Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

General Topics: Main Page | About the Bach Cantatas Website | Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Scores & Composition, Parodies, Reconstructions, Transcriptions | Texts, Translations, Languages | Instruments, Voices, Choirs | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings | Life of Bach, Bach & Other Composers | Mailing Lists, Members, Contributors | Various Topics


Bach in English
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

OT: Cantatas in English

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 21, 2008):
Looking back at some Breitkopf scores of Bach cantatas, I notice that some of them are in two languages (German and English).

This is sometimes annoying for the choir, especially when the score has the German text under the soprano and tenor voices and the English text under the alto and bass voices!
I wondered why this English text: are there actually performances of Bach cantatas with an English text? Or is this a remain of an old practice?

Personally, I love singing in German, it is such a beautiful language for singing (English also of course, but I cannot imagine singing a Bach cantata in English - or worse, in French!).

Jean Laaninen wrote (April 21, 2008):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] I have never heard of a Bach Cantata performed in English, but, in the US various arias are taught to early music students in English and performed in churches in English.

This is anathema to Bach traditionalists. However, there are times when there is no one to insure that a performance in German would be of a great quality, and there are times when the receptivity of an audience might not lend itself so easily to a foreign language - meaning foreign to American English. I have occasionally sung a Bach aria in English

The main reason I like to see both the German and English in the score is two-fold. First, sometimes the translations don't match to my mind and I like the challenge of thinking about what else might have been chosen. On the other hand sometimes when scanning a score if I am short of time, I find the translation informative.

But, I don't know why some scores are printed this way--maybe an editorial choice.

Stephen Benson wrote (April 21, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< I wondered why this English text: are there actually performances of Bach cantatas with an English text? >
At some point I managed to get a recording onto my iPod of BWV 11 sung in English with Kathleen Ferrier as one of the soloists. I don't remember the source; I have no idea where I got it. If I have it on disc, I can't find it. I do seem to be missing several of her discs. (Oh, no! Did I lend them to somebody??) Her recording of the alto aria from that performance, however, is available on Vol. 3 of the 10-disc Kathleen Ferrier Edition on Decca. Frankly, it's pretty weird hearing Bach sung in English.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 21, 2008):
[To Stephen Benson] Until the 1950's, most performances of Bach's choral music were in English in Canada and I suspect the USA. The vast majority of cantata performances were in done by church choirs and the post WWII aversion to performing in German probably lingered until the late 1950's when recordings by German choirs began to change the musical scene. The passions were almost always performed in English even by professional ensembles like the Toronto Symphony and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I did not hear a live performance of the passions in German until the early 1970's. I suspect that outside of large cities in the States and Canada, church choirs still regulaly perform cantatas in the familiar Novello English editions. I'm happy to report that Tafelmusik in Toronto and Les Violons du Roy in Montreal are baroque ensembles which always perform in German.

Stephen Benson wrote (April 21, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thanks, Doug. I had no idea the practice was so widespread. As for the Ferrier recording I mentioned, I had to do a little digging on the BCW (the page for the recordings of BWV 11 can't be found), but the recording is noted on Ferrier's biography page and includes BWV 11, BWV 67, and the chorale from BWV 147, all apparently sung in English and conducted by Reginald Jacques.I'm still trying to figure out whence BWV 11 appeared on my iPod!

William Hoffman wrote (April 21, 2008):
[To Stephen Benson] I have the old RCA Victor LP recording of the SJP (BWV 245) with Robert Shaw, using the Henry S. Drinker adaptation. I would love to find it on CD. I also have the program of same at Constitution Hall in Washington DC, March 11, 1962. As with Whittaker, I am ever thankful for these enormous contributions in my vernacular. I also treasure Leonard Bernstein's abridged SMP (BWV 244) version on CD, in English by Troutbeck.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 22, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< I have never heard of a Bach Cantata performed in English, but, in the US various arias are taught to early music students in English and performed in churches in English.
This is anathema to Bach traditionalists. However, there are times when there is no one to insure that a performance in German would be of a great quality, and there are times when the receptivity of an audience might not lend itself so easily to a foreign language - meaning foreign to American English. I have occasionally sung a Bach aria in Eng >
There are of course a number of older recordings of the Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in English (the first complete one actually, Koussevitsky) and there are of course a number of historic recordinge are various cantata arias and duets recorded of yore in French.

There are in my possession two cantata arias recorded in Russian by Kozlovsky (very exaggerated and extra-long of course).

I am sure that there are many more such other than German recordings.This is the same question that often occurs but much more frequently aboutwrong language opera recordings and performances bc. until rather recently operas were performed in the vernacular or whatever country. In general I have come to the conclusion that with e.g. French and Russian operas, I prefer singers who do not sing those languages to sing in their own languages and not mangle Russian with no understanding by them or by the audience and ditto for French.

There is one off-the-air MET broadcast recording of Mussorgsky's Boris with Kipnis in Russian and everyone else in Italian. This was the way as it is with the Ferrier recording of the SMP (BWV 244).

Also I don't really understand what gets labelled O.T. on this list. How can a dialogue about performing bach be O.T. I understand if a post is about Wagner or Mahler but about Bach?

Jean Laaninen wrote (April 22, 2008):
As a singer I tend toward focusing in on a few works at a time, and don't have this broader knowledge about the range of recordings. I also appreciate Yoël's thoughts on singers performing in their own languages. Those of us who sing strive to emulate the best of the native speakers/singers. But there really is no substitute for someone who has grown up speaking a language and then had the training to pursue the stage diction. Having said that, I think it is a great mental challenge to try to learn to sing a new language as well as possible. Part of the reason I say that is that the poetry and the notes often match up so much better.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 22, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Well I don't disagree. Of course one looses the meter and everything except BASIC GENERAL meaning when one translates and of course when one tries to make a translation that will go with the notes, one gets often far from the precise meaning. It's essential an insoluable problem.

Howerer and I was thinking about this when Brad Lehman said the other day about having his girls learn the Chichester Psalms of Bernstein by whatever term he used, phonetically I believe, my response is that besides teaching the singers the words phonetically, it is vital if they are to express anything that they have a word by word very literal trot to the transliterated Hebrew. It is essential as I see it that a singer expelling a syllable from his/her mouth know the meaning of that syllable and that word. It is not enough that to stick with this examthat the singer knows an English translation, a traditional translation of the psalms in question. (Pardon my lack of commas (too difficult to type them).

To sum up, three things are basic: (1) learning the pronunciation (so-called diction), (2) knowing the meaning of every word and syllable in order to know where emotional investment is necessary and (3) having a total feel for word and note.

If someone is singing by rote without any "deep" understanding of the text, I am frightened. I know that Bernstein wrote these psalms for an English Cathedral and thus most likely did not expect the kids to really know Hebrew but I HOPE that they were helped as I suggest above. There are a lot of opera singers today singing Russian without understanding NOTHING AT ALL (double neg for emphasis:-). Obviously persons who want to attend live performances have to accept such. On recordings I would never accept e.g. Thomas Hampson singing Szymanowsky (Polish) when I can have the same work with wonderful Polish singers.

John Pike wrote (April 22, 2008):
[To Stephen Benson] I have the SJP (BWV 245) with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in English. Nice music making but I don't listen to it now because I can't stand it done in English.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 22, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] Yes, it is indeed a challenge to sing in another language than one's own, but it also forces to be very attentive to the meaning of the words, and to also to feel the link between the words and the music, as you say. I cannot imagine the music being dissociated from the sound of the words (the vowels on which melismas come, the place were the consonants fall and the sound and expression they add to the music). With another language, it is a different music!

As an example, singing the two versions of the same chorus (BWV 198 vs. Markus Passion), both in German, but with different words, is like singing a different music, even though the notes are the same (not to speak about the meaning of the words, of course!).

With the Chapelle des Minimes we are happy to have a number of German singers in the choir. It is precious to grasp the precise meaning of some words and the way they should sound. There are sometimes interesting discussions as how a given word should be exactly sung, as we have German people from all parts of Germany... and that makes slight differences. But I imagine that Bach cantatas also might have be sung slightly differently according to the place where they were written and performed.

Neil Mason wrote (April 22, 2008):
[To Jean Laaninen] The argument for performing texts in the language of the listener is that the emotions behind the text are more readily identifiable.

Here in Australia, the Bach Passions are rarely performed in German. English has proved to be more powerful for the majority of the audience. Most Cantatas are performed in German if at all.

Jean Laaninen wrote (April 23, 2008):
[To Neil Mason] Thanks Neil. Between your explanation of what is done in Australia, and what Doug has written about Canada, it seems kind of amazing that Bach Cantatas are done here in German. But the one thing that comes to my mind regarding that practice is that the ones I know of have been done in a college or university setting and the training therefore might be some kind of academic preference.

The reason you mention for using English is the same reason why I have sung my arias in English in the church. Many people would tend to think I was showing off if I used German. The church secretaries would not be interested in typing the German text, and when these numbers are done in English people get something special from them.

Thanks again to both you and Doug for expanding what little I knew of these practices.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 23, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< Thanks Neil. Between your explanation of what is done in Australia, and what Doug has written about Canada, it seems kind of amazing that Bach Cantatas are done here in German. But the one thing that comes to my mind regarding that practice is that the ones I know of have been done in a college or university setting and the training therefore might be some kind of academic preference. >
In a high school choir I was in, we did the Vivaldi "Gloria" one year. Our edition had the Latin plus a hideous English translation between the lines. For example, the "Domini fili" movement was translated thus:

ON-ly be-GOT-ten /
SON of the FAAAAAA-ther, /
JEEEEEE--EEEE--EEEEE-- /
--EE-sus the... CHRIST.

The director actually put it to a vote if we would sing the whole piece in English (the better to connect with some of our potential audience), or Latin. Those of us who were aghast at the English just barely won the vote. Whew.

Jean Laaninen wrote (April 23, 2008):
[To Bradley Lehman] Scary story, Brad. Glad you won...

Philip Legge wrote (April 24, 2008):
For once I must "de-lurk" and state my amicable disagreement with Neil Mason, who wrote in respect of Queensland, I believe:

< Here in Australia, the Bach Passions are rarely performed in German. English has proved to be more powerful for the majority of the audience. Most Cantatas are performed in German if at all. >
Perhaps it is a geographical quirk, but in the larger cities of Sydney and Melbourne I think you will more often find the Passions performed in German, rather than English. Performances by the early music ensembles or symphonic ensembles that aim for a professional standard are almost always in the original language, whereas it tends to be community-based choirs that tend to sing in English.

I would also observe that the better the church choir attempting one of the Passions, the more likely it is they will sing in German; for example, in the Lenten period just past, Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney gave BWV 245 in German, and here in Melbourne the choir of Scots Church in the city gave the same work on Good Friday, again in German; in both cases we're talking about the entire work.

I can't comment on the relative frequency of German and English performances, but in the circles I work in musically, I'd say German Passionen outnumber English Passions at least three times to one.

The cantatas would tend to the same principles as above: if performed by early-music/symphonic/cathedral-standard church forces then a cantata will likely be sung in German, if a community choir then more likely English.

Melbourne is extremely lucky for cantata performances owing to one particular congregation, St John's, Southgate, which is adjacent to the Melbourne Concert Hall and the Victorian College of the Arts: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~stjohns/BachCantatas.htm

I've performed in several of the cantata services and readily agree to the comment on the site "The cantatas are presented in regular worship services at St Johns. The services include traditional Lutheran liturgy, congregational chorales, and organ music on the 1992 Smenge pipe organ."

Perhaps 80 or more of the cantatas have been performed since the mid-90s; they've even done BWV 232 in liturgical context a couple of times, by splitting the work across three services a couple of weeks apart: Missa
(Kyrie and Gloria) at the first, Symbolum Nicenum at the second, and Sanctus through to the end to wrap up. :-)

John Pike wrote (April 24, 2008):
[To Bradley Lehman] many thanks for this, Brad. it gave me the best laugh I have had for months.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 24, 2008):
Thanks for all the information about Cantatas in English.

I was really surprised, as I never heard a Bach cantata (live or recorded) in another language than German.
But then here we are so close to Germany here that it is part of our culture. Also in Belgium - and especially in Brussels - it seems natural to hear a lot of different languages, and even to jump from one language to another. In the choir there are many different nationalities, and there are times when our conductspeaks to us in two or three different languages in a few sentences! What we do not understand, we guess...

I would like to tell an anecdote that happened in our choir a few weeks ago. We were working on BWV 33, and all of a sudden we heard a burst of uncontrollable laughter. It was mainly the native German-speaking singers, and they laughed so much they could not explain why. After the rehearsal, I asked a German alto, and she told me that it was because of the repeated sentence "Ich ruf' dich an" (adressed to God). For us it just meant "I call (on)to you", but for her and the others, it meant "I call you on the phone"!

Jean Laaninen wrote (April 24, 2008):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] What a great story.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 24, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< I would like to tell an anecdote that happened in our choir a few weeks ago. We were working on BWV 33, and all of a sudden we heard a burst of uncontrollable laughter. It was mainly the native German-speaking singers, and they laughed so much they could not explain why. After the rehearsal, I asked a German alto, and she told me that it was because of the repeated sentence "Ich ruf' dich an" (adressed to God). For us it just meant "I call (on)to you", but for her and the others, it meant "I call you on the phone"! >
Considering my wretched French accent, I shouldn't tell stories ... But I sang in a choir in France which performed Handel's 'Judas Maccabeus'. The group's sung English was quite good but, like all non-native speakers in any language, they began to slip as a long evening wore on. I used to chuckle during the great chorus, "Hail, Joshua, Hail" near the end of the oratorio. Despite their best intentions, "hail" began to sound like "aïl" and a cry for more garlic.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 24, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] It could also be "aïe" (the common cry of pain in French)... a little more plausible in such circumstances!

Stephen Banson wrote (April 24, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< It could also be "aïe" (the common cry of pain in French)... a little more plausible in such circumstances! >
Which might be ameliorated by a dose of "Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben", the opening chorus to Part IV of the Christmas Oratorio. Too often, choral diction transforms (dare I say obnubilates?) "fallt mit Loben" into something approximating "ibuprofen". Unfortunately, it is now difficult to listen to that chorus without having that misbegotten misinterpretation intrude.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 24, 2008):
[To [To Thérèse Hanquet]] In the first recit of cantata BWV 33, the phrase "Mein Gott und Richter" made me go Google "judge richter" to see how many people named Richter went into the judiciary professions. That's good for a couple minutes of amusement. http://www.google.com/search?q=richter+judge

It's also apparently an English slang word now with several meanings: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=richter

Aw, man. Now whenever I hear a Karl Richter recording start up, I'm gonna think of Sammy Davis saying, "Here come da judge. Here come da judge."
http://youtube.com/watch?v=3hIcKkKID8k
http://funky16corners.tripod.com/funky_judge.htm

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 25, 2008):
Therese wrote:
>After the rehearsal, I asked a German alto, and she told me that it was because of the repeated sentence "Ich ruf' dich an" (adressed to God). For us it just meant "I call (on)to you", but for her and the others, it meant "I call you on the phone"!<
Providing additional inspiration for USA tele-evangelists.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 25, 2008):
OT: richter [was: Cantatas in English]

Brad Lehman wrote:
>It's also apparently an English slang word now with several meanings:<
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=richter
Presumably all derived from the Richter scale for measuring earthquake intensity, with scale and earthquake dropped out.

Richter, bro! 8.3, at least! No more <intense, dude!>

The much maligned <recorder> looks quite well-bred, and durable, in comparison. I enjoyed Kims concise and detailed summary, on the other thread.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 25, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Providing additional inspiration for USA tele-evangelists. >

I like the Manhattan Transfer singing ....

"Operator?
Give me information.
Information?
Give me long distance.
Long distance?
Give me heaven...

(Two, three)
Operator!
Information!
Give me Jesus on the line.
Operator!
Information,!
I'd like to speak to a friend of mine.
Oh, prayer is the number,
Faith is the exchange,
Heaven is the street,
And Jesus is his name,
Operator!
Information!
Please give me Jesus on the line!"

Russell Telfer wrote (April 26, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] I'm only four days behind now, so I'm going to celebrate by commenting on cantatas sung in English.

A lot of helpful posts have been already made by Doug Cowling and others, but one point that was not stressed was that the level of aspiration of the choirs tackling Bach cantatas is all important. In London in around the 1970s no professional or self-respecting outfit would have dreamt of singing a cantata other than in German.

Some twenty years earlier I was taken to rehearsals of a local choral society near Newcastle Upon Tyne who were rehearsing cantata BWV 140. My mother told me that the conductor had tried very hard to get the choir to accept the German but they couldn't do it and they didn't want to do it.It was only later with much higher standards of education etc that we have all 'raised our game'.

I'd also like to take issue with those who describe the thought of singing Bach cantatas in English as distasteful. Purely objectively, I think that's a non-starter. Unless English or any other language had an innately hideous aspect to it (plosives, gutturals, spitting sounds) why should it be deemed to be aesthetically unacceptable? What would have happened if Bach had been taken to live in Paris in 1690?

I think the real reason we (English speakers) might not want to sing in English might be because we do not always want to hear the message. As a regular singer of cantatas I tend to look at the English translations of what we're singing (while we're not actually singing). Some very iffy sentiments often crop up. As has been remarked before, the music is imperishable but the texts, like some wine, have not travelled well into the twenty first century.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 27, 2008):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< I think the real reason we (English speakers) might not want to sing in English might be because we do not always want to hear the message. As a regular singer of cantatas I tend to look at the English translations of what we're singing (while we're not actually singing). Some very iffy sentiments often crop up. As has been remarked before, the music is imperishable but the texts, like some wine, have not travelled well into the twenty first century. >
In Canada at least, most church choirs dislike singing in other languages. Most can be coaxed into Latin, but German and certainly French (astonishing in Canada, isn't it?) are just not done. Part of this is the rampant anglophilia in the choral music community. Most anglophone Canadians, if they are not immigrants, do not have a second language. The situation is somewhat analogous in the UK, but there geographical proximity to professional musicians allows for higher standards of performance.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 28, 2008):
Russell Telfer wrote:
>As has been remarked before, the music is imperishable but the texts, like some wine, have not travelled well into the twenty first century.<
I enjoyed (and agreed with) the entire post, always good to hear from the performing BCML members (I was tempted to write communican). The thought that a translation of the Bach texts might in fact interfere with musical expression, while singing, is especially intriguing.

Hardly anything is as disappointing as opening an aged wine from the cellar, and finding that is not quite as good as last years, or even worse. All the more reason to respect the imperishable music.

On the topic of cantatas in English, I noticed in the Emmanuel Music notes to BWV 149 (available at BCW link) that it was performed in English translation, a rarity, I believe. I did not hear the performance, no excuses for the overlooked oportunity.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 28, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< On the topic of cantatas in English, I noticed in the Emmanuel Music notes to BWV 149 (available at BCW link) that it was performed in English translation, a rarity, I believe. I did not hear the performance, no excuses for the overlooked oportunity. >
Although Bach never wrote in English, it would be intriguing to know if his son, Johann Christian, adapted any of his father's works in English (nothing in the works list). Händel reused many of his Italian and Latin works in
English, and Haydn evidently conceived "The Creation" as a bilingual work.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 28, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] I wondered whether there are other vocal pieces not written in English but sung in English on the "new continent", e.g. by Monteverdi, Scarlatti, Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Fauré, Grieg, Poulenc, etc?

Maybe is there a link with the fact that Bach's music was made for religious purposes, hence more "appropriated" by/for local religious communities?

Or is it something cultural, e.g. understanding easily the meaning is considered as more important than keeping the music of the sound of the words? Of course English is very beautiful to sing (I love Purcell), but its is quite different in character compared to German.

Sometimes when we learn a new cantata, we start by just saying the words in German in rythm (not singing). And regularly someone says: "it is already music like that"!

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (April 28, 2008):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] The problem is that not only the general meaning is important, but the meaning of each word, otherwise you loose much of the intentions of JSB: some examples are well known such as Freude, Gott, Kreuz, hoch, Grab, krähen, bitterlich etc.

That is why I made a "Note to Note" translation in French (quoted Fre-4 in Bach Cantatas site)

Therese Hanquet wrote (April 28, 2008):
[To Jean-Pierre Grivois] That was an excellent initiative (word to word translation).

I was precisely wondering whether studies have been made on the way Bach deals with certain words throughout all his cantatas (for example Ewigkeit = eternity). One could also compare with motets of his predecessors. Two years ago we performed a beautiful motet by Tobias Michael ("Unsre Trübsal") which played on the two opposed words "zeitlich" and "ewig".

Terejia wrote (April 29, 2008):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/27533
You are so priviledged that you are performing Bach cantatas on regular basis. I really enjoy lively energy emanating from your messages, pure energy that could be emanated only by a performer, in my impression.

Best wishes to you, to your wonderful conductor and fellow performers and lastly to the audience who are no less important than performers.

Therese Hanquet wrote (April 29, 2008):
[To Terejia] Thank you Terejia,

Yes, I feel indeed privileged to be able to sing in this wonderful group, which performs Bach cantatas once a month since more than 25 years (I entered two and a half years ago). Some of the persons who were at the origin of the ensemble are still active in it, in particular our artistic director, Julius Stenzel. Some in the choir have performed almost all Bach cantatas, and some cantatas twice or three times or more! And there are friendly relations among the chorists, which is not the case in all choirs.

Now we have different conductors (five or six) in alternance. It is a very interesting experience as they all have a different background and learn us different things. Some conductors are also performers. Last Sunday, Benoit Jacquemin played the (difficult) organ part of BWV 146, and he will conduct the next concert (BWV 75). Thibaut Lenaerts, who was conductor for a concert last year, will sing as tenor soloist in this same cantata.

For those interested, there is a comment from William Hekkers on our website for each cantata we perform. Here is a link to the comment of BWV 146: http://www.minimes.be/commentaire_wh.php?c_id=8&new_l=en

For the energy, I think that the music itself gives such energy! In the choir we are all amateurs and most of us work during the day, thus our rehearsals start at 8 PM. Almost each time, I feel less tired and more full of energy after the rehearsal than before!

Tom Dent wrote (April 29, 2008):
[To Jean-Pierre Grivois] Acually, these are excellent examples of how it CAN make sense to sing Bach in English if the translator makes an effort. And an illustration of how much English is a Germanic language - Gott, Kreuz, Grab, bitterlich, etc. etc. translate themselves effortlessly. The main problem, apart from word order, is that German words often have an unstressed last syllable that changes according to grammar, whereas English just drops this syllable completely (not being afflicted with things like noun or adjective declensions). Hohenpriester gets halved to High Priests ... Chaucer would not have had this problem.

This means it is also simpler to go from Italian to German than to English. (Not necessarily vice versa... )

William Hoffman wrote (April 30, 2008):
Cantatas in English: Connections
William Hoffman attempts to respond for the third time before Yahoo defaults me back to my password:

I'm not familiar with the specifics of the Bach English Revival but I find some interesting historical connections: *Matthessen was fluent in English and I'm sure had much influence on Handel maybe the other Hamburg group composers (Keiser, Handel, Telemann, JSB) as well as the Hanoverians (George I) *Samuel Wesley toured the Continent advocating Handel and importing Bach, followed by the hymn book translation of Catherine Wenkworth, etc, and the great chorale work of C.S. Terry in the face of German indifference. *Henry S. Drinker and his translations of Bach and Schuetz vocal music.

Handel's Dettingen Te Deum is done in German and English and goes well in either, while I like the Germans singing in German and the English in English but not sure about the Italians or the French. This raises an interesting question: How do European amateur chorus singers and audiences feel about the choice of languages? I would assume that most prefer the original language but I wonder about the pronounciation. I recall hearing a French chorus singing in the Parisian premiere of Mahler's Eight Symphony in 1964 and found the pronunciation of both Latin and German to be clumsy to my American ear.

Then there's the question of the English, such great poets and speech-makers (the Voice of God must always speak in my vernacular with an English accent) and their pronunciation of foreign words. Like the fella who seduced so many women -- Don Jew-an, or the Knight Errant (sp?) -- Don Quicks-ott. At any rate, as with the question of historically informed performance practice, I accept the saying: "Different strokes for different folks."

So, I am thankful for all these efforts, misguided, antiquarian, whatever. It enriches my experience and helps me make even more connections.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Bach's Languages [General Topics]

Stephen Benson wrote (April 30, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
< I would assume that most prefer the original language but I wonder aboutthe pronounciation. >
I personally find that the original language of the text is so important to the overall effect of a musical work that I do not enjoy performances in translation. Spoken language is sound, and when incorporated into a musical idiom, that sound becomes an integral part of the original artistic conception. In translation, accent, rhythm and shape of line are compromised, and the cultural context is irrevocably distorted. The motivating force for translations, in most cases, is to make a performance more accessible to a particular audience, a process that is utilitarian, not aesthetic. It is a process which, for me, also indicates a certain lack of respect for the work’s cultural roots.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 1, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< The motivating force for translations, in most cases, is to make a performance more accessible to a particular audience, a process that is utilitarian, not aesthetic. It is a process which, for me, also indicates a certain lack of respect for the work's cultural roots. >
I'm not sure that you can argue this point from Bach's own practice. The 18th century was full of adaptations from one language to another. In one case, Handel adapted an Italian work into Latin and then subsequently into two different English texts. Bach did the same in his adaptation of German cantata movements into Latin mass movements: "Dazu ist erscheinen der Sohn Gottes" became "Cum Sancto Spiritu." The principle of musical uniqueness which was so treasured by the 19th century simply didn't exist for Bach. I think it is precisely this Romantic prejudice that has made critics sniff that the Bach masses are "only" parody arrangements. Adaptation and arrangement was a fundamental tool in Bach's compostitional toolbox.

Having said that, I would also argue that we don't have Bach here to make the arrangements of his German works into English himself, and that those arrangement -- and I've made many! -- always fall short of the original. One wonders what Bach would have produced if he had been asked to arrange "Das Lamm Das Erwürfig Ist", the final chorus of Cantata BWV 21, into English. Maybe it would have come out sounding like "Worthy Is The Lamb".

Stephen Benson wrote (April 30, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The 18th century was full of adaptations from one language to another. In one case, Handel adapted an Italian work into Latin and then subsequently into two different English texts. Bach did the same in his adaptation of German cantata movements into Latin mass movements: "Dazu ist erscheinen der Sohn Gottes" became "Cum Sancto Spiritu." The principle of musical uniqueness which was so treasured by the 19th century simply didn't exist for Bach. I think it is precisely this Romantic prejudice that has made critics sniff that the Bach masses are "only" parody arrangements. Adaptation and arrangement was a fundamental tool in Bach's compostitional toolbox. >
I agree completely with all you've said here. I do think, however, that we're talking about apples and oranges. "Translation", "adaptation", and "parody" are not synonymous. I have no problem with adaptations and parodies where adjustments are made musically to reflect the re-languified (how's that for a neologism?) text, particularly where those changes have been made by Bach himself. What I was referring to was the imposition of a translated text onto an exact replica of an original musical foundation where the listener is expected to accept the translated version as the work itself.I'm also a little curious about your reference to the "Cum Sancto Spiritu". I'm assuming that you're referring to the chorus at the end of the "Gloria" of the B-minor Mass (BWV 232), which, as far as I know (which may not be very much!), has not been identified definitively as a parody.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 1, 2008):
Stephen Benson wrote:
< I'm also a little curious about your reference to the "Cum Sancto Spiritu". I'm assuming that you're referring to the chorus at the end of the "Gloria" of the B-minor Mass (BWV 232), which, as far as I know (which may not be very much!), has not been identified definitively as a parody. >
It's the F major Mass which uses "Dazu" for the music of "Cum Sancto Spiritu".

Bach makes a parody of a parody when he uses the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) "Cum Sancto" for Cantata BWV 191 with the words "Sicut Erat In Principio".

Therese Hanquet wrote (May 1, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< [...] I'm not sure that you can argue this point from Bach's own practice. The 18th century was full of adaptations from one language to another. In one case, Handel adapted an Italian work into Latin and then subsequently into two different English texts. Bach did the same in his adaptation of German cantata movements into Latin mass movements: "Dazu ist erscheinen der Sohn Gottes" became "Cum Sancto Spiritu." The principle of musical uniqueness which was so treasured by the 19th century simply didn't exist for Bach. I think it is precisely this Romantic prejudice that has made critics sniff that the Bach masses are "only" parody arrangements. Adaptation and arrangement was a fundamental tool in Bach's compostitional toolbox. >
Another example of adaptation by Bach of a music from a language to another is Psalm 51 ("Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden") (BWV 1083) which parodies the Stabat Mater of Pergolesi (Latin).

I have sung in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater with another choir, and in Psalm 51 performed by the Chapelle des Minimes last year, and although most of the music is the same, they each have their unique genius.

William Hoffman wrote (May 1, 2008):
A connection I forgot is Baron van Swieten, who in Vienna introduced Bach and Handel to Mozart and got some Mozart arrangements of the Messiah (in German) and two other oratorios (Is one Israel in Egypt?). These not only show one great composer's response to another but also introduce these to a wider audience in the vernacular, making them even more accessible. Sadly, we don't have anything so tangible from Mozart's encounter with Bach's B Minor Mass (BWV 232) or the Motets, except Rochlitz' embellished recollection of Mozart's response to BWV 225 at the Thomas School. Currently, of course, we have McCreesh's Haydn Creation "restored" in English.

Another fruitful linguistic connection I treasure involves the King James and Martin Luther translations of the Bible. Just one example: The bass arioso in Cantata BWV 61, "Siehe, siehe, ich stehe vor der Tuer" (Behold, I stand before the door) from Revelation -- just nine incredible bars of some of the most moving music in either language. Eat your heart out, Puccini!

Unlike the Romantics, the Baroque era (and before) wasn't obsessed with differences, artificial dialectics and distinctions, as between languages, the sacred and secular, instrumental and vocal music. Monteverdi's Madrigal's were transformed through contrafaction from the profane to the sacred. Handel's simple 16-bar string Sarabande of Asiatern in Almira (1705) becomes the great aria "Cara sposa" or "Caro figlio." And then there are those "dirty ditties" transformed into sacred hymn tunes.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 1, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
< A connection I forgot is Baron van Swieten, who in Vienna introduced Bach and Handel to Mozart and got some Mozart arrangements of the Messiah (in German) and two other oratorios (Is one Israel in Egypt?). These not only show one great composer's response to another but also introduce these to a wider audience in the vernacular, making them even more accessible. >
Do we know if anyone in Bach's immediate musical and literary circle spoke English and knew English music and literature? There must have been an intense interest throughout Germany at the time of the Hanoverian Succession.

Tom Dent wrote (May 2, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] I'm not sure who these 'sniffing critics' are (Albert Schweitzer? - did he sniff?) - but the question of just what kind and degree of correspondence between text and music was expected, appropriate or desirable, and whether this did actually suffer as a result of parodying, is a legitimate one. We can't just assume that whatever Bach did was always perfectly and exactly appropriate to the text.

The G major mass movements arranged from BWV 179 are a good case to think about. As a 'Kyrie' it has a perfectly normal-sounding fugue subject, then a curious, not to say queasy, lot of chromaticism in its counterpoints; then a second subject 'Christe' which seems to restore a more upright balance between tonality and chromatic progression; then it is all mixed together in a rather disorienting succession of keys and harmonies before a final twist into an unexpectedly triumphant G major. My first impression at rehearsal was - 'what on earth is he up to?'. The deliberately excessive chromaticism, the wandering tonality, the raw contrasts of mood... Now with the text 'Siehe du, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei' (rather than Kyrie) and 'Und diene Gott nicht mit falschem Herzen' for the twisted countersubjects it makes a whole lot more sense to me. The text itself is full of contradiction and deception which beautifully accounts for the deliberately unbeautiful harmonies.

The tenor aria 'Quoniam' / 'Falscher Heuchler' presents even more violent disparities between the original text and the mass parody. However strangely enough, the music seems to be applicable (with rather minor changes) both to a bunch of hypocrites that spiritually resemble rotten fruit, and as a hymn of praise to God the Son. Indeed the manner of performance may be somewhat different, but what property of the harmonies and winding instrumental lines leads us to attribute such different meanings to them depending on the words? The human mind is extremely suggestible to text, but I think there is something more: Bach did not build in an unequivocal 'word-painting' program to the aria. The harmonies and lines are in themselves unreservedly beautiful and it is up to the performers and listeners to express or hear something less than saintly. Perhaps this leads us to question the concept of musical word-painting itself if it means that an unwelcome object is embodied in wonderful music. Recall the highly entertaining fugal aria 'Wer Suende tut, der ist vom Teufel'...

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 2, 2008):
>I'm not sure who these 'sniffing critics' are (Albert Schweitzer? - did he sniff?)<
Or was snuff enough?

>However strangely enough, the music seems to be applicable (with rather minor changes) both to a bunch of hypocrites that spiritually resemble rotten fruit, and as a hymn of praise to God the Son.<
I am glad someone other than me wrote that. I find the entire post relevant and stimulating; forgive me for emphasizing the humor.

<< The motivating force for translations, in most cases, is to make a performance more accessible to a particular audience, a process that is utilitarian, not aesthetic. >>
As an audience member, I take a bit of offense. Does not increased understanding add to the aesthetic experience, if the translation is done with that intent in mind?

In the spirit of BL, I have intentionally made citations fron TD and DC without attribution, in order not to provoke any personal controversy.

Stephen Benson wrote (May 2, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Does not increased understanding add to the aesthetic experience, if the translation is done with that intent in mind? >
Or, perhaps for the heathens on the list, increased textual understanding may detract from the aesthetic experience! : )

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 2, 2008):
Tom Dent wrote:
< The human mind is extremely suggestible to text, but I think there is something more: Bach did not build in an unequivocal 'word-painting' program to the aria. >
A good example is "Tönet Ihr Pauken" which is Bach's 'Young People's Guide to the Baroque Orchestra.' When he reuses the music for "Jauchzet Frohlocket" to open the Christmas Oratorio, all the word-painting is ignored
for a generalized "joy" affect.

It works in the oppposite direction as well. Bach reused the F Major Brandenburg Concerto for "Auf Schmetterend Tone". He adds trumpets and timpani and suddenly the concerto paints a vivid tone picture of brave trumpets and thundering drums.

It was this compositional and aesthetic flexibilty which offended Romantic sensibilities. For Bach it was an intrinsic part of his compositional method.

William Hoffman wrote (May 3, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
<< A connection I forgot is Baron van Swieten, who in Vienna introduced Bach and Handel to Mozart and got some Mozart arrangements of the Messiah (in German) and two other oratorios (Is one Israel in Egypt?). These not only show one great composer's response to another but also introduce these to a wider audience in the vernacular, making them even more accessible. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Do we know if anyone in Bach's immediate musical and literary circle spoke English and knew English music and literature? There must have been an intense interest throughout Germany at the time of the Hanoverian Succession. >
William Hoffman responds: I'm far from my home in Albuquerque and my library but am in Rochester NY and next week will go to Sibley Library and do some research.

Fugitive thoughts on possible sources: a recent book on the Bach English Revival, also one on Bach in Berlin. Then there's a reference in the Bach Reader to a Bach Document in English. Also, I recall that Matthessen and other Germans translated Shakespeare, the Enlightenment produced major issues such as the Newton-Leibnitz Debate (Carol Baron's Bach's Changing World, p.37f), and the Leipzig University connection, although I'm pretty sure many German Bach scholars continue to ignore both the English scholars and Anglo historical connections, especially the Bach-Handel Rivalry.

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 3, 2008):
[To Tom Dent] Regarding the recent discussion (comments by Tom Dent below) about Bach's use of parody, Thomas Braatz have prepared a score sample. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/Parody.htm

See also a previous discussion of this parody at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV102-D.htm

 

Continue on Part 3

Bach in English: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Bach in Other Languages


General Topics: Main Page | About the Bach Cantatas Website | Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Scores & Composition, Parodies, Reconstructions, Transcriptions | Texts, Translations, Languages | Instruments, Voices, Choirs | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings | Life of Bach, Bach & Other Composers | Mailing Lists, Members, Contributors | Various Topics



 

Back to the Top


Last update: Monday, September 11, 2017 15:02