Notes from Anne Frank's Diary

A new oratorio sets to music one of the most poignant stories of the 20th century

There will be an avalanche of musical events on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, on Thursday, but one of the most interesting will be a new oratorio based on the diary of Anne Frank. Composed by James Whitbourn, this has been masterminded by a young woman named Melanie Challenger. "I realised that, though Anne's life story had been told a million times, there wasn't a piece of music on it that young people could respond to," says the irrepressible twentysomething. "Michael Tilson Thomas had done a piece, and I knew about Hans Krasa's children's opera
Brundibar, which was written and performed in the Terezin camp. But my real influence was Britten's
War Requiem. I wanted to take that idea of something that was both secular and sacred, and apply it to what was unique about
Anne Frank's Diary."

There will be an avalanche of musical events on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, on Thursday, but one of the most interesting will be a new oratorio based on the diary of Anne Frank. Composed by James Whitbourn, this has been masterminded by a young woman named Melanie Challenger. "I realised that, though Anne's life story had been told a million times, there wasn't a piece of music on it that young people could respond to," says the irrepressible twentysomething. "Michael Tilson Thomas had done a piece, and I knew about Hans Krasa's children's opera Brundibar, which was written and performed in the Terezin camp. But my real influence was Britten's War Requiem. I wanted to take that idea of something that was both secular and sacred, and apply it to what was unique about Anne Frank's Diary."

What was that uniqueness? "It was all about wanting to be a writer, being full of literary ambition, but also about being incarcerated for such a long time, and what that did to her consciousness." What did it do? "It fragmented and also refined it. She talks about a pure part of her self, which started to separate out from the more frenetically engaged social animal which she also was. She was like a bird in a nest, looking down at the brutality around her, and also up at the sky. That pure part lifted away in the latter part of the diary. It wasn't part of being Jewish, or middle- class, or even being a woman - it was just humanity." Challenger regards the diary genre as "the purest literary expression of human consciousness - and the nearest readers can get to being inside another individual's mind".

Indeed, she's something of an expert on them, having written her own since infancy and having recently co-edited (with the Bosnian writer Zlata Filipovic) a book created from hundreds of children's diaries from war zones. Getting permission from the Frank family was an obstacle race, which Challenger surmounted by simply not taking no for an answer. At first she thought she would write an opera libretto from it, but soon found that oratorio was a more suitable form. Having worked at Garsington and Wexford, and having briefly trained as a singer, she felt up to the job. "I know how voices work, and which vowel-sounds and what sort of language is singable," she says. She wanted the music to be accessible, though without being dumbed down, and when she went to the Jewish Music Institute for advice about composers, they propelled her toward Whitbourn. The results exactly fit her prescription.

With a large chorus and one solo singer, she has tried to retain Britten's Requiem form. "For me, it wasn't about the other people in the attic - it was just Anne and the Jewish people," she says. "The last diary entry is incredible. It talks about that contradiction - that if you look at the sky, you'll find you're still pure within; her belief that we're made to respond to the beauty of nature. And that's the note the oratorio ends on."

'Annelies', part of the Holocaust Memorial Day, is at 7pm on Thursday, BBC2

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?