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Bach in English

Bach in English

Carl Burmeister wrote:
And just to make sure I don't leave you without sparking some flames, I think Bach sung in English is an abomination.

Jane Newble wrote (November 26, 1999):
At last someone who agrees! I always get laughed at, and told that's only because I am Dutch. But then I would feel the same if it was sung in Dutch! In the spring our Choral Society (Ashford, England) is going to perform the Johannes-Passion, and of course they are going to sing it in English...sigh...! But tomorrow night we are singing the Mass in B (BWV 232) and at least that's in Latin! (And by the way, unless I hear anything better in the future, Herreweghe's version is my absolute favorite).

Nevertheless, I have to admit that when I inherited three LPs from an old friend with the Matthäus-Passion in English (Dr. Reginald Jacques with Kathleen Ferrier among others), I found it strangely moving to hear Bach sung in the language that I hear every day around me. And I think he might have been quite thrilled...!

Even so, I still prefer Bach in German!

Donald Satz wrote (November 26, 1999):
I am also no fan of Bach in English or Verdi in English, etc. My view is that the music and language were composed to "fit" one another. Change the language and the fit changes, almost invariably for the worse.

I've always been perplexed as to who thinks up these "do it in English" notions. It's most likely a marketing/profit ploy.

Philip Peters wrote (November 25, 1999):
Jane Newble wrote:
< At last someone who agrees! I always get laughed at, and told that's only because I am Dutch. >
Hi there! Groeten uit Den Haag.

< But then I would feel the same if it were sung in Dutch! >
I can't even imagine what that would sound like but I'm sure it would be terribly guttural. I never understand when vocal music is sung in a different language as you drastically change the music: music is sound and language is sound too; vocal music is composed starting with these two tools. This practice has now by and large subsided although I heard many Americans who are too lazy to learn a little German <g> defend the practice for the sake of understanding the text....

< In the spring our Choral Society (Ashford, England) is going to perform the Johannes-Passion, and of course they are going to sing it in English...sigh…! But tomorrow night we are singing the Mass in B (BWV 232) and at least that's in Latin! (And by the way, unless I hear anything better in the future, Herreweghe's version is my absolute favorite).
Nevertheless, I have to admit that when I inherited three LPs from an old friend with the Matthäus-Passion in English (Dr. Reginald Jacques with Kathleen Ferrier among others), I found it strangely moving to hear Bach sung in the language that I hear every day around me. And I think he might have been quite thrilled...! >
I have these too and I agree but that is mainly because it's Ferrier. When Ferrier sings a tone scale she will have me already almost in tears, so this is an exception.

< Even so, I still prefer Bach in German! >
Don't we all?

Jane Newble wrote (November 27, 1999):
Philip Peters wrote:
< Hi there! Groeten uit Den Haag. >
Oh dear, you make me feel homesick…!

< I have these too and I agree but that is mainly because it's Ferrier. When Ferrier sings a tone scale she will have me already almost in tears, so this is an exception. >
I agree. But then Aafje Heynis has the same effect on me. Have you, or anyone else heard the Philips CD's with the Brandenburgs and Aafje Heynis singing BWV 170?

I have a feeling that I will end up getting it anyway…!

Philip Peters wrote (November 28, 1999):
Jane Newble wrote:
< But then Aafje Heynis has the same effect on me. Have you, or anyone else heard the Philips CD's with the Brandenburgs and Aafje Heynis singing BWV 170? >
It's a pity that Heynis is so under-recorded, isn't it? I do have the BWV 170 recording and it's heartbreakingly beautiful. Highly recommended. This year she became 75. There was a TV-portrait of her in which students like Charlotte Margiono played a prominent part. She still regards Heynis as her teacher and friend. Heynis is a very sober, very Dutch person and the restrained mutual admiration, respect and love between her and Margiono were very moving. When I was eight years old or so my parents first took me to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw (we lived only a few blocks away) and I heard Heynis and Van Beinum doing Brahms' alto rhapsody. I couldn't sleep all night and I have her recording of it that may well have been made that very evening. Oops, far off topic here...

Santu de Silva (Archimedes) wrote (November 30, 1999):
Jane Newble wrote:
"...when I inherited three LPs from an old friend with the Matthäus-Passion in English (Dr. Reginald Jacques with Kathleen Ferrier among others), I found it strangely moving to hear Bach sung in the language I hear every day around me." >
An urgent request for information:

I would like to have Haydn's Creation in English. Any recommendations?

Matthew Westphal wrote (November 30, 1999):
Santu De Silva wrote:
< I would like to have Haydn's Creation in English. Any recommendations? >
Absolutely. Hogwood recorded THE CREATION using the English translation used when Haydn premiered the piece in London. I think it works quite well.

Colin Thart wrote (November 30, 1999):
Matthew Westphal writes:
< Hogwood recorded THE CREATION using the English translation used when Haydn premiered the piece in London. I think it works quite well. >
This is a real HIP-HOP performance -- a historically informed performance of an adaptation of a work, either by the composer or by another.

Another performance in this class is a recording on the Opus-111 label of Mendelssohn's version of Bach's SMP (BWV 244)... using instruments and performance practices of Mendelssohn's time.

There. We're back on topic.

Jane Newble wrote (December 2, 1999):
Philip Peters wrote:
< It's a pity that Heynis is so under-recorded, isn't it? I do have the BWV 170 recording and it's heartbreakingly beautiful. Highly recommended. -- >
Thanks a lot. I shall get it! I tend to collect anything by her anyway, even if it's not Bach.

But she introduced me to the "Schlafe mein Liebster" from the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), and it haunted me so much that I had to get the Oratorio! Has she recorded any other Bach than the short pieces on her two Philips CD's?

 

Non-German Bach Passions

Jim Morrison wrote (April 24, 2002):
I was just listening to the Apollo's Fire English language version of the Saint John Passion (BWV 245), pretty good by the way, and it occurred to me that English is the only non-German language that I've heard being used on a Bach Passion recording. Is this mainly a English language phenomenon? Or are there, say, Dutch Passions, French? Japanese? Spanish? Italian? Canadian? ;-)

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 24, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] I've heard that in England, Händel operas and Bach's vocal works are sung in English. I think, but I'm not sure, that the English also print captions above the stage so that people will know what the (....) is going on!

Peter Brighr wrote (April 24, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison & Francine Renee Hall] Bach's works are, indeed, sometimes sung in English. For example, every year at Easter (and on two successive Sunday's) the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) is sung in English at the Royal Festival Hall (complete with huge choirs and (I think) modern instruments) - I have been once and was greatly moved by it.

However, it is more normal for all his works to be performed in the appropriate language (German or Latin) here as well as, I presume, everywhere else - this accords with the fact that a great many HIP-sensitive conductors are British or otherwise live here. I have never been to a where the captions are printed above the stage (there are usually programmes with the translations included, but I expect this method may have been used from time to time (although, personally, I think it would really piss me off)).

Bob Sherman wrote (April 25, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] I don't think the use of original language is a HIP issue. It mainly reflects the fact that translation can't perfectly

(1) capture the original meaning

(2) avoid awkward sounds and

(3) fit the music that was written for German text. At least one is inevitably sacrificed by translation.

A more stark HIP issue sometimes arises because Handel wrote in English but his English wasn't perfect. So sometimes he stressed the wrong syllable, for example "incorrupTIBle" rather than "incorRUPtible." I suppose the HIP concept requires use of the awkward original because that's what the composer wrote, whereas what we might call MBA (Music Above All) applies a non-authentic fix if it works, which in this case it does.

Similarly, baroque second and third trumpet parts sometimes have awkward leaps and bad voice-leading because the valveless instrument can't play diatonically in the lower octave. So the choice is to
(1) HIP: use a valveless trumpet which forces you to stick to what the composer wrote,
(2) semi-HIP: use a valved trumpet but choose to stick to what the composer wrote, or
(3) MBA: use the valves to play the notes the composer didn't write but that sound better and that he surely would have written if the available instruments could have played them.

While I'm on the subject I'll state a pet peeve: Until recently it has been the custom for composers to write their trumpet parts as if they were in the key of C, while noting the actual key for transposition (e.g. "Trumpet in D") at the beginning of the section. Original trumpeters would then use a trumpet pitched in D and everything would work fine. It also works fine for today's modern-instrument players, who use trumpets that are pitched either in the key of the piece or a closely related key, for example a piccolo trumpet in A is used for D trumpet parts, a G or F trumpet for C trumpet parts, etc. That works well too. But Handel, for reasons unknown, wrote his trumpet parts in the actual concert pitch, with key signatures, as one would write for a violin. Since no player will want to use a C trumpet to play in the key of D (too many foggy notes and near-impossible trills), this notation forces us into awkward transpositions such as a sixth down from A to C. Nevertheless, many editors do it that way because that's what Händel wrote -- as if the listener could tell the difference. Yuck.

 

In English

Bernard Nys wrote (April 27, 2002):
Some time ago, some people asked if the SJP (BWV 245) and SMP (BWV 244) had been translated. Don't forget Benjamin's Britten SJP (BWV 245) translation and Bernstein's SMP (BWV 244) with 2 black sopranos and an unforgettable No. 70 Look ye, Jesu waiting stands. I would like to see the Cantatas sung in English, Dutch, Spanish,...

There's something else I learnt in the Gardiner Pilgrimage DVD : Bach's music was not only related to the Church Year, but also to the seasons, the weather,... According to Gardiner, we have lost this organic relationship to nature.

A last point : the difference for me between Händel and Bach is that the first was looking for glory for himself and that JSB wanted glory for his Savior. I like the Messiah very much, but it never has that deep religious, almost poetical-personal, intimate relationship with Jesus.

 

Bach Cantata’s in English

Tom Morris wrote (September 18, 2003):
Does anyone in this group know of any recordings of Bach's Cantata's sung in English?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (September 19, 2003):
[To Tom Morris] I don't know of the Kantaten, butIknow Amazon.com and cdnow.com have copies of the Johannespassion and Matthaeuspassion in English.

John Pike wrote (September 19, 2003):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Yes, the Benjamin Britten/Peter Pears version of the St John Passion (BWV 245), sung in English gets a rosette in the Penguin Guide, usually very reliable. Personally, I much prefer it (and Bach's works in general) sung in German, whatever the qualities of the recording, which I have.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 20, 2003):
[To Tom Morris] I am aware of the following recordings of Bach's vocal works in English:

Johannes-Passion BWV 245: 4 recordings. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV245-Rec6.htm
Matthaus-Passion BWV 244: 4 recordings: Reginald Jacques (1947-1948), Ernest MacMillan (Early 1950's), Leonard Bernstein (1962), David Willcocks (1979, not sure about this one)
Cantatas BWV 11, BWV 67, Chorale from BWV 147 - all conducted by Reginald Jacques. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Jacques.htm
Various cantata movements were recorded in English. For example:
'Shout God's Gladness Unto Every Nation' from Cantata BWV 51, included in the album 'Lieder in Our Language' by Jill Hausman (1999)
’Jesus, Shepherd, Be Thou Near Me’ from Cantata BWV 208, included in the album 'Of Winds And Song' by Melanie Cavenaugh (1997).

There have been some short discussions of this topic. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/English.htm

Tom Morris wrote (September 20, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Yes I have all that, and it's a real shame we can't get the Cantata's in English. Such a wonderful praise of our Savior all locked up in another tongue. But hey...just watch, my prayer is that God will unlock them soon.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (September 20, 2003):
[To John Pike] So do I, since the language used does not translate well into English, and inpoint of fact, many words do not have exact translations at all.

By the way, I don't know of the Britten recording, but I have seen many times the one by (I believe) Apollo's Fire.

As for the Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244), I have seen a lot of the Bernstein recording.

 

Translating Bach cantatas

Bernard Nys wrote (December 4, 2003):
A few days ago I saw Herreweghe in concert in Antwerp (Belgium) and once again I had this thought : it's a pity that this music is not appreciated by a broader public (for instance duetto BWV 146) ! I imagine that the German language is one of the reasons of this lack of succes. Wouldn't it be a nice idea to have a GREATEST HITS BACH CANTATAS CD in English, French, Spanish,... ? The "lyrics" are so delightful and interesting for every Christian !

Donald Satz wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Bernard Nys] Bernard must be smoking some potent herbs. In German or English, a Bach Cantata is still classical music and will always have a tiny little audience.

I do appreciate Bernard giving me some insight as to what Christians find interesting - changing German to English seems to be one of the winners.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Donald Satz] The other day someone said on a list devoted to another composer that he wished that Mahler's Lieder would be recorded in English. I wanted to reply with a single word: WHY?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Bernard Nys] The problem is that the language oftentimes is not translateable from German to another language.

For example, I have tried to translate the entirety of the Choral "Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist" into English. This is well-nigh impossible because there is no exact English translation for half the words. That is because it is in a peotic form of German, and, like English, the poetic form of German is not easily translateable. This I have from a friend of my parents who cto the US not to long ago from Germany.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Donald Satz] One must be wary, though. The meaning and power oftentimes (as well as the beauty of the words) get lost in translation.

I think that the more interesting situation is for multilinguisity amongst Christians.

 

Translating cantatas bis

Bernard Nys wrote (December 7, 2003):
Allow me to come back with my silly idea of translating Bach... I speak Dutch and understanding German is not a big deal (as you know, German and Dutch are very close, it's the same family of languages), but I know that French and Spanish people (and all other Latin language speaking people) find it a big problem. I know also that in Bach's time the church audience liked to sing along the most famous chorals. Last year I saw a SMP (BWV 244), where the conductor asked us to sing the chorals, after some rehearsal in the afternoon. OK, you didn't hear us, the public, but it was a fine experience to be "involved".

Why did Julio Iglesias, Sting, Aznavour, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin,... start to sing in other languages ??? Because they knew that they would reach a broader audience and that most people like to sing in their language in the bathroom, for instance.

So why not Bach's GREATEST CANTATA HITS in English, French, Spanish,... ? Nice challenge for us to gather the most beautiful melodies and to have translated and performed... Would be a nice Christmas gift... I wanted to talk about my idea to Herreweghe last week (he came back on the stage after the concert - don't know why - and I was there at only two meters, but I didn't dare to ask...). Can anyone help me with this idea or is it really to stupid ?

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 7, 2003):
[To Bernard Nys] Translating Bach cantatas to other languages?

Here are three related examples: the first two not directly about translating Bach, but perhaps they will have some bearing on the question anyway: translations of other sacred choral works. The third, below, is about the St John Passion (BWV 245).

When I was in high school, our choir was to perform Vivaldi's "Gloria" and there was a dispute over which language to use: Latin or English. The choir took a vote. Those of us in favor of keeping the Latin barely won the vote. And even then, I think some of the reason was that the English translation in our scores was so terribly unsingable. For the "Domine Fili" the translation went as follows: "Only begotten / Son of the Fa-----ther, / Je --- ee ---- eeeee --- esus the Christ!" The people hearing our program certainly would have understood the music better if we had sung in English; but we also didn't want them to laugh at a ludicrous translation. A tough thing to balance.

Also not too far off topic, I hope: does anyone here have the Jessop (Telarc) recording of the Brahms requiem, sung in English (as translated by Robert Shaw)? How is it? Amazon.com

When I was in college we sang the piece using a different English translation, and it went OK; but it seemed to me to diminish the music a bit. Brahms' notes and rhythms had to be adjusted here and there to force the English to fit. And, the text is repeated enough anyway (and translations provided in the printed program for the concert...and they're all biblical quotations, anyway, material most of the audience would already know)...such a translation out of the German didn't seem to me all that necessary. But our director's point was that the title "A German Requiem" should emphasize not the German itself, but Brahms' desire that the work was notably a vernacular requiem instead of one in Latin. So, to translate it to the local vernacular of English made some sense.

As for Bach's music, another anecdote: I was in a performance of the St John Passion (BWV 245), playing organ continuo, with an Evangelist who had sung the role (and had conducted the whole piece) both in German and English on different occasions. We were doing it in German, this time. In rehearsal, he demonstrated to us how silly and trite it really could sound to sing the English words "and cut his right EAR off!" in the part where Peter wields his sword. (Recitative, #4.)

Since then, I have heard a performance of the SJP (BWV 245) with a different English translation: Jeannette Sorrell's, with Apollo's Fire (Eclectra 2038, recorded in 1999). And it can work well, as demonstrated by that recording. It's still considerably changed from Bach's notes and rhythms, to force the translation to work; seems "foreign" in that way, musically, even though the sung language makes a more immediate impact to me in my native language.

In the booklet, Sorrell has written the following paragraph: "Why in English? This recording is intended for the thousands of English speakers who, until now, have been unable to fully connect with Bach's masterpiece due to the barrier of a foreign tongue. It is clear that Bach wrote in the language of his audience and intended the text to be understood. Martin Luther was also adamant that the Biblical texts be available in the language of the people, and his careful translation of the Bible is what Bach and his contemporaries read. Bach was a church musician in the Lutheran tradition, and he chose every note to reflect the word that is sung. I am convinced that the idea of presenting this work in a language not understood by the majority of the audience would have seemed absurd to Bach. It is true, unfortunately, that English does not sound as beautiful as the original German when sung. But a listener who is dependent on reading a printed translation while listening will lose the immediate dramatic impact of the piece. It was customary in the 18th century for operas and oratorios to be translated when taken to a different country. Ideally, we North Americans and Brits would all be taught sufficient German, Italian and French in school to be able to understand the great works of Western art. Since that is not the case, I hope that this recording may fill a void for the many Anglophones who want to deepen their acquaintance with Bach's Passion music. For those who wish to explore this work in the original language, there are dozens of fine period-instrument recordings already on the market."

Sorrell also explains her careful choice of versions of the music: a blended version of readings from the Neue Bach-Ausgabe and the older Bach-Gesellschaft, to resolve differences in the interpretation of ambivalent markings (slurs, etc), and taking seriously the different versions from Bach's own several documented performances. That is, trying to find and recreate Bach's intentions as both a vernacular piece and through his own series of revisions.

See also: http://www.apollosfire.org/CDs_Merchandise.htm

Bernard Nys wrote (December 8, 2003):
SMP & SJP in English

Thanks Brad for your answer. What's your opinion about the SMP (BWV 244) in English by Leonard Bernstein and the SJP (BWV 245) in English by Benjamin Britten ?

Bernstein's SMP (BWV 244) is my all time favourite and it's a translation !!!!! I'm sure it's possible. It's like the Bible : I like very much the Mass in Latin, but only the Nicaea Credo is sung in Latin (cfr. B-minor Mass (BWV 232) by Bach). And isn't there a Messiah in German (by Händel ?) ? Even Bach translated Pergolesi's Stabat Mater ! My point is : if the translation is well done and if the musicians are good, a GREATEST CANTATA HITS will be a most delightful and enjoyable CD. It would be a big challenge for this group to make such a compilation of greatest hits, to translate them and to have them recorded someone like Herreweghe, Koopman,...

Thanks again for any help...

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (December 8, 2003):
Bernard Nys wrote:
< I like very much the Mass in Latin, but only the Nicaea Credo is sung in Latin (cfr. B-minor Mass (BWV 232) by Bach). >
So is the rest of the Mass except for a specifically German Mass e.g. Schubert

< And isn't there a Messiah in German (by Händel ?) ? >
Reorchestrated by Mozart

< Even Bach translated Pergolesi's Stabat Mater ! >
Not true, Bach set a different text to Pergolesi's music, a psalm text.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 8, 2003):
[To Bernard Nys] The topic of singing Bach's vocal works in English has been discussed couple of times in the BCML & BRML.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/English.htm

Bach's music has been transformed so many times, and in most of the cases retained its strength. I see no fault with your idea of singing Bach's Greatest Cantata Hits in non-German languages. If it helps to spread the message of Bach's music, it deserves a try.

 

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (September 27, 2004):
While looking at the current thread of titles of messages, I noticed one blaring error. It seems common nowadays to call the tune "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". This is totally wrong, and an error in translation. The tune is actually called "Jesu bleibet meine Freude", which when accurately translated reads "Jesus remaineth my joy" or "Jesus stayeth my joy" or (for more modern language) "Jesus remainss my joy" or "Jesus stays my joy". So please, when talking about this tune, use the correct translation.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (September 27, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] As you may or may not be aware, this is the metrical translation-and it's the way the tune has become famous in the English speaking world in all it's various convoluted and not-so-convoluted contexts. I guess this convulted nature of the millions and millions of piano and organ etc. arrangements (most of them probably being very nearly exactly the same) warrants your complaint, but who's to say that the metrical translation is wrong? Does "Sleepers wake: the voice commands" sound particularly wrong? (True, it does sound quite euphemised for lack of a better word, but still works).

Well that's my 2 cents...

Dale Gedcke wrote (September 27, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] The loose translation of "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" (Jesus remains my joy) into the established standard title, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" in the English-speaking world points out a typical problem in translating a song into another language. The phonetics of the translated words must match the pattern of the notes in the music. This often results in an inexact translation. If you want to understand the exact meaning of a song, you need to hear or read it in the original language.

Peter Smaill wrote (September 27, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Of course the translation of "Jesu bleibet meine Freunde" as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"is indeed a title only suggested approximately, but it scans to the metre of the music, unlike any of the more literal translations. It is verse xvii of Martin Jahn's hymn, "Jesu, meiner seelen Wonne" (1661).

Robertson in his survey of the Cantatas does not condemn the derivation; Whittaker notes it , and gives a full and near literal translation but reserves his complaints for the sentimental manner of many renditions .Nor does Malcolm Boyd in his encyclopaedic Oxford Companion bother to criticise the rendering of the title in this form .

If there is a point to the contrast with the literal meaning of the words, it lies in the Lutheran perception of a personal relationship to the second person of the Trinity; the commonly adopted English usage makes an abstract statement about Jesus rather than a personal one .

If we are concerned to encourage our neighbours to love and enjoy Bach, should we start by a critique of the harmless English translation of perhaps the only thing (apart from Wachet auf ) they know of the cantatas (even if they do not know it comes from this treasure trove )?

Eric Bergerud wrote (September 27, 2004):
[To Dale Gedcke] 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.)

Paul Farseth wrote (September 28, 2004):
Eric Bergerud asks if any Bach Cantatas have been recorded in English. The answer is probably available on Aryeh's database and also by searching places like Amazon.com .

Leonard Bernstein did the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in English, and maybe also Robert Shaw, though I'm not sure whether any Shaw recordings are available now.

[The chapel (2nd) choir at St. Olaf College in the U.S. did LPs of the two Bach passions back in the middle 1950s. A choir at California Lutheran College recorded "Wachet auf" in English in the 1960s as part of a concert LP. Robert Shaw led a broadcast (FM radio) performance of the Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in English at St. Olaf College in the early 1980s, but it may never have been released to the public as a CD. Many of the Bach motets, however, have been available on LP and CD in English (some since the 1950s) in recordings by the St. Olaf Choir and the Concordia College Choir in the U.S., though these were regional releases. ]

Gabriel Jackson wrote (September 28, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] And will you, in return, stop using German words like "Orgelwerke" and "Kantaten" (which are not titles) when writing in English?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (September 28, 2004):
Paul Farseth wrote:
< Leonard Bernstein did the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in English, and maybe also Robert Shaw, though I'm not sure whether any Shaw recordings are available now. >
(1) There is the Kathleen Ferrier SMP (BWV 244) (on excerpts on CD AFAIK). On LP was complete(?) and I understand why only the Ferrier portions are transferred to CD. The performance as a whole was pretty inane. (2) OTOH I find Bernstein's abridged English recording very fetching indeed without any of the soloists being supreme. As an aside there is a pirate DLvdE (Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde) with Jennie Tourel in English and I find it terrific. There is also according to Aryeh's site a MP in Swedish. Has anyone heard it?

Eric Bergerud wrote (September 28, 2004):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I was wrong about a Decca performance in English of SMP (BWV 244), or so it seems anyway. There is, however, an English performance of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) conducted by Benjamin Britten. The recording is still in stock on Amazon and you can listen to excerpts of every cut which is pretty rare. Actually sounds pretty good and at $17 I might pick it up. I've been through Amazon's collection of Bach cantatas several times and have missed any English language versions if they exist. (I did stumble on one very odd find a few days back: Moreschi - The Last Castrato. The original recording dates from about 1900 and shows its age. Even includes a song sung by Leo XIII who died in 1903. Moreschi was over 60 when he recorded this. Yet the notes are still there. No question that the sound is very strange: more boy-like than soprano I'd say. Anyway, all the cuts on this album also can be listened to on-line. No insight into Bach here, but Händel is a different story.)

John Pike wrote (28, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] You are quite correct, of course, David, and I am sure everyone is aware of this. I referred to "loose translation" when referring to it. The piece has been arranged by many people over the years and has been given the title "Jesu, Joy of Man's desiring" in popular circles. Incorrect, of course, but understood commonly, and faithful in spirit to the sentiments of the original title.

Johan van Veen wrote (September 28, 2004):
[To Eric Bergerud] Just for the record: there is a more recent - even 'HIP'- recording of the SJP (BWV 245) in English: Apollo's Fire, directed by Jeannette Sorrell on Eclectra (ECCD 2044).

Teri 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."

Teri Noel Towe wrote (September 29, 2004):
Bach in English - SMP and SJP

< Leonard Bernstein did the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in English, and maybe also Robert Shaw, though I'm not sure whether any Shaw recordings are available now. >
The Leonard Bernstein is severely abridged. Robert Shaw recorded the St. John Passion (BWV 245) in English, not the Saint Matthew (BWV 244).

There is a private recording of the Saint Matthew (BWV 244), complete and uncut, in English, conducted by Pablo Casals, with Ernst Haefliger as the Evangelist.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (September 29, 2004):
BWV 78 in English

< A choir at California Lutheran College recorded "Wachet auf" in English in the 1960s as part of a concert LP. >
A recording of BWV 78 in English, by the Bach Choir of Bethlehem under Ifor Jones, appeared on RCA Victor in the 1940s.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (September 29, 2004):
LP English SMP recordings

< I was wrong about a Decca performance in English of SMP (BWV 244), or so it seems anyway. There >
I have the recollection that there was a complete SMP (BWV 244) in English that appeared during the LP era. It may have been under the direction of David Willcocks. It did not have wide circulation.

And the Ernest Macmillan recording, made in Toronto in the '50s, is in English.

Uri Golomb wrote (September 29, 2004):
Teri Noel Towe wrote:
< I have the recollection that there was a complete SMP (BWV 244) in English that appeared during the LP era. It may have been under the direction of David Willcocks. It did not have wide circulation. >
Willcocks indeed recorded a complete SMP (BWV 244) in English for Decca, with Robert Tear as Evangelist and John Shirley-Quirk as Christus, in 1978. I have it on a CD issued by ASV on its Quicksilver label (see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Rec4.htm); I'm not sure whether it's still available. This recording represents the annual performances in English by the Bach Choir, which Willcocks conducted for at least 20 years, AFAIK.

The work's very first recording, by Serge Koussevitzky, was also in English (see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Rec1.htm).

The Jacuques recording in English (also listed on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Rec1.htm) is nearly complete. It represents an earlier phase in the Bach Choir annual performance tradition.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 1, 2004):
Teri Noel Towe wrote:
< There is a private recording of the Saint Matthew, complete and uncut, in English, conducted by Pablo Casals, with Ernst Haefliger as the Evangelist. >
WHERE?!?!?! Sign me up to get a pressing of that one! The anecdotal descriptions in David Blum's book are so tantalizing........

 

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 FerEdition 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 example that 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 Germ... 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 conductor speaks 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 "ibuprofe". 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 communicants). 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 suas 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 about the 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 winto 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. Rethe 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

 

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

Bach’s 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 Mincham’s 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 Leonha/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, 2011):
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).

 

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