Below is a preview of a Choral Journal article from May 2016:
“What Language Shall I Borrow?” Singing in Translation
by Daniel A. Mahraun
The full article is available for download at: http://acda.org/ccj.asp
We have all likely done it at one time or another: we have conducted or sung works in translation. Our reasons probably varied. Perhaps we saw no point in teaching the original language to that particular choir. Perhaps we made the choice for the sake of a particular audience. Perhaps our decision was based solely on expediency. Regardless, any conscious or unconscious reason we had likely flew in the face of what many of us have heard or been taught: that the performance of vocal music in translation is a form of blasphemy.
The late Roger Doyle made a case for singing in translation in his 1980 Choral Journal article, “What? Sing It in English? What Will the Neighbors Think?” In it, he bases his thoughts on the principal question of how to involve, to the fullest extent, the musicians and the listeners in a performance. Doyle lists what he saw as the four usual arguments against singing in translation then proceeds to reason them away. Those arguments are:
1) The nuance of the composer’s language is integral to the flow of the music.
2) Translations are provided in the printed programs.
3) The audience can’t understand the English either.
4) Good English versions are very scarce.1
Though not advocating the use of English at all times and for all repertoire, Doyle does consider aversion to English performances as “snobbish.”2
The present article will expand on Doyle’s reasoning, present criteria for evaluating English singing versions, and off er performance suggestions based on the demands of a translation. The case studies following include the familiar and oft-performed in translation (Mendelssohn’s “Es wird ein Stern,” from Christus), the less performed but oft-translated (J. S. Bach’s Matthäus-Passion), and a translation some simply avoid (Hindemith’s “La biche,” from Six chansons). This article will present ways to make performance in translation—as with all that we do—satisfying, not merely satisfactory.