Anne Frank at 80 and in Song

Still worth reading, but Anne Frank's prose perhaps doesn't need musical accompaniment(Photo:
Still worth reading, but Anne Frank's prose perhaps doesn't need musical accompaniment(Photo:

Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929. She died in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in March, 1945,  only a few weeks before Germany collapsed and the war in Europe ended. 

The Diary of Anne Frank was first published in the States in 1952. A definitive version of the diary, with pages withheld by Anne’s father, appeared in 1995. Otto Frank was the only one of the eight people hidden in the “Secret Annexe” in Amsterdam to survive the war. He died in 1980.

A few composers have turned to this devastating and beautiful book. Russian composer Grigori Frid (b. 1915) wrote a two character “mono-opera,” The Diary of Anne Frank. The Cleveland Opera produced Frid’s work in 2004; it was performed in Texas by the Austin Chamber Music Society in 2007. I haven’t heard it, but David Bamberger of the Cleveland Opera thought enough of it to mount a production, and his word is good enough for me.

Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz wrote a solo cantata in 1970, From the Diary of Anne Frank. There’s a fine recording of this with mezzo Judith Forst and the CBC Vancouver Orchestra conducted by Mario Bernardi (CBC Records SMCD 5191). Morawetz uses a page of the diary where Anne writes of a nightmare where she saw her friend Lies sick and in rags, dying in one of the camps. Lukas Foss wrote an Elegy for Anne Frank (for orchestra and narrator) in 1989. Naxos has a recording of it with the Berlin Radio Orchestra; it’s published as part of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music.  

Harmonia Mundi has a recording of the piece with and without the narration, with Carl St. Clair conducting the Pacific Symphony.

Loud were the shouts of protest last year when a musical of The Diary of Anne Frank was produced in Spain. Anne became well known from the Broadway play based on her diary in the 1950s by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich.

The 1959 film really brought Anne’s story to the world. Alfred Newman’s score for the film  is on a CD of music from his films including  Wuthering Heights, The Song of Bernadette and How the West Was Won (CD on Silva America, SSD 1122).

But let’s face it: Does Anne’s story NEED music? Does it cry out for any setting or distillation that doesn’t leave her words front and center? No.

The Oscar Morawetz piece cited above is beautifully done. But if you want to experience music, listen to Brundibar by Hans Krasa, an opera written for the children of Terezin. And don’t miss Anne Sophie von Otter’s superb CD,  Terezin/Theresianstadt on DGG.

These are art songs and chamber music written in Terezin, which was a “model camp” used for Nazi propaganda purposes. Hans Krasna was one of the composers who died there. So did most of the children who performed Brundibar.

Learn more about Anne’s journey and her place in the world today. Reread the diary, then have your kids read it.

P.S. It was good to read this morning that Miep Gies, one of the people who hid Anne and her family, is in good health at age 100.