minstrel: translations

C&HWood norseman at epix.net
Thu Apr 20 12:17:05 PDT 2000


I'm firmly of two minds ;) on translating period songs.   I certainly enjoy 
hearing the songs in the original and have no problem with anyone who 
chooses to perform solely in the original language.  None of my assertions 
below are to be taken to mean that I dislike original language performance 
or wish to discourage it in any way.

However, I also believe that performing translations can also have its 
place.  It's true that no translation will completely capture the rhythm 
and feel of the original language.  However, a modern audience enjoying a 
song in the original language is still not experiencing the piece as a 
medieval audience would have.  The original words, with their rhythms and 
flow perfectly fitted to the music, are basically meaningless to the modern 
audience.  Even a translation or synopsis given before or after the piece 
do not allow for the "story" or words to unfold during the course of the 
piece in the way that the original listeners would have heard 
it.  Therefore I sometimes like to perform lyrical translations of songs, 
as long as they are as close as possible to literal translations while 
still singable.

Many scholars feel that the troubadors and trouveres were primarily poets; 
that their music, while laudable, was merely a vehicle for the poems.  If 
this is true, then I find it hard to accept that conveying the music but 
not the poetry is the best way to represent this genre.  The problem comes 
from deciding which aspects of the poetry are most important: the rhythm 
and "sound" of the words, or the meanings they convey.  My personal feeling 
is that the meaning is more important, and need not always be relegated to 
translations that are not part of the performance.

My favorite method is to perform one or two verses in the original 
language, and then perform the translations.  This gives the audience both 
a little flavor of the original language, and at least a sense of the 
song's meaning as it was sung.  Other folks' mileage may certainly vary, 
and I rejoice in this diversity of creation and opinion.

Linette de Gallardon


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