Translating Winterreise: Sense and Singability

The activity of song translation is not only of scholarly interest in the field of musicology, but also informs translation studies due to the focus it places on the relationship between linguistic content and form. Moreover, translating canonical works like Schubert’s Lieder provides a rich, multidimensional perspective on such secondary topics as cultural history, comparative literature and even international relations. While choices faced by poetic translators typically involve an unavoidable trade-off between faithfulness to the semantic content of the source and preservation of its poetic form, translators who want their texts to be sung must resolve this trade-off according to the primary criterion of singability. In this paper, a discussion of the choices faced by a contemporary English translator of Müller-Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle is presented in terms of singability and intelligibility.

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