Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Bach Books: Main Page / Reviews & Discussions | Index by Title | Index by Author | Index by Number
General: Biographies | Essay Collections | Performance Practice | Children
Vocal: Cantatas BWV 1-224 | Motets BWV 225-231 | Latin Church BWV 232-243 | Passions & Oratorios BWV 244-249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Lieder BWV 439-524
Instrumental: Organ BWV 525-771 | Keyboard BWV 772-994 | Solo Instrumental BWV 995-1013 | Chamber & Orchestral BWV 1014-1080

Bach Books

On Johann Sebastian Bach's Life, Genius, and Works
by Johann Nikolaus Forkel

 

 

Book

1

On Johann Sebastian Bach's Life, Genius, and Works

Included in 'The Bach Reader' edited by Hans T. David & Arthur Mendel

Written by: Johann Nikolaus Forkel
Tranlated to English by: A.C.E. Kollmann [?] 1820

J.M. Dent & Sons

1802

64pp

Forkel in English

Bradley Lehman
wrote (October 1, 2004):
< The English translation is faulty. I have pointed this out quite carefully and in detail. (...)
Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel were most likely not trained in German philology. One would have to assume that the professional training given on p. xiii of the preface to the first edition sums up their individual situations: Both having studied here and abroad (Mendel did not even study in Germany, the emphasis of their studies were focused on various aspects of music which then allowed both of them to become professors of music at the U. of Michigan and at Princeton University respectively. >
Mendel, David, and Christoph Wolff (the architects of the Bach Reader and New Bach Reader, responsible for every word in them) have understood a fundamental thing: die Muttersprache ist die Musik. Nicht Deutsch, aber die Musik! That's a good thing to learn from them, instead of dicking around with potshots at their work, or amateur guesses at their mental competence.

Besides, the English translation of Forkel in the Bach Reader is credited to an Augustus Frederic Christopher Kollmann of 1820. It's not as if modern scholars are mistranslating any of that section; and certainly not with any intention of being deceptive about Forkel's hidden meanings (if any). Cries of "German philology ueber alles!" are pretty hollow, given that the English translation was done by a native Hanoverian (living in London) 184 years ago. If Kollmann's work is "faulty", well then, go rent a time machine and go give him a swift kick in the crotch. There had been some conjecture earlier that the translation was really by a Mr Stephenson in 1808, but Walter Emery in 1947 cleared that up in favor of Kollmann.

Whoever did the translation, it was by guys who were there. We're not. Lass uns in Ruhe! Lass Forkel in Ruhe! Lass Bach und Goldberg in Ruhe! Lass uns die Musik geniessen!

"Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
Sie rauschen vorbei wie naechtliche Schatten,
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jaeger sie schiessen,
Es bleibet dabei; die Gedanken sind frei
."
(Des Knaben Wunderhorn, publ. 1806-8)

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 1, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>Mendel, David, and Christoph Wolff (the architects of the Bach Reader and New Bach Reader, responsible for every word in them) have understood a fundamental thing: die Muttersprache ist die Musik. Nicht Deutsch, aber die Musik! That's a good thing to learn from them, instead of dicking around with potshots at their work, or amateur guesses at their mental competence.<<
Those are the flaming exaggerations of a writer who uses every opportunity to distort my statements.

>>Besides, the English translation of Forkel in the _Bach Reader_ is credited to an Augustus Frederic Christopher Kollmann of 1820. It's not as if modern scholars are mistranslating any of that section; and certainly not with any intention of being deceptive about Forkel's hidden meanings (if any). Cries of "German philology ueber alles!" are pretty hollow, given that the English translation was done by a native Hanoverian (living in London) 184 years ago. If Kollmann's work is "faulty", well then, go rent a time machine and go give him a swift kick in the crotch. There had been some conjecture earlier that the translation was really by a Mr Stephenson in 1808, but Walter Emery in 1947 cleared that up in favor of Kollmann.Whoever did the translation, it was by guys who were there.<<
What the Hanover! [OED: an expression of irritation or impatience] Which guys were where? A native Hanoverian who may have had considerable difficulties with English or who may have had some help from a native English speaker who made a guess at what 'munter' really means? Why wasn't a new translation attempted by the editors of the 'New Bach Reader' Is Kollmann's translation to be treated as the equal to the King James Version of the Bible?

As it turns out, David and Mendel stated in their 1st edition preface the following about the translations used: "The few contemporary translations available...have been used. Each has been carefully compared with the original and revised wherever the meaning had been incorrectly or incompletely rendered." In the Goldberg passage which is under contention, they should have been more careful, using modern philological methods to determine what is a reasonable translation. Christoph Wolff probably should have checked his sources more carefully before allowing the English translation of Forkel as given by David and Mendel in the 'New Bach Reader' to remain in the book as it was first published in 1945. In his preface, Wolff, who only assisted in part in translating some new material not included in the old Bach Reader, cleverly makes the following statement: "Original sources and historical documents can speak for themselves." More importantly, degreed musicologists who wish to attack my statements and poke fun of them ought to be more thorough in their scholarly methods before invoking 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' to prove that 'Die Gedanken sind frei' allows musicians to dictate what really took place historically as long as it fits their preconceived 'free thoughts.'

It would appear that an article by W. Emery entitled "The English Translator of Forkel" in Music and Letters (1947) might have been the first indication that something was wrong with the Kollmann translation. Without having recourse to this article, I would have to presume that this is either a defense against increasing doubts about its validity or simply a glowing account of how Kollmann supposedly translated Forkel's Bach biography into English so as to quiet the rising tide of criticism about its authorship.

MGG (c) Bärenreiter-Verlag 1986) in an article on Kollman by Hans Ferdinand Redlich already gives details about the details concerning the English translator, Roland Stephenson, who in 1808 had been commissioned to carry out the translation. Just how and why Kollmann was still being attributed as the translator could not be clearly established in the early eighties, but now we have fairly clear evidence that Kollmann was indeed not the translator of Forkel. Yes, we have evidence that he corresponded with Forkel (obviously this correspondence would be in German and not English, but he was not the translator as still incorrectly indicated in the 'New Bach Reader.'

The evidence for this comes from the New Grove Online [Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 10/01/04] in an article by Michael Kassler where in a complete listing of all Kollmann's writings and compositions, the Forkel translation into English is not listed among them. The most that Kassler could determine is that Kollmann may have provided 'some assistance' to the translator.

Now we are back to square one: Kollmann, as a 26-year-old Hanoverian probably was not equally fluent in English and German, and thus probably would have reacted as follows in a conversation with the English translator of Forkel's Bach biography (or the assisting translator for some of his other musicological studies that were printed in English): The translator: "Augustus Frederic Christopher, can you tell me what this word 'munter' means? Does it mean 'cheery'? Kollmann: "Well, let me see, that's not quite everything that the German word can mean under these circumstances, but if there is no other word in English that you can suggest, let's just leave it simply as 'cheery.'

Summary:

Kollmann is not the translator of the Forkel Bach biography. He may only have assisted here and there, so what is so special about this translation from the period made by a non-native German? Nothing. All those who support the sacred text contained in the 'New Bach Reader,'please raiyour right hand.

"Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
Sie rauschen vorbei wie naechtliche Schatten,
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jaeger sie schiessen,
Es bleibet dabei; die Gedanken sind frei
."
(Des Knaben Wunderhorn, publ. 1806-8)

"Kein Jäger sie schießen?" I consider this particular thought [set of non-persuasive arguments] of the respondent as being 'shot down.'

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 1, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Christoph Wolff probably should have checked his sources more carefully before allowing the English translation of Forkel as given by David and Mendel in the 'New Bach Reader' to remain in the book as it was first published in 1945. >
A suggestion: give Christoph Wolff a phone call and tell him so, then? Assuming, of course, that you've first done the serious background work of ascertaining the source-checking that he has already performed.

If this issue is really that important to anybody's appreciation of Forkel and/or the Goldberg Variations, why not write it up as a journal article and submit it for publication somewhere? If you've really got something to be taken seriously, other than an assertion that all musicologists are morons, write it up. Hint: use real research techniques other than merely looking up supporting quotes in a couple of dictionaries. It's important to study as much of the background literature on a topic as possible, to find out what has been said before, and to see what controversies are already out there. It doesn't do simply to locate counterexamples and then use them as authorities to bash one another. That type of "research" hardly passes muster at a sophomore level in any serious field. That's merely polemics, and it impresses only people who are swayed by blustering emotion. That's not research at all. It's the coming to decisions FIRST and then seeking corroboration, and ignoring any inconveniently disparate evidence. That's not research!

In this case, the foregone conclusion that obviously guides everything is the one that Gabriel Jackson mentioned this morning: that the bluster is not about the material at all, but merely a desperate attempt to one-up real scholars and musicians and make us look stupid. (I trust that I've paraphrased Gabriel's comment accurately enough.) How does that respect Bach's music, or respect any of us who care about it?

Myself, I've consulted with Dr Wolff on a couple of things, and have found him to be a nice guy and open to suggested correction on things that are presented convincingly. That's what scientists do. Scientists respond well to being approached with respect, and being approached by interlocutors who really know what they're talking about. That is, by people who really have done the homework first, bringing a well-reasoned piece of research and writing that is obviously not superficial bluster (or any kind of bluster).

< More importantly, degreed musicologists who wish to attack my statements and poke fun of them ought to be more thorough in their scholarly methods before invoking 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' to prove that 'Die Gedanken sind frei' allows musicians to dictate what really took place historically as long as it fits their preconceived 'free thoughts.'
My quotation from Des KW was only to assert that I think for myself, instead of taking the preachy word of those who claim that their alleged background in German "historically informed" translation trumps everything, including musicianship. Why the insistence on telling me what to think, when my thoughts are free? Des KW was a nice little poetic tidbit from that same year, 1808. So what?

< It would appear that an article by W. Emery entitled "The English Translator of Forkel" in Music and Letters (1947) might have been the first indication that something was wrong with the Kollmann translation. Without having recourse to this article, I would have to presume that this is either a defense against increasing doubts about its validity or simply a glowing account of how Kollmann supposedly translated Forkel's Bach biography into English so as to quiet the rising tide of criticism about its authorship. >
Why guess? That issue of Music & Letters is available in libraries!

Wolff as editor/reviser of NBR is implicitly satisfied with the translation he's provided. For the moment, that's good enough for me. There has to be SOME trust that musicologists have done their jobs well! That book represents a mountain of work.

< MGG (c) Bärenreiter-Verlag 1986) in an article on Kollman by Hans Ferdinand Redlich already gives details about the details concerning the English translator, Roland Stephenson, who in 1808 had been commissioned to carry out the translation. Just how and why Kollmann was still being attributed as the translator could not be clearly established in the early eighties, but now we have fairly clear evidence that Kollmann was indeed not the translator of Forkel. Yes, we have evidence that he corresponded with Forkel (obviously this correspondence would be in German and not English, but he was not the translator as still incorrectly indicated in the 'New Bach Reader.' >
Who's this "we", kemosabe?

And what proof do you have that Wolff didn't look at MGG? Wolff can read German as well as you can, and knows at least as well as you do how important MGG is.

< The evidence for this comes from the New Grove Online [Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 10/01/04] in an article by Michael Kassler where in a complete listing of all Kollmann's writings and compositions, the Forkel translation into English is not listed among them. The most that Kassler could determine is that Kollmann may have provided 'some assistance' to the translator. >
You "know" this? How about giving M Kassler a call to be sure, first?

< Now we are back to square one: Kollmann, as a 26-year-old Hanoverian probably was not equally fluent in English and German, and thus probably would have reacted as follows in a conversation with the English translator of Forkel's Bach biography (or the assisting translator for some of his other musicological studies that were printed in English): The translator: "Augustus Frederic Christopher, can you tell me what this word 'munter' means? Does it mean 'cheery'? Kollmann: "Well, let me see, that's not quite everything that the German word can mean under these circumstances, but if there is no other word in English that you can suggest, let's just leave it simply as 'cheery.' >
Notwithstanding that this is completely a piece of fiction on your part, putting an imaginary conversation into their mouths: where the **&#@% does the "26-year-old" come from?! Kollmann was born in 1756. This would make him 64 when the translation came out in 1820. Forkel himself had died in 1818. Isn't there any chance that Kollmann and Forkel corresponded after Kollmann had moved to England in 1784? And isn't there any chance that Kollmann really was equally fluent in English and German, living in England for so many years?

And even if it were Stephenson or somebody else in 1808, Kollmann was 52 at the time.

And, what's to prevent Stephenson himself (or whoever) from being fluent in German?

And, what's to prevent Forkel himself from helping Kollmann prepare an English translation?! Work of that size and import doesn't just get whipped up in a couple of months and rushed into print, in 1820 or now. Forkel could have spent a couple of YEARS in the 18teens, before his demise in 1818, helping one or more translators get an English version of his work into shape. What's your proof that he didn't approve of every word in that translation?

Heck, where's your proof that Forkel himself didn't know English well enough to understand the translation(s), which could have been shown to him by anybody working on them?

< "Kein Jäger sie schießen?" I consider this particular thought [set of non-persuasive arguments] of the respondent as being 'shot down.' >
Why is there a Jäger out there somewhere near Chicago taking these potshots against musicologists AT ALL, except to amuse himself in trying to put down others who are bright and industrious?

What is the *#%(@#*&% point of this whole conve? To make us magically hear the Goldberg Variations differently somehow? To instruct us in something we should care about? To make us all bow down and assert, "Yes indeedy, Thomas Braatz is a better musicologist than Christoph Wolff and everybody else"? What is this need to calumniate and vilify EVERYBODY who has a more knowledgeable opinion about the Goldberg Variations, without really offering anything positive that would help us enjoy the piece more?

=====

Myself, I'm quite happy to listen to (at least) 40 different recordings of the Goldbergs, and play through them, and dance with my kid, and read Don Satz' reviews, and otherwise enjoy the music in any way I please. The expectations of other list members are similar, as stated recently by them.

Why does it matter one holy dingdong what Forkel's word "munter" meant, as compared against the way we experience "munter" directly by listening to the music? Is Forkel's expression of enjoyment and appreciation for the piece supposed to trump our own? Why?!?!?!? Forkel wrote an important early biography of Bach. We can study and enjoy his work for what it is and be grateful, rather than sitting around trying to pick lint out of his toenails. Those who want to read it in German are free to do so. Those who want to read it in English are free to do so. Or both! The point of
reading him at all is to appreciate the music better. Isn't it?

Bach Books: Main Page / Reviews & Discussions | Index by Title | Index by Author | Index by Number
General: Biographies | Essay Collections | Performance Practice | Children
Vocal: Cantatas BWV 1-224 | Motets BWV 225-231 | Latin Church BWV 232-243 | Passions & Oratorios BWV 244-249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Lieder BWV 439-524
Instrumental: Organ BWV 525-771 | Keyboard BWV 772-994 | Solo Instrumental BWV 995-1013 | Chamber & Orchestral BWV 1014-1080

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: żOctober 17, 2004 ż00:04:02