Friday, 7 June 2013

Music and Translation

I'm leaving for Wolfenbüttel for my annual DJ duty for the German literary translators (this time with Hank the DJ, who is charge of country and indie, while I shall stick to sort of soulful stuff). As you know, translators need a strong sense of rhythm to do their work well. They like a nice dance. In the never-ending list of translation analogies, the "musician interpreting a piece" is pretty common. I do wonder whether musicians ever compare themselves to translators - or are perhaps allowed to be simply musicians. "What's it like being a musician, Mister McCartney?" "It's a bit like being a translator actually."

Anyway, this is going somewhere else: take a look at this fascinating project all about translating music. They're looking at opera in particular, as there's a lot of translation in that field, but also other kinds of music. They ask:
Why is Schiller’s Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s ninth symphony translated into so many languages in international performances while a piece such as Haydn’s Creation is usually performed in German or English?

Why are so many songs and musical pieces not translated and how can we improve communication in this area, thus opening up culturally? What can music mediate in films and other artistic forms? How can we carry improving the access of music to those who have impairments and miss it, because they have lost their hearing for example?
They're planning events and workshops, sharing best practice, and so on. It's a fascinating area. All sorts of things spring to my mind. Stage (and film) musicals are frequently translated into German on a really high level, by professionals who don't necessarily consider themselves translators. My favourite is the German version of My Fair Lady, which totally hits the spot by transferring the Cockney fun into Berlin dialect. And I note that ABBA musical is now entirely in German too, including the songs. Or think of those dodgy Beatles recordings in German! I've translated pop songs for a German singer, which never got used, sadly, but were great fun to do. Recently at our translation lab in Berlin, we looked at a few astounding translations of songs from Der Blaue Engel: "Falling in Love Again"! The lyrics are miles away from "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt" - but they absolutely capture the spirit of the song. And look what they did for Marlene Dietrich in the USA. Listen to a 1939 broadcast via that link and especially the way she's announced as "one of us". Wonderful. We've also had fun translating lyrics in the past at Translation Idol - a song by the writer Jan Böttcher spawned all sorts of weird and wonderful versions.

Translating lyrics is a special challenge, but produces special solutions. Have a good weekend.

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