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Discussions: Texts | Translations: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Translations of Texts of Bach's Vocal Works
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Bach libretti for congregations

Doug Cowling wrote (December 6, 2004):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I will certainly stand correction on this but my understanding is somewhat different. As I understand it there were short flyers available before service that described the message of the sermon and included a listing of the chorales to be sung and a synopsis of the musical message if a cantata was to be given. Are you suggesting that a whole text was available for the parishoners at large? I should think this would have been quite an expense and a major bother. A cantata would only have been performed at one or maybe two of the four churches Bach was responsible for. Be nice to clear this up. As for librettos being available during opera performance I know this was sometimes true in England at the Italian opera. I don't know if this was true in Italy at the Italian opera. <G> >
From Wolff (p.259)

'Before composing the cantata, he had to selectits text and prepare it for publication in the form of booklets that the congregation could read before or during the performance. These booklets, in conveniently small octavo format, comntained the cantata texts for several Sundays in a row, usually six. Besides the libretto of the ChristmasnOratorio, five such booklets have survived.

[the surviving booklets are listed]

That twelve such booklets were needed per year gives us an inkling of the advance planning necessary for carrying out Bach's musical program. Moreover, the booklets were apparently printed at the cantor's expense and then, wiith the help of students or his own children, distributed to subscribers and other einterested and more affluent citizens. The sale helped not only tor eciver the printing costs but also to secure some significant income that was then used to pay for additional musicians (particulalry instrumentalists) an dother performance-related expenses.'

These booklets have been used as evidence that the congregation sang along with the chorales in the cantatas although there is no evidence whatsoever that the congregation thundered through Bach's exqusisite harmonizations.

The question continues to come up when modern hymn books insist on printing Bach harmonizations for congregational use often in grotesque transpostions. I just finished my annual jeremiad on another list about singing the final chorale of "Wachet Auf" down a full minor third so the range is acceptable to the public. I foam at the mouth at performances of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) which encourage singalong performnces on the three harmonizations of the so-called "Passion Chorale". No matter how well done, congregational singing obliterates Bach's harmonies.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 6, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>From Wolff (p.259)
'Before composing the cantata, he had to select its text and prepare it for publication in the form of booklets that the congregation could read before or during the performance. These booklets, in conveniently small octavo format, comntained the cantata texts for several Sundays in a row, usually six. Besides the libretto of the Christmas Oratorio, five such booklets have survived.'
[the surviving booklets are listed] >>
I found a facsimile of one those which Wolff lists:

Only the cantatas from for the 5th and 6th Sundays after Trinity (and the text "Heimsuchung Mariä") 1725 are reproduced for viewing since this KB treats only these Sundays.

This booklet was printed by Immanuel Tietzen of Leipzig and is titled: "Texte | Zur Leipziger | Kirchen=Musik" etc. ["The texts for all the church music in the Leipzig churches" from the 3rd to 6th Sundays including special feast days.] The cantata for the 5th Sunday after Trinity was performed only at the St. Nicolai Church; the cantata for the Visitation of Mary (a feast day) was performed twice: early morning at St. Thomas Church and in the afternoon at St. Nicolai. The cantata for the 6th Sunday after Trinity only at St. Nicolai. These libretti indicated when and where the cantata was to be performed. It would appear that the cantata for Johanni is missing from this series of facsimiles. There is no way to tell the number of exact pages in the 'booklet' since each page is numbered '0' at the top. With freshly printed pages facing each other, it is no surprise that some spotty ink impressions are noticeable on each page.

Most of the other facsimiles of Bach's cantata texts that I could look at quickly in the KBs are from books that Bach used as sources for his cantata texts with page numbers between 100 and 200. These again are used by the NBA editors for confirmation (to prove authorship of the text, or in order to determine what Bach left out or even possibly changed in the original text.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 6, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< These booklets have been used as evidence that the congregation sang along with the chorales in the cantatas although there is no evidence whatsoever that the congregation thundered through Bach's exqusisite harmonizations. The question continues to come up when modern hymn books insist on printing Bach harmonizations for congregational use often in grotesque transpostions. I just finished my annual jeremiad on another list about singing the final chorale of "Wachet Auf" down a full minor third so the range is acceptable to the public. I foam at the mouth at performances of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) which encourage singalong performnces on the three harmonizations of the so-called "Passion Chorale". No matter how well done, congregational singing obliterates Bach's harmonies. >
A friend of mine here (a university professor and former post-doc student of Rilling) does several Bach cantatas each year for an audience that is accustomed to singing four-part music, usually unaccompanied, in weekly church services. The Bach chorales are a bit trickier than some other things, of course, but it goes pretty well for the most part.

Before the cantata begins, if the chorale is a relatively unfamiliar one, he does a quick rehearsal with the congregation: having the choir and orchestra onstage go through it once, then having the congregation sing through it all once or twice more, in parts. When he's satisfied it will go OK, there's a brief pause and then he conducts the whole cantata, with the audience joining in on the chorale at the end. For the printed program he distributes a libretto of the entire cantata, including the typeset music for the chorale(s).

We also did the whole St Matthew that way, with various of the chorales printed in full in the booklet and the audience singing them in the four parts (in that case without rehearsal). It went well. Naturally it requires a congregation that is accustomed to singing confidently in parts, as we do here. Our hymnal has more than half a dozen Bach chorales in original keys, and the congregational singing tradition is still strong enough that we just pick these things up and read them off.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 6, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>A friend of mine here (a university professor and former post-doc student of Rilling) does several Bach cantatas each year for an audience that is accustomed to singing four-part music, usually unaccompanied, in weekly church services. The Bach chorales are a bit trickier than some other things, of course, but it goes pretty well for the most part.
....then he conducts the whole cantata, with the audience joining in on the chorale at the end....
We also did the whole St Matthew that way, with various of the chorales printed in full in the booklet and the audience singing them in the four parts (in that case without rehearsal).<<
This is an interesting way of performing the Bach chorales from his cantatas, etc. and it isn't even a very new idea (see below) but it certainly was not Bach's intentionto have them performed in this manner. Nowhere have I come across any reliable information or a contention by Bach scholars backed up with evidence that such a tradition existed under Bach's tenure in Leipzig.

Here are some quotations from the New Grove Online [Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 12/06/04]:

Christoph Wolff compares Bach's 4-pt. chorales with those of his contemporaries:

>>Bach's composition of chorales is most closely associated with his production of cantatas. Four-part chorale style, or stylus simplex, was normal for his closing movements, particularly in the Leipzig cantatas; it also often occurred at the ends of subsections in the Passions and oratorios. Bach's chorale writing is characterized by the 'speaking' quality of the part-writing and the harmonies - meaning that they aim to be a direct interpretation of the text. In its pervasive counterpoint and its expressiveness, Bach's harmonic style stands out from that of his contemporaries, who preferred plain homophonic textures in their chorales. This simpler approach, found in the chorales of such as Graupner or Telemann, with movement mostly in minims, was well suited to congregational singing, but Bach took no account of that in his chorales, which are deliberately more artistic, rhythmically often more lively (written in crotchets) and frequently bolder in their harmonies. The first four-part chorale settings are in the Weimar cantatas (the last movement of no.12, performed on 22 April 1714, is among the earliest examples), and Bach's stylistic development in this type of composition reached a final stage 30 years later in the chorales of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), with their elegantly mobile bass lines and their polyphonic refinement of the inner voices.<<

And Robert L. Marshall and Robin A Leaver who have investigated the role of the chorale in the Lutheran church from its inception until the present, have determined that after Bach's death the tradition of having the congregation 'sing along' on the chorales of this sort already began taking place in Leipzig. But there is no way to superimpose (except by wishful thinking on the part of some) such a tradition on Bach's own performances in Leipzig:

>>At other times the introit was replaced by a hymn appropriate to the day or season, either Latin (sung by the choir) or German (sung by the congregation). In each case the singing was unaccompanied, the choir supporting the congregation when a German hymn was sung. Whether the service began with a traditional introit, a choral Latin hymn or a congregational German chorale, the singing was introduced by an improvised organ prelude, the primary purpose of which was to establish the pitch for the unaccompanied singing. In the case of a chorale, such 'preluding' by the organist would remind the congregation of the melody about to be sung. Thus the genre of chorale prelude was established. At the end of the 16th century, organ accompaniment was introduced in order to improve the quality of congregational singing.<<

and

>>The leading cantata composers of the generation after Bach were, again, Homilius and Doles. In the late 1760s, having composed chorale cantatas modelled on those of Bach and Telemann, Doles cultivated a 'new kind of church music' (in the words of his successor, Johann Adam Hiller), in which each strophe of a traditional chorale was sung to identical music; a setting of the tune for a four-part chorus was reinforced by a trombone choir (increasingly popular from the late 18th century) and perhaps by the congregation itself, while the rest of the orchestra performed framing ritornellos and interludes between the chorale lines. This 'figurierter Choral Dolesscher Art' was taken up by a number of composers, notably Hiller, C.G. Tag and D.G. Türk.<<

If such a tradition of singing the Bach 4-pt. Chorales from his cantatas, oratorios, and passions during his time had existed, such information would certainly be widespread today and the very thorough summaries of the likes of the above Bach scholars would have mentioned something about this (not to mention the numerous Bach scholars like Spitta, Schering and Dürr.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 6, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote [about the congregation singing along in the chorales]:
< This is an interesting way of performing the Bach chorales from his cantatas, etc. and it isn't even a very new idea (see below) but it certainly was not Bach's intention to have them performed in this manner. >
There's that "Bach's intention" thing again, and that certainty of what it wasn't!

< And Robert L. Marshall and Robin A Leaver who have investigated the role of the chorale in the Lutheran church from its inception until the present, have determined that after Bach's death the tradition of having the congregation 'sing along' on the chorales of this sort already began taking place in Leipzig. But there is no way to superimpose (except by wishful thinking on the part of some) such a tradition on Bach's own performances in Leipzig: >
Who said it was anybody's wishful thinking, or any attempt to reconstruct historical practice? My friend conducts the cantatas that way because it sounds good, and because that participation gets the congregation involved in the spiritual experience and enjoyment of the music, more than merely listening to it. He told me that he considers his cantata series (and his whole annual festival) a community-building experience, to bring good music to people who otherwise wouldn't get to hear it much, and to give musicians the chance to participate. Those are all pretty good reasons, in my humble opinion.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 6, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] My principal objection to congregational singing in Bach cantatas is that most audiences will sing only the melody and that overweights the balance of the parts. In addition, Bach often chooses keys which have symbolic value (viz the celestially high keys of the final chorales of Cantata BWV 140 and the St. John Passion (BWV 245)). As to rehearsing the audience -- most Bach chorales defy a quick readthrough. Those of you who have sung a Bach Passion know that the chorales are difficult to sing because the text goes by so quickly and the lower lines are often very tricky. I simply don't believe that a congregation ever sang Bach's tone-row chorale "Es is Genug" from "O Ewiggkeit Du Donnerwort". Most choirs trip over that.

Now I have heard some very creative ways of involving the audience which helped to give an impression of what it was like to hear a Bach cantata in a liturgy dominated by congregational chorale-singing. On one occasion, the audience sang two verses of "Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland" in unison in a congregational version from a Cantoral which Bach would have used. The organist then played one of the great chorale-preludes and the audience reposnded with two more verses. The choir then sang the cantata based on the chorale. It was very effective because it provided the sound of a large group of untrained voices singing the melody which Bach then transfigured in his concerted music.

One of the nice things about NcCreesh's recording of the Epiphany Mass is that we can hear Bach's music in its context surrounded by congregational singing. It also demonstrates the various ways chorales were performed (e.g. unaccompanied unison, four part harmony with organ, harmonized with organ interludes after each line) The most interesting thing I discovered was that the performance of the concerted music OVPP seemed quite natural as a kind of musical homily on the liturgical themes.

 

Indonesia Translation Pages in BCW

Rianto Pardede [Indonesia] wrote (December 30, 2004):
With the kind help of Aryeh Oron, Indonesia translation pages of cantatas' text for January 2005 (i.e. BWV 150, BWV 131, BWV 106, BWV 4, and BWV 196) are now available in Bach Cantatas Website (BCW). The index page for them is: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/IndexTexts-Ind-BWV.htm

Batches of subsequent translations are planned to be added regularly, in anticipation of the weekly round discussion for each following month. Hopefully, fellow Indonesians--few, as they are--and, probably Malayans, may find them of some use.

 

English translations of cantatas and chorales

Francis Browne wrote (December 31, 2004):
As the new cycle of cantata discusions progresses I shall be revising my existing translations, adding notes about the text and making new translations where necessary. The translations will be available in both interlinear format and as a more economically printable version in parallel format. My intention is also to provide translations of the complete texts of the chorales used by Bach in many cantatas. Some chorales are in turn based on Latin hymns and texts and translations will be available for these also.

Where the text of a cantata is closely linked with the readings for a particular day of the Lutheran church year, I hope with Aryeh's kind cooperation to make these readings easily available in English and German.

Corrections and suggestions for improvement are always welcome (Offlist please)

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 31, 2004):
[To Francis Browne] I would gladly help, too. I have online versions of the 1534 and 1545 Luther Bible and have just received (for Christmas) a facsimile of the 1534 Luther Bible.

 

Why the Jacobean/King James type English?

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 10, 2005):
Why are a number of translations of Bach's cantatas done with King James style English??

Just wondering.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 10, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] Some of those translations are products of the 19th century, when KJV was the "normal" biblical translation in use....

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 10, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] In addition to what Brad Lehman suggested, which is certainly part of the picture, there is also the problem with the original German texts that occasionally used words and phrases 200 to 350 years old, some of which are no longer properly understood or which now carry other connotations which would misconstrue the original intention of the librettist. In the past century in Germany, it had become the custom to simply change words and phrases in the cantata libretti in order to 'modernize' them so as to avoid having listeners chuckle at the odd way in which certain ideas were being expressed. In a way, the use of the KJV biblical texts or even an attempt to present the paraphrases of the chorale texts in the language of the King James bible translation in rendering the texts of the Bach cantatas might approach slightly what German-speaking individuals might think and feel when they hear Bach's libretti being performed unadulterated by the singers today. However, remarkably, (this is certainly due to the unqualified success of Luther's bible translation in Germany) the 'distance' between modern-day German and Bach's libretti is not as great as that between modern American English (which is my native language) and the KJV translation which I can understand easily, but has a very different 'feeling' associated with it, all the 'thee's,' 'thou's,' and 'thine's' notwithstanding.

Coming back to the question--perhaps those individuals faced with translating Bach's libretti into to English at the end of the 19th and the 1st half of the 20th century, consciously tried to maintain the elevated language which they thought best represented 'a religious feeling' in English for what they knew had become a somewhat obscure and distanced language as well for Germans who perceived antiquated forms and expressions in Bach's libretti.

Personally, I believe, that the members of Bach's congregation felt a much more direct, intimate connection with these words of the libretti without even sensing a special elevation in the language, an elevation that might otherwise be sensed as being slightly artificial or overly reverential. Luther's bible translation still spoke directly to these people two centuries later in Bach's day because Luther had made the effort to create a translation that everyone on the street would easily understand (without archaisms, Latinisms, etc.)

One of the truly remarkable innovations in the early HIP mvt. (the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series) was to sing the text as given in the Urtext (this means actually singing "Jüde" instead of "Jude" and "für" instead of "vor" - such words were simply modernized by editors/conductors/singers without even batting an eyelash.) This would be the equivalent to hearing a singer or choir sing: "thou knoweth" instead of "you know."

Doug Cowling wrote (January 10, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Coming back to the question--perhaps those individuals faced with translating Bach's libretti into to English at the end of the 19th and the 1st half of the 20th century, consciously tried to maintain the elevated > language which they thought best represented 'a religious feeling' in English for what they knew had become a somewhat obscure and distanced language as > well for Germans who perceived antiquated forms and expressions in Bach's libretti. >
Translations of Bach are hampered by two unfortunate English literary prejudices:

1) Literati maintain that only the King James Bible (1615) should be used because it has attained the status of a literary icon. The problem remains that Luther's German Bible and the KJ Bible often translate the same word or phrase in a different way. On the other hand, a modern translation of the bible cannot be used because they are translations of critical ur-texts of the biblical writings and again take us away form the text which Bach used. What is desperately needed is a good modern translation of the actual German text which Bach uses in the Passions and oratorios. A terrible problem is in English language performing editions such as Novello where Bach's music is twisted and changed to fit the KJ text.

2) Lutheran chorales were prohibited in many English churches until the Bach revival of the 19th century made them fashionable and accetable. Thus, all the translations of the chorales and poetic texts of the cantatas and passions have a heavy archaic Victorian flavour which has become traditional even when the translation strays far from the original: "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" barely qualifies as a paraphrase of "Jesu bleibet meine Freude".

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 10, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote (in part):
"Coming back to the question--perhaps those individuals faced with translating Bach's libretti into to English at the end of the 19th and the 1st half of the 20th century, consciously tried to maintain the elevated language which they thought best represented 'a religious feeling' in English for what they knew had become a somewhat obscure and distanced language as well for Germans who perceived antiquated forms and expressions in Bach's libretti."
MY COMMENTS:

This perspective strikes a cord with me. I grew up with the King James version of the Bible. The language in that Bible was archaic compared to the English language of the day in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s. (Some of you younger folks will find it hard to believe that we didn't talk in the style of the KJV back in those old times.)

What was the effect of that huge divide between the modern spoken English and the KJV of the Bible? It added an aura of religious mysticism to the Bible. I came to feel that this must be the special language of God.

In fact, in the late 50s and early 60s, a more modern translation of the Bible was introduced. Many who had grown up with the KJV felt that the new tralowered the elegance to the vernacular. They were uncomfortable with the degeneration into the plebian realm.

I was going to comment in closing that the words change their meaning with time, but the music doesn't. Then I realized that the Baroque music compositions sound strange and unfathomable to a teenager who is immersed in the modern popular music, or Country & Western songs.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 11, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] Because it is closest to the Lutherbibel and to exact German translation.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 11, 2005):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] If we want to find a translation which actually translates the German text which Bach uses, the King James Bible (also called the Authorized Version) is not adequate. A comparison of the scene of Judas and the 30 pieces of silver is instructive:

Da das sahe Judas, der ihn verraten hatte, dass er verdammt war zum Tode, gereuete es ihn und brachte herwieder die dreißig Silberlinge den Hohenpriestern und Ältesten und sprach:
Judas:
Ich habe übel getan, dass ich unschuldig Blut verraten habe.
Evangelist:
Sie sprachen:
Chor: Was gehet uns das an? Da siehe du zu
Evangelist:
Und er warf die Silberlinge in den Tempel, hub sich davon, ging hin und erhängete sich selbst. Aber die Hohenpriester nahmen die Silberlinge und sprachen:
Hohepriester:
Es taugt nicht, dass wir sie in den Gotteskasten legen, denn es ist Blutgeld.

Sie hielten aber einen Rat und kauften einen Töpfersacker darum zum Begräbnis der Pilger. Daher ist derselbige Acker genennet der Blutacker bis auf den heutigen Tag.

Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
[4] Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
[5] And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
[6] And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.
[7] And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
[8] Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.

The English passage is filled with idioms such as "potter's field" not in the German, while German expressions such as "Blutgeld" are represented by "the price of blood" "Strangers" in English is "Pilger" (=pilgrims) in German.

My point here is that, unless we are native German speakers, we should have a literal translation of the German in order to catch the word-painting and musical nuance which is crucial in Bach. Both the KJ Bible and the Luther Bible are important cultural documents, but the former is not a translation of the latter.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (January 11, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] As a textual critic of the Bible ---I would like to say that this is one of the problems in reading and interpeting the Bible even in it's mother tongues as what meant one thing some 2000-10,000 years ago now may have the meaning lost, the word lost, or mean something entirely different. We have the same thing happening in English and other languages today. We no longer use the word "yclef", "holpen" (he hath holpen).

One has to do a linquistic analysis of word usage to try to get the sense that was meant.

One of the current controversies about social mores and the Bible---fundamentalists who want to accept the literally translation of the Bible as the absolute word and in doing so are very wrong. It just is not so and translations even vary when translated from the earliest texts to another language and from that language to another language. The famous passage in Leviticus which fundamentalists in English take as a ban against homosexuals says nothing like that in the earliest known texts. What this passage is really against is inhospitablity towards strangers. This is a theme that runs over and over throughout the Bible and even today in the Middle East is still a Social Law--there is nothing lower than a dog (this is an ultimate insult there) than someone who mistreats strangers and/or is inhospitable to them. The Berber tribes of the Sahara are noted for their hospitality to strangers based on this both Bibilical, Koranic and Social Law that basically anwsers the Genesis Question "Are We our Brother's Keeper?". Yes we are. We arrive at this meaning and other meanings through the use of the same word as far back as Genesis. We see this same meaning of these words in the New Testament when Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Some translations even have the Book of Psalms saying what it never said and could not have possibly have said. The Good News Bible(a very corrupt modern text) has "Praise the Lord with----" with musical instruments that did not even exist in Biblical times such as saxophones, clarinets etc that did not even exist until circa 1800.

There is no original text of the Bible and scholars try to put together what the original text said by trying to find the earliest texts which is little more than a guessing game because even the earliest extant texts have variant writings in them (compare the text of Exodus Dead Sea Scrolls with others includig King James) and we even have Texts removed for many reasons including Political ones as in the KJ Texts. The New Testament was not even written down until around 100 AD. The Old Testament some 6000 years after the events occured. So you can see easily that inaccuracies creep and the text becomes tainted with what others would like for it to say.

This is easily proven in a group of some 30 to 100 people sitting around in a circle. One person tells a "secret" to another which is then passed around the room. If the secret was " Mr. Jones was at the Pharmacy and met Miss Bach." The tale might come back as " Mr.Jones was at the Pharmacy buying condoms and Miss Jones was with him. They went to a hotel afterwards and --well you know. Shame he is running around on his wife."

There have been several English translations of the Bible before the KJ text. IF we compare the texts of each we will find variants not only in meaning but the wording of each. The King James version of the Bibile was translated from the Latin which was translated from the Greek which was translated from the Hebrew. So we already see multiple errors creeping in.

Paul Farseth wrote (January 11, 2005):
Doug Cowling is on target when he reminds us that the Luther Bible is much different in idiom and style from the King James Bible (and maybe even from the more contemporaneous translations of texts in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer). What you have in the King James translation is a rugged but very literal translation done by small clusters of committees (who reviewed each other's work) based on carefully on edited Greek and Hebrew texts. Luther's Bible, in contrast, is the work of a single translator, a man of considerable literary genius, but a man who learned the Bible texts originally and intimately in the Latin Vulgate translation of St. Jerome and who was still learning Hebrew when he did the translation. He knew Greek and had a Greek text of the New Testament, but Greek was not his area of scholarship, and the text he had was only recently published (by Erasmus?).

Further, Luther's translation is wildly paraphrastic and idiomatic (if I remember this rightly), very much unlike the KJV, which attempted to translate the source texts word by word, going so far as to italicize the particles and helper words inserted in the tranlation for clarity. Both translations have literary clarity and quality, but they are very different. The KJV is, I think, much more accurate in text, though not always in tone or clarity of meaning.

Luther's essay in response to criticisms that he had not translated the source text literally is one of the earliest theoretical papers on the aims of translation, and it can be fouon the Internet at: http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/luther-translate.txt .

Scott Munger discusses Luther's "functional equivalence" translation principles at: http://www.ibs.org/niv/munger/5-5-4.php .

In any event, it is useful when translating Bach Cantatas to try to capture the imagery of the German texts as written, not as rewritten (however cleverly) by Nineteenth Century translators such as Catherine Winkworth, Thomas Carlyle, or Robert Bridges, though all of them would say they were being faithful to Luther's own principles of translation, aiming to get across the sense and the feeling of the original text, even if the words and images were changed or rearranged.

Bill Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (January 11, 2005):
[To Paul Farseth] While I agree with much you say but we still have the problem of translating a translation which leads to errors. Luther apparently in his statements does not recognize this problem and the problems of translating something literally into a modern language from an ancient extinct language or one that is nearly so. My German is not all that good but I am assuming that Luther's version is good despite the accusations of papraphasing. The translation of the French words "de", "á" offer good examples of the problem of translating text. Most translating texts state that these words can be translated as "about"' '"for"' "to" "by" so it leaves things unclear as to what is meant to the translator since this prepositions mean something entirely different in English and any of the above equivalents could be plugged into the translation giving the wrong translation as well as the right one.

The KJV comes from a translation of the Latin of Jerome who took his translation from the Greek of some else---that is not modern Greek as spoken today and we do not know the complete sources of this translation.

The French text is very much different from the English and likewise the Spanish.

Language usage changes over time. What meant one thing in 1300, in English, no longer means the same thing. An example pre-1920 in American English---we had a gay time. Today that does not mean the same thing that it did pre-1920; as "gay" started to be used as slang and a code word in 1920 and by 1950 had come to mean homosexual (it's 1920 usage) and 50 years later is now firmly legitimately established in such Language Works as the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language (which is not of English origins at all but American)and Webster's Dictionary.

One of the problems caused by the Civil and Church authorities is that first of all it was forbidden to translate or read the Bible by anyone who was not a Priest or Monastic in the early days of the Church because they were afraid, due to the low education levels of the average man between 100-1400 than the texts would be wrongly read and that is what happened anyway. Next; texts had to be copied in a scriptorium which lead to further deviations in texts. There are some famous texts with such wild deviations in text that they have been given names. Others so beautiful that they could have been created by God himself--the Book of Kells is such an example.

There was hope with Gutenburg that the text would remain the same---well printing as we know it today did slow down the variant texts but they are still occuring--this time more deliberately than accidentally.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 11, 2005):
Ludwig wrote:
< The KJV comes from a translation of the Latin of Jerome who took his translation from the Greek of some else---that is not modern Greek as spoken today and we do not know the complete sources of this translation. >
Actually, the New Testament was translated from the Greek of the 'Textus Receptus' not the Latin Vulgate. The scholarship of the 17th c. translators was not adequate to translating the Old Testament from the Hebrew.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 12, 2005):
[To Paul Farseth] However, it is on cue with the Luther-bibel. Look at the 1534 or Unrevised 1545 versions, and one sees that it is exactly on cue with the KJV, the only difference being one is in German and the other English.

Also, one must remember these two points about Luther and his translations:

1.) As he himself said, "Whenever I translate Moses, I want to make him so German that people forget he was a Jew".

2.) The chief thing that won Melancthon over to Luther's cause was that, as Melancthon oftentimes said, he (Luther) knew how to correctly translate and interpret Paul from the original Greek.

Luther had as matter of course (as did all children educated in late 15th-early 16th century Germany) lessons not only in German grammar, literature, and culture, but also in the sciences, the arts, history, mathematics, basic economics, poetry, philosophy, religion, and the following languages: Latin, Hebrew, and Greek (both grammar, literature, and culture).

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 12, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] As was Luther's. After all, the "Textus receptus" itself was of 16th-century vintage, having been written in 1519 by the Dutch Humanist and scholar Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 12, 2005):
[To Paul Farseth] Thanks for your comments about the Luther Bible. There is however a rather significant error your in your comments. By no means is the Luther Bible a "one man translation".

He did translated the New Testament from Erasmus' Greek text (not the Textus Receptus, by the way). This translation was published in 1522, but almost immediately Luther began improving and revising his translation, with a committee of trusted friends and colleagues, scholars all.

The Old Testament was definitely not a "one man" translation, quite the opposite. Luther relied heavily on colleagues who knew Hebrew better than he did.

The complete Bible, first printed in 1534, was very much of a group project, and was revised up to the time of Luther's death in 1546.

The reason there are parallels between Luther's translation and the KJV is this.

The KJV relied very heavily on Tyndale's work, without giving him credit due to political pressure.

And guess where Tyndale learned how to translate? Yup, Wittenberg.

And now you know, the rest of the story.

Bill Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (January 12, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] Which Paul are you addressing?

Paul T. McCain wrote (January 12, 2005):
[To Ludwig] Hmmm...well somebody here said that Luther translated the Bible basically by himself, which is not the case, at all.

Santu De Silva wrote (January 14, 2005):
While the KJV is not a translation of Luther's bible, in my humble opinion, it is an appropriate 'cognate' version, equally full of character and charm, and in spite of the errors in it, it was the version of the bible that was used as a source for a great many sacred works. Furthermore, as (I believe) the earliest English translation, some of the constructions of the sentences match up more closely with german constructions than do modern translations such as the New English Bible, and the Revised Standard Version (or whatever they're called now). With a little adjustment --e.g. blood-money for Blutgeld-- I believe it works very well.

BTW, what is Toepfersacker? I know it's some kind of field, but I'm not sure what 'Toepfer' is.

I read it again, and the tone of the two accounts (to the extent that my rather literal ptranslation of the German allows me to apprehend) are very close; an almost brutally restrained report of the facts, notwithstanding the careful selection of those facts, with a view to inciting bitterness in the hearts of the faithful! But that's another story; I'm struck by the similarity, more than the differences.

Is there another translation that can do better?

 

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