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Bach in English
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

BWV 128 -- English translation
English translation & the Passions

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 25, 2011):
BWV 128 -- English translation

A bit of old business, which came up just after our scheduled disucssion of BWV 128, for Ascension Day. Paul Farseth contributed an original translation, which is available via the [English 8] link at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV128.htm

Bachís German, a literal translation, and a translation intended to be suitable for performance in English are presented in three side-by-side columns. Worth a look for the format alone.

The performance translation matches the German rhyme and meter, a formidable challenge. It would be interesting to hear from the correspondents who perform these works, as to interest in tranlsations for performance.

There is ample historic precedent. Off the top of my head, re SMP (BWV 244) recordings with English translations:

(1) Leonard Bernstein, with NY Philharmonc, heavily edited for political correctness (or performance length), broadcast on WKRC Bach fest 2010.

(2) Ralph Vaughn Williams, with big piano (to my ears, from a radio broadcast a few years back). A lot of fun to hear once.

(3) Serge Koussevitzky (sp?), Boston Symphony Orch, Harvard Choir, a local favorite on my block. Well respected by the critics, as best I can tell. I have the CDs, waiting to be played in their entirety after a couple years on the shelf. A sampling early-on sounded historic and listenable.

(4) I believe I heard from Bachfest 2010 that the McKinley recording from 1931 is an English translation? This was incidental commentary to the Bernstein broadcast, and perhaps I misunderstood. From a quick check at that time, I did not see any indication in the BCW discography that McKinley is in English, but it is the first SMrecording.

I know Paul Farseth would appreciate some feedback on his considerable effort, so give it a look. re BWV 128 and several other cantatas.

While you are at it, give a nod if you enjoy Julian Minchamís essays, the single best introduction for weekly listening. This is like family: you cannot show up once a year, and then expect all the beer and turkey you can manage. Well, you can expect it ...

William Hoffman wrote (January 25, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thank you, Paul. For those who quibble or quarrel over Ziegler's text or the general level of cantata poetry of Bach's day, the three settings/translations, IMHO, show the feelings and beliefs of the congregation, the biblical commentator, and the individual, giving us the opportunity to better understand Bach's Changing World and maybe even ours.

Julian Mincham's monographs are particularly insightful and helpful, and a great complement to the previous discussions, with their emphasis on basic facts and recordings.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 25, 2011):
[To Ed Myskowski] The beginning of the SMP (BWV 244) English translations is as early as 1862 with the Novello edition edited by William Sterndale Bennett. It followed from the performance in St martin's Hall on March 23 1858 , in the presence of Prince Albert. the translator was a Miss H F H Johnston, whose " zeal in this cause is well known to the memebers of the Bach Society".

It has a period feel:

"Wir setzen uns mit Traenen nieder" becomes "In tears of grief we here recline/Murm'ring to Thee in thy tomb".

My copy, which belonged to the Bishop of Gloucester, Charles Ellicott (1819-1905) has many of the translations overwritten, perhaps to conform with later texts ( to suit a new performing translation in later editions) , or just maybe to satisfy doctrinal preferences of His Grace. Notably Ellicott's daughter Rosalind wasa composer in her own right. Ellicott it was rumoured would have becokme Archbishop of Canterbury except for the fact that Queen Victoria did not like his squeaky voice!

Paul Farseth's work on BWV 128 far surpasses the complete set of rhyming translations accompanying the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt Cantata set (Teldec) which often completely sacrifice meaning to rythmn and end up as doggerrel, alas. But maybe, as the revival of the Cantatas proceeds, the solution will be German singing with English surtitles, as at the opera; hitherto a rare occurrence due to cost?

Evan Cortens wrote (January 25, 2011):
On the question of cantata text translation and meaning, I heartily recommend Michael Marissen's article "Historically informed rendering of the librettos from Bach's church cantatas" in the Festschrift for Robin Leaver: http://worldcat.org/oclc/70176924

A fascinating and thought-provoking essay from someone who has spent a good deal of time preparing translations and discussing the meaning and theological context of the texts.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 25, 2011):
English translation & the Passions

Peter Smaill wrote:
< The beginning of the SMP (BWV 244) English translations is as early as 1862 with the Novello edition edited by William Sterndale Bennett. It followed from the performance in St martin's Hall on March 23 1858 , in the presence of Prince Albert. the translator was a Miss H F H Johnston, whose " zeal in this cause is well known to the memebers of the Bach Society". >
It's interesting to look at the history of translations of Bach as they shaped the attitudes of generations of singers and audiences in English-speaking countries. After a century and a half, Novello's cheap, high-quality piano-vocal scores are still the standard for choirs everywhere. The translations are irrevocable artifacts of English culture even when they border on free paraphrase:

Sleepers wake, a voice is sounding
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

Jesu, joy of man's desiring
Jesu bleibet meine Freude

English translators faced an enormous self-imposed hurdle when it came to the recitatives of the biblical narrative in the Passions. For reasons of propriety, they felt obligated to use the Authorized Version of the King James Bible. Clearly they thought that audiences would be scandalized if a new translation which fitted Bach's music was used (the poetic recitatives were not a problem). Thus, Bach's recitatives, wedded so closely to the
German text, were essentially rewritten to accommodate the 17th century English text.

As late as the middle of the 20th century, Novello was still tinkering with the recitatives in the impossible task of reproducing Bach's music while remaining true to the Authorized Version. That is still the standard performing version for the Passions in English. With the increasing acceptance of modern language translations of the Bible in the 1960's, the old strictures of propriety have disappeared. It would interesting to know if anyone has attempted a translation which leaves Bach's music unaltered and adapts the biblical text to the music.

William Hoffman wrote (January 25, 2011):
[To Douglas Cowling] I would add the work of Henry Drinker and Charles Sanford Terry.

Paul Farseth wrote (January 26, 2011):
Thanks, Ed (and Peter, and Will) for the attention to the BWV-128 translation and also for the appreciation.

This translation business is tricky, as we all know. Traduttore traditore! What I have tried to get across is some sense of the literal imagery and its roots in the German along with the idiomatic sense (where possible by use of analogous English idioms or word roots). Having a German Bible helps also, since it gives a clue to what context a word in a cantata might have had in the alluded-to Scripture texts. Then there is the trick of getting images more or less in the same phrases of the musical lines as in the original. At the very end comes the desire to rhyme, which is a little harder in English than in the more inflected German. (But rhyme and "music" in the lines is a good thing if they don't make the text awkward or stilted.) In any event, this translating is a jolly task.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 27, 2):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< On the question of cantata text translation and meaning, I heartily >recommend Michael Marissen's article "Historically informed rendering >of the librettos from Bach's church cantatas" in the Festschrift for >Robin Leaver: http://worldcat.org/oclc/70176924 >

Although I did not yet take the opportunity to access this reference, I hope to do so. For all the fun we have, these are the details that make BCML a credible resource for research (or just reading).

 

Bach in English

Tom Morris wrote (December 2, 2014):
Ok, it's been a decade since I've posted here but I've been able to successfully compile a little over 2 hours of Bach recordings sung in English (besides St Johns and St Matthews Passions), and they include:

BWV 6 Stay with us, for evening falls
BWV 11 Praise God in His Kingdoms (Ascension Oratorio)
BWV 67 Keep Jesus Christ in Mind
BWV 140 Awake, calls the voice to us (Sleepers Awake)
BWV 147 Chorale 10 Jesus, Joy of Manís Desiring
BWV 208 Aria 4 Sheep May Safely Graze
BWV 208 Movement Jesus, Shepherd, Be Thou Near Me
BWV 227 Jesus, My Joy--indeed it is by Kings Choir
BWV 493 O Jesus Sweet, O Jesus Mild

I would just love to have The Christmas Oratorio sung in English, or for that matter any other of Bach's works sung in English. If anyone knows of any others please let me know. Thanks!!

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (December 2, 2014):
[To Tom Morris] There is a major problem here when we take an original language set to music and put into another language that the music was not designed for.

While German and English have many similarities something gets lost in the translation especially in the meaning and word rhythm/meter of the poetry. There are words for which there is no English equivalent. A good example of this is to translate early English into modern English---that is of Chaucer's day. Since we are speaking of music --the example is the word 'recorder' which is a rather stupid word for use as musical instrument.

Latin was the language of the educated person in Chaucer's day and it had been corrupted by the time that English had been born ( about 1000 CE). Some ignorant pretensions hoity-toity person putting on airs in the 1890s who revived this instrument that we all learn to play in grammar school---tried to borrow the Chaucerian term (still in use in Shakespeare's time) and bring it into modern English. This simply does not work (and the reason that when you read Shakespeare play--you miss much of the risqué bawdy language meanings) because the meaning of 'Recorder" as a musical instrument from Latin means something that plays itself, practices itself remembers something. Now if your are a reasonable logical person--you know that this musical instrument does not do any of these things and the word meaning gets confused in modern times (even in the 19th century of recording scientific instruments) and furthermore never will.

So what is the correct term---we can borrow from German the correct word (with some spelling modifications) which suits this instruments name perfectly ---Blockflute or if you will---Block flute from the German 'Blockflöte'

The best solution here is to present the musical work in its original language and provide a translated libretto to read.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 2, 2014):
Willian Rowland wrote:
< So what is the correct term---we can borrow from German the correct word (with some spelling modifications) which suits this instruments name perfectly ---Blockflute or if you will---Block flute from the German 'Blockflöte' >
The correct term in English is, and has been for 800 years, "recorder".

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (December 2, 2014):
Very interesting, this problem of language.

Thatís why I made a work which took me a lot years: the translation in French of Bach cantatas, the nearest possible of the meaning of words, of thee rhythm of sentences, of the sound of syllables and of the symbols of language (i.e. Freud=Joie, Kreuz=Croix, Schlafen=sommeil etc.). This translation can be sung in French.

I took a great pleasure in doing that and I could so deepen and enrich my knowledge of Bach Cantatas. I hope it is or it will be of some use for french speaking Bach cantatas lovers.

Il you are interested, you will find the result of this work on http://bach-musiquevocale.ch
On this site you can hear the cantatas while reading the text in german and in french. I never saw such a translation in any other language than french.

Charles Francis wrote (December 2, 2014):
Willian Rowland wrote:
< There is a major problem here when we take an original language set to music and put into another language that the music was not designed for.
While German and English have many similarities something gets lost in the translation especially in the meaning and word rhythm/meter of the poetry. >
Yes, but that is likely a modern view. In earlier times they apparently adapted to local needs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VSFQKXDVuo

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 2, 2014):
"The Creation" was originally an English libretto intended for Handel who never set it. It was given to Haydn who had it translated it into German, always assuming that English choirs would sing the original. It is one of
the few major choral works which has two authentic librettos in different languages.

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (December 2, 2014):
Bach also made a version of Pergolesi Stabat Mater in german BWV1083 http://youtu.be/DNH-4t-rLnc

Evan Cortens wrote (December 2, 2014):
[To Jean-Pierre Grivois] Bach's version of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater actually isn't a translation of the original Latin text, but instead a translation of Psalm 51--only the music from the original is reused.

This issue is particularly important in opera--some of the nineteenth century works by Verdi and the like that we now know only in Italian were originally performed in French, complicating the question of what their "authentic" language is.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 2, 2014):
pTo Douglas Cowling] Although not major , the Kirchenmusik of 1746, composed by Handel's bassoonist John Frederick Lampe, celebrating the defeat of Charles Edward Stuart at the Battle of Culloden, was also in parallel English and German. It was written for the Lutheran Chapel of the Savoy in London. A little known manuscript of the work has turned up in Edinburgh University Library and is currently being scrutinised as to its origins...

Linda Gingrich wrote (December 2, 2014):
Speaking as a conductor, yes, there are problems when a work is performed in a language other than its original. However, Bach's audience heard it in their heart language, so it had immediate impact for them. It's hard for many of us who don't know the original language to hear a work as something that immediately touches our hearts. It can become a distant, unemotional exercise. Even following a translation in the program can be difficult for many. That's why, when I programmed the St John Passion several years ago, we sang it in English. I wanted my audience to really hear it. And from the audience comments we received afterwards, many were deeply affected. I even had a women in a wheelchair tell me, months later, that it changed her attitude toward life. I was astounded. Conductors make their choices. It depends on what they want to accomplish.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (December 2, 2014):
[To Linda Gingrich] I'd like to reply to Linda. Most people these days are not fluent in many languages. If you want your audience to appreciate your words you need to sing in the language of the area you are in.

I conduct a church choir. We are not up to a Bach Cantata. We have performed two modern cantatas in English. Both were well received. I have a feeling we would not have had many listeners left by the end of a cantata sung in German. We have a small collection of Bach Chorales with an English translation.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (December 2, 2014):
I was notclear. I meant that I agree with Linda.

Tom Morris wrote (December 2, 2014):
[To Linda Gingrich] Well said Linda, do you happen to know of any additional Bach recordings in English?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 2, 2014):
[To Linda Gingrich] Mozart's arrangements of Handel's oratorios (e.g. Messiah) was translated into German by Baron von Swieten, I think.

Linda Gingrich wrote (December 3, 2014):
[To Anne (Nessioe) Russell] No, I don't know of any additional recordings. Ironically, my entire Bach collection is in German!

I was just pondering the fact that I've conducted two performances of Jesu, meine Freude, both times in German. Different reasons altogether: it isn't a narrative as is the John Passion, the pacing is different, it seems easier to follow a translation for that work, etc. You make your choices, hopefully well thought out. Who knows, I may choose differently the next time!

Tom Morris wrote (December 3, 2014):
[To Linda Gingrich] It's taken me 10 years to just accumulate 2 hrs of Bach in English other than the Passions, but I just want more!!!

Julian Mincham wrote (December 3, 2014):
[To William Rowland & Jean-Pierre Grivois]
The best solution here is to present the musical work in its original language and provide a translated libretto to read.

William Hoffman wrote (December 3, 2014):
I am thankful to Charles S. Terry and Henry S. Drinkworth for their performable English translations. Especially noteworthy is Robert Shaw's Drinkworth version of the St. John Passion on RCA Victor and Bernstein's version of the Matthew Passion ?Troutback." As for double texts, please listen to the German and English of Handel's Dettingen Te Deum, as well as Mendelssohn's Elijah and Brahms "German" Requiem.

There is much joy in all of them, especially for the beginner.

Tom Morris wrote (December 9, 2014):
[To Teri Noel Towe] You wrote the following back in 2004 in partial response to my posts in search of Bach sung in English:

ďTeri Noel Towe wrote (September 29, 2004):
Recordings of Bach Cantatas sung in English

Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Just for kicks, has anyone attempted to record an English version of any of the Bach cantatas? It would be news to me. I know there's an English SMP (BWV 244) (by Decca as I recall), but can't remember seeing a cantata. I do have Charles Mackerras' version of Handel's Julius Caeser in English - it works pretty well really. A Bach cantata might be much tougher, but it could be interesting. (BTW: I think from the theological stand-point, changing "my" to "ours" is a very big leap, or would have been considered so by an 18th Century Lutheran. That was one of the points of the Reformation.) >
A partial list:

BWV 50 - "Now Shall The Grace" - Hugh Allen, conductor, 1928
BWV 70 - "Watch ye, Pray ye! - opening chorus - Hugh Allen, conductor, 1928.
BWV 70 - Aria - "Lift up your heads on high" - Gervase Elwes, tenor; F. B. Kiddle, piano, ca. 1919
BWV 227 - "Jesu, Joy, and Treasure" - Kennedy Scott and the Bach Cantata Club - 1927

BWV 11 and BWV 67 "Hold in Affection" - Reginald Jacques, conductor - 1949

The first recording of a chorus from the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) is in English. The recording of the final chorus, to the words "We Bow Our Heads" (The Stanford edition of 1910 was used.), was made on March 3, 1926.

There also are several arias from the secular cantatas that were recorded in English in the 1920s and early 1930s.

This is just a beginning, of course, but I hope that it will be of help and of interest.

PS: Many, but not all, of these recordings are included in the long-delayed but soon to be released 2003 American Bach Society Membership Gift, a 4 CD compilation entitled "Bach in Britain in the 1920s - Historic British Bach Recordings, 1912 - 1933."

I would love to get that CD set "Bach in Britain in the 1920s - Historic British Bach Recordings, 1912 - 1933." But I canít find it anywhere, do you where I could possibly find it?

I have a little over 2 hours of Bach recordings sung in English (besides St Johns and St Matthews Passions), and they include:

BWV 6 Stay with us, for evening falls
BWV 11 Praise God in His Kingdoms (Ascension Oratorio)
BWV 67 Keep Jesus Christ in Mind
BWV 140 Awake, calls the voice to us (Sleepers Awake)
BWV 147 Chorale 10 Jesus, Joy of Manís Desiring
BWV 208 Aria 4 Sheep May Safely Graze
BWV 227 Jesus, My Joy--indeed it is by Kings Choir
BWV 493 O Jesus Sweet, O Jesus Mild

I would just love to have The Christmas Oratorio sung in English as well as anything else you might possibly know.

Thank you so much for your time in reading this!

Charles Francis wrote (December 9, 2014):
[To Tom Morris] Try this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_lzXBjcF3Y

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (December 9, 2014):
I have it possibly sung in French if you want, thatís a first step !
http://bach-musiquevocale.ch/cantate.php

 

Bach Christmas Oratorio in English

Henry Morse wrote (October 6, 2016):
Hello Everyone, thank you for letting me join your group.

I have been searching for an English language recording of Bach's Christmas Oratorio and wonder if anyone could point me to a CD so I can purchase it.

Thanks in Advance,

Chris Stanley wrote (October 7, 2016):
Christians Be Joyful
Exultate Choir & Orchestra - Christians Be Joyful - JS Bach
Bach - Christmas Oratorio (on period instruments)
Bach in English - Discussions Part 1

[To Henry Morse] I don't think there is a complete recording in English even on youtube. The topic of Bach in English has been discussed at length in the past (see above).

Charles Francis wrote (October 7, 2016):
[To Chris Stanley] Well its always possible to invent some rhythmically appropriate cheesy English text, e.g. 'Christians be joyful' or 'Eat at McDonalds', but both convey something other than the original: www.goo.gl/kn63N6

Henry Morse wrote (October 7, 2016):
[To Charles Francis] I hear you but I donít speak German. I have Handelís Messiah and Haydnís Creation in English and find them to be satisfying. Henry

William Hoffman wrote (October 8, 2016):
To Henry Morse] I recall a David Wilcox recording on Angel in the late 1970s that was in English. Unfortunately, I later gave it way. It was a fine performance despite the language challenges. In 1965, I participated in the Washington DC premiere of the first three days of Christmas with orchestra (National Symphony), and The American University Chorus in the National Cathedral, in German, conducted by Norman Scribner. At the first chorus rehearsal we sight-read the first movement in both languages and chose German. The few previous performances in the area had been in English. I have Markus Rathey new book on the Christmas Oratorio, and will see if there are any comments on use of English. Interestingly, while the Passions and a few sacred cantatas (Peasant, Coffee, Hercules) have been staged, I can't find a staging of the Christmas Oratorio, altho the work has some fine dramatic passages, particularly the canticle choruses.

Henry Morse wrote (October 8, 2016):
[To William Hoffman] William, thank you for your reply. I have participated in a Messiah in Princeton, NJ a few years back.

While hoping to discover an English version of the Christmas Oratorio would you have any information on English language performances of some, any, or all of Bachís Cantatas.

Any help greatly appreciated,

 

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


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