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International Interdisciplinary Symposium: Translation in Music

16 June 2014

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On a beautiful bank-holiday weekend in May (25-26), scholars and practitioners in Translation Studies and Music came together at Cardiff University for the International Interdisciplinary Symposium: Translation in Music. The two-day conference, organised by Dr. Clair Rowden (MUSIC), Dr. Cristina Marinetti (EUROP) and Dr. Monika Hennemann (EUROP), and sponsored by Learned Society of Wales and Music & Letters (OUP), was a merging of theory and practice. Fascinating papers were given throughout the day by scholars from the fields of Translation Studies, language (Welsh, German, French, Italian, Spanish and English) and musicology, and incredible musical performances offered at the end of each day for the application of all that had been considered.

University Belfast, researcher of translation and/in performance, spoke on Sunday of translation as an ‘in-between’, neither here nor there, as well as its attempt to reach something ‘beyond’, similar to the ‘phantom note’ of music. Professor Susan Youens, J. W. Van Gorkom professor of music at the University of Notre Dame, gave her passionate keynote on Monday, speaking about the translation of and within Shubert’s music. After lunch were more parallel sessions, a ‘roundtable’ on day 1 on the subject of surtitles, and a ‘round-up’ on day 2, which provided a forum for further discussion on any of many interesting topics. The days were concluded with a lecture recital and a multimedia show on days 1 and 2 respectively.
The relationship between music and words within opera, song, and poetry, is a marital relationship: the two are bound; the expression of the music wedded to the linguistic expression of the text. Translation of one, then, must have implications for the other. Indeed, the discussions on historical translation practices as well as current challenges in intercultural musical communication at the conference, held at Cardiff University’s department of Music, exposed and explored the complex relationship between music and words.

The days began with parallel sessions, day 1 focussing on ‘Opera in Translation’ and the emphasis on Day 2 being on ‘Song in Translation’.  These sessions were followed by keynote lectures. Professor David Johnston, professor of Translation and Interpreting at Queen’s

Engaging and interesting papers were given throughout the conference by postgraduate students, practicing performers and translators, including Jonathan Burton (Royal Opera House, London), as well as established academics such as Dr. Şebnem Susam-Saraeva (University of Edinburgh). Topics explored included the problems of surtitling, translation and adaptation of opera (German, French, Italian), translation of song lyrics (folk and pop), welsh contexts, and world hymnody. Cultural contexts for these papers spanned the globe, music being cited and played from China, Mongolia, South Africa, Turkey, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, Italy and Wales. The ‘international interdisciplinary’ symposium, to its credit, was certainly both these things, and indeed, both were an advantage for the effective exploration of the conference subject.

The conference ‘round-up’ on day 2 allowed for discussion on topics such as ‘death of the surtitle(r)’, ‘translator as artist’, ‘surtitles in non-operatic contexts’, and ‘surtitles for the deaf’. After enriching contributions, the event concluded with the general agreement that the relationship between Translation and Music needs to be explored further. Both fields of Translation Studies and Musicology are expanding academic domains; however, this conference has begun to bridge the gap which has long been between the two disciplines, bringing them together in dialogue.

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