 28, 2007, at Westminster Choir College, in Princeton, NJ. James Jordan and composer James Whitbourn conducted the Westminster Williamson Voices and an instrumental ensemble. The soprano was Lynn Eustis. The world premiere of the completed chamber version was given on June 12, 2009, at the German Church of the Hague, Netherlands.

Annelies brings to life the diary written by Annelies Marie Frank between 1942 and 1944 when she and her family hid in the back of an Amsterdam warehouse. From the windows, Anne looked up to the beauty of the sky, and downwards to the brutality meted out by the Nazis. The contrasting sights inspired some of the most profound and memorable thoughts in an extraordinary diary, read by millions of people throughout the world.

The instrumental parts exist in two scorings: the larger is for full symphony orchestra while the smaller is for four solo players–clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Although the vocal writing is the same in both versions, the work can successfully be performed by a small chamber choir or by a large chorus. The chamber version has a few minor cuts.

Tonight we will listen to the chamber version, which the more knowledgeable of you may recognize as being scored for the same instruments as Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written for the only instruments available to him in the concentration camp.


Written by Frank over a period of two years, while her family lived in secret rooms atop her father’s office building during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the diary puts a very human face on the destruction wrought by Hitler’s Final Solution.

Frank began her diary two days after her 13th birthday. The last entry is dated Aug. 1, 1944. On the morning of Aug. 4, the rooms were stormed and the Franks deported. The identity of their betrayer has never been discovered.

Her mother perished of starvation at Auschwitz. Fifteen-year-old Anne and her sister died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen.

Her father, separated from the family at Auschwitz, miraculously survived. After the war, he was given the diary and associated papers by Miep Gies, one of the employees in the building who had aided the family in their seclusion. She had collected the papers from the ransacked apartment in the hope of one day returning them to Anne.

It was while in hiding that Anne had heard a radio broadcast from London. Gerrit Bolkestein, a representative of the Dutch government-in-exile, stated that after the war he would be collecting evidence, in the form of written documentation, of the oppression the Dutch people suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Anne, who by this time aspired to be a writer, set about revising portions of her diary for publication.


Whitbourn’s music for this work has been described as “woundingly beautiful” (The Daily Telegraph). He reflects sounds of the Westerkerk bells and tunes heard on the radio in the Annex, along with representations of Anne Frank’s Jewish and German heritage, details that add to a score “whose respectful understatement is its greatest strength” (The Times of London).

Reviews of the work


The libretto primarily consists of text drawn from Anne’s writings seasoned with a folk song in German, verses from the Old Testament, and a Kyrie. While we know the narrative, it is Anne’s voice, no, poetry, that is so touching.

 James Whitbourn: Annelies
Libretto by Melanie Challenger based on
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl




Up above you can hear the breathing,
Eight pounding hearts, footsteps on the stairs,
a rattling on the bookcase.
Suddenly, a couple of bangs.
Doors slammed inside the house
(11 April 1944)

Bleibst du! Anschlag!
(Stay there! Stop!)

We are in blue sky,
surrounded by black clouds.
See it, the perfectly round spot?
but the clouds are moving in,
and the ring between danger grows smaller.

We look at the fighting below,
and the peace and beauty above,
but the dark mass of clouds looms before us,
and tries to crush us.

O ring, ring, open wide and let us out!

(8 November 1943)



When would we go into hiding?
Where would we hide?
In the city? In the country? In a house? In a shack?
(8 July 1942)

These questions kept running through my mind.
I started packing my important belongings.
The first thing was my diary.
Memories mean more to me than dresses.
(8 July 1942)

Ik zal, hoop ik, aan jou alles kunnen toevertrouwen, zoals ik het nog aan niemand
gekund heb, en ik hoop dat je een grote steun voor me zult zijn.

[I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to
do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to
(12 June 1942)

It seems like years since Sunday morning.
So much has happened,
it’s as if the whole world had
suddenly turned upside down.
(8 July 1942)



My last night in my own bed.
A warm rain fell.
The four of us wrapped in layers of clothing,
the stripped beds, the breakfast things on the table.
We closed the door behind us.
(8 July 1942)

Walking in the pouring rain,
walking down the street,
each of us with a satchel filled to the brim.
(9 July 1942)

We arrived at Prinsengracht,
led through the long passage
and up the wooden staircase
to the Annexe.
The door was shut behind us,
leaving us alone.

Then for the first time,
I found a moment to tell you about it,
to realize what had happened to me
and what was about to happen.
(10 July 1942)

We’re Jews in chains,
chained to one spot,
without any rights,
a thousand obligations.

We must be brave
and trust in God.
(11 April 1944)



The days here are very quiet.
(1 October 1942)

Having to sit still all day
and not say a word,
you can imagine how
hard that is for me.
On ordinary days, we speak in a whisper.
Not being able to talk is worse.
(29 September 1942)

The silence makes me so nervous,
but the chiming of the Westertoren clock
reassures me at night.
(11 July 1942)

You no doubt want to hear
what I think of life in hiding?
(11 July 1942)

The blue sky, the bare chestnut tree,
glistening with dew,
the seagulls, glinting with silver
swooping through the air.
As long as this exists,
this sunshine and this cloudless sky,
how can I be sad?
(23 February 1944)

Prospectus and Guide to the Secret Annexe.
A Unique Facility for the Temporary Accommodation of Jews and Other
Dispossessed Persons.
Now our Annexe has truly become a secret,
a bookcase has been built in front of the entrance.
It swings upon its hinges
and opens like a door.
It is Open All Year Round,
Located in Beautiful, Quiet, Wooded Surroundings,
In the Heart of Amsterdam.
Inside it is Necessary to Speak Softly at all times,
Singing is Permissible, only Softly and After Six pm!
(17 November 1942)

The strangest things happen when you’re in hiding.
Try to picture this.
We wash ourselves in a tin tub,
since the curtains are drawn,
we scrub ourselves in the dark,
while one looks out the window
and gazes at the endlessly amusing people.
(29 September 1942)

The children run around in thin shirts
and wooden clogs.
They have no coats, no socks,
no caps and no one to help them.
Gnawing on a carrot to still their hunger,
they walk from their cold houses through cold streets.
(13 January 1943)

One day this terrible war will be over,
and we’ll be people again,
and not just Jews.
(11 April 1944)



If you become part of the suffering,
you’d be entirely lost.
(7 March 1942)

Der Winter ist vergangen.
Ich seh’ des Maien Schein;
Ich seh’ die Blümlein prangen;
Des ist mein Herz erfreut.
Da singt Frau Nachtigalle
Und manch’ Waldvogelein..

[The winter is over.
I see the light of May;
I see blossoms everywhere;
and my heart is pleased.
There sings the nightingale
and the small forest birds.]
(German traditional)

Beauty remains,
even in misfortune.
One who is happy will make others happy,
one who has courage will never die in misery.
(7 March 1944)

Ade, mein’ Allerliebste!
Ade, schön’s Blümelein!
Ade, schön’ Rosenblume;
Es muß geschieden sein!
Das Herz in meinem Leibe
Gehört ja allzeit dein..
[Goodbye, my beloved!
Goodbye, beautiful blossoms!
Goodbye, beautiful rose flower;
I must leave you.
My love for you will
burn in my heart forever. ]
(German traditional)

[Annelies Marie Frank was born in the German city of Frankfurt to German parents, and lived in Germany until her parents emigrated to Holland when she was four years old.  Her mother was always more comfortable with the German language than with Dutch.  Although Anne learned Dutch, and wrote the diary in her adopted language, she was familiar with German poems and prayers, especially those given to her by her mother.  This was originally a Dutch song that became popular in Germany during the seventeenth century.]


In the evenings,
when it’s dark,
lines of good innocent people
and crying children
walk on and on,
ordered by men who bully
and beat them.
No one is spared,
all are marched to their death.

(19 November 1942)
Westerbork! Westerbork!
[A refugee camp which Dutch Jews were forced to build, which later became the
transit camp where Jews were held before being taken to Auschwitz and Sobibor.]

Night after night,
green and grey vehicles
cruise the streets
and knock on every door.
(19 November 1942)

Westerbork! Westerbork!

Sshh. I heard a sound from the bookcase,
hammering on the door.
We turned white with fear.
Had he heard something, this stranger?

Open up! Open up!
In my imagination,
the man kept growing and growing,
until he became a giant,
the cruelest fascist in the world.
(20 October 1942)



Kyrie eleison
[Lord, have mercy]
(Greek liturgical)

Help us. Rescue us from this hell.
(27 November 1943)

We must be brave and trust in God.
(11 April 1944)



Last night, just as I was falling asleep,
an old friend appeared before me.
I saw her there,
dressed in rags,
her face thin and worn.
She looked at me with such sadness.
Anne, why have you deserted me?
Help me, help me, rescue me from this hell!
(27 November 1943)

To me she is
the suffering of all my friends,
and all the Jews. When I pray for her,
I pray for all those in need.
(6 January 1944)

Merciful God,
comfort her,
remain with her so she won’t be alone.
(27 November 1943)

Dear God,
watch over her and bring her back to us.
(29 December 1943)


On Sunday, Amsterdam was bombed.
(19 July 1943)

The planes dived and climbed.
The air was abuzz with the drone of engines.
(26 July 1943)

The streets are in ruins, countless are wounded.
In the smouldering ruins, children search forlornly
for their parents.
(19 July 1943)

It makes me shiver
to think of the dull, distant drone
of approaching destruction.
(19 July 1943)
I wander from room to room,
climb up and down the stairs
and feel like a songbird,
whose wings have been ripped off
and who keeps hurling itself
against the bars of its dark cage.
(29 October 1943)

“Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter,”
a voice within me cries.
(29 October 1943)



The years went by.
There’s a saying: “Time heals all wounds,”
that’s how it was with me.
(7 January 1944)

Until one day,
I saw my face in the mirror.
It looked so different.
My eyes were clear and deep,
my cheeks were rosy,
my mouth was softer.
I looked happy,
and yet, in my expression, there was something
so sad.
(7 January 1944)



This is D-Day,
this is the day.
Fighting will come,
but after this the victory!
Eleven thousand planes,
four thousand boats,
is this the beginning
of the long-awaited liberation?
(6 June 1944)

I walk from one room to another,
breathe through the crack in the window frame,
feel my heart beating as if to say,
“fulfill my longing at last…”
I think spring is inside me,
I feel spring awakening,
I feel it in my entire body and soul.
(12 February 1944)

Ich danke dir für all das Gute und Liebe und Schöne.
[This phrase appears in German in the diary.  It translates: “Thank you, God, for all that is good and dear and beautiful.”]
(7 March 1944)



On August the 4, 1944,
a car pulled up at Prinsengracht.
Several figures emerged,
armed, and dressed in civilian clothes.
The eight residents of the Annexe
were taken to prison,
and from there, transported to Westerbork,
and onwards to the concentration camps.
(information from
contemporary reports)

The atmosphere is stifling,
outside you don’t hear a single bird.
A deathly silence hangs in the air.
It clings to me as if it were going to drag me
into the deepest regions of the underworld.
(29 October 1943)

[Anne did not continue her diary after she left the Annexe, but this extract, written
about the Annexe, echoes the atmosphere described by others of the Nazi
concentration camps.]

There is no speech or language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their sound is gone out
through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
(Psalm XIX, vs. 3–4)

Their blood have they shed like water,
and there was none who could bury them.
(Psalm LXXIX, vs. 3)

The young and the old lie on the ground;
the maids and the young men are fallen.
(Lamentations II, vs. 21)



I see the world being slowly
turned into wilderness.
I hear the approaching thunder,
that one day will destroy us too.
And yet, when I look at the sky,
I feel that everything
will change for the better.
(15 July 1944)

Whenever you feel lonely or sad,
try going to the loft
on a beautiful day and looking
at the sky.
As long as you can look
fearlessly at the sky,
You’ll know you are pure within.
(23 February 1944)


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