Category Archives: Whitbourn

The Diary & The List

MARCH 8 & 9, 2014 CONCERTS — The Diary & The List / Loann Scarpato

Two of the most powerful documents of the 20th century came out of the Holocaust. One, typed in precise rows and columns, is bureaucratic and utilitarian; the other, handwritten in Dutch, is intensely personal, even poetic. Their stories lie behind the music on this program.

John Williams: Three Pieces from Schindler’s List (composed in 1993)
There were two “Schindler’s lists,” one of men’s names and another much shorter, of women’s. Male and female prisoners of the Third Reich were generally housed and transported separately. So when the German manufacturer Oskar Schindler wangled official permission to relocate his factory and its Jewish slave laborers, two lists were prepared. In the last months of World War II, with the Allies advancing and German defeat inevitable, the Nazis had begun shutting down their Polish forced-labor camps and sending the Jewish inmates to extermination camps. To be on one of Schindler’s lists for transport out of occupied Poland therefore meant the difference between almost certain death and a chance at survival. The lists went through several iterations as names were added and deleted. In the end, Schindler’s efforts saved over 1100 Jews.

When Steven Spielberg asked John Williams to compose the score for his 1993 film, Schindler’s List, Williams was initially reluctant to take on the commission. “You need a better composer than I am,” he reportedly told the director. “I know,” Spielberg replied, “but they’re all dead.” The film swept the Academy Awards, and Williams’ score won an Oscar and a Grammy. He later extracted from it an orchestral suite for concert performance. The haunting themes of these three scenes feature a solo violin. There are no literal quotations of traditional melodies, but Williams did incorporate certain rhythmic and harmonic idioms common to Eastern European Jewish music.

James Whitbourn: Annelies (composed 2004/2009); libretto by Melanie Challenger based on Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
In the late afternoon of August 4, 1944, Anne Frank’s diary lay on the floor among a litter of books and papers scattered about a claustrophobic room above an Amsterdam warehouse. The Frank family and four other Jews had hidden there for more than two years in a secret annex. The arresting officers ransacked the place and stole anything of apparent value. Anne had begun her diary when she was thirteen. From one small volume covered in red plaid cloth, it spilled over into several notebooks and more than 300 loose sheets of onionskin paper. Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who had been the hideaways’ lifeline to the outside world, rescued the diary and kept it, unread, until the war ended. She then gave it to Anne’s father Otto Frank, the family’s sole survivor. Left behind as worthless by the looters, the diary has become a treasure to the world. As author Ernst Schnabel wrote: “Her voice was preserved, out of the millions that were silenced…. It has outlasted the shouts of the murderers and has soared above the voices of time.” The diary has been returned to the place where most of it was written, the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam, where it is on permanent display.

The libretto of Annelies is not a chronological narrative of excerpts from the diary. It begins with a foreshadowing of the end and concludes with words in which Anne crystallized her hopes and ideals. In between are reflections (some humorous) on life in hiding, observations of the increasingly ominous world outside, and expressions of intense self-awareness. A few parts of the libretto are taken from sources other than the diary: in movement 6, a traditional German folksong that Anne may have learned at her mother’s knee (the family came originally from Frankfurt); in movement 8, the Greek words Kyrie eleison(“Lord, have mercy”); in movement 13, an account of the capture taken from official reports, and verses from Psalms and Lamentations.

Whitbourn’s score is amazingly diverse in its musical language. There are passages that sound like plainchant (movements 10 and 13), a harmonized chorale tune (mvt 6), lieder (mvt 12), music-hall ditties and klezmer (mvt 5). Movements 2, 7, and 13 use angular, dissonant figures and extreme dynamic contrasts to dramatize the fear of capture and the terror of a false alarm. (As conditions deteriorated in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, the building was broken into more than once by burglars.) We also hear elements of Anne’s sound-world, such as clock chimes in a nearby church tower (mvt 5) and the little xylophone she played as a young child (mvts 1 and 9). Like Williams in Schindler’s List, Whitbourn used the contours and cadences of Jewish melodies without quoting any literally. The solo soprano is always the voice of Anne in her diary. The chorus is used flexibly: as narrator, or to underscore Anne’s words, or as a Greek chorus to make the words speak for all imperiled Jews then and to all the world now.

Annelies premièred in London in 2005. While it has been performed and recorded in the U.S. in a chamber version, we believe our performances are the first in the Western Hemisphere of the original scoring with full orchestra.