Wednesday 20 April 2011

Ruht wohl

Last night I went to hear Bach's St John Passion at St Paul's Cathedral.

The cathedral is not the best acoustic environment for it, to be honest: there's a very long echo and the sound just gets incredibly muddy. Bach is better, I think, with some clarity.

The Passion was sung in English. As a rule I tend to prefer singing in the original language and as an audience member I think I feel the same, though I can see the point of using English given the context. I'm not sure about the translation, either, though. The first part of the clip embedded above was sung as follows:

"Sleep well, and rest in God's safekeeping,
who makes an end of all our weeping.
Sleep well, and on his breast sleep well.

The grave, that was prepared for thee,
from all our sorrows sets us free,
and points the way to Heaven,
and shuts the gates of Hell."

The German is:
"Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,
Die ich nun weiter nicht beweine,
Ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur Ruh!
Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist
Und ferner keine Not umschließt,
Macht mir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu."

and another translation into English is this:
"Rest well, ye holy bones and members,
Which I henceforth shall never weep for,
Rest well and bring me, too, to rest!
The tomb which for you is assigned,
And henceforth no distress will hold,
Doth open heav'n to me and shut the gates of hell. "

I definitely like "rest" as being closer to "ruht" than "sleep" is, and "rest in God's safekeeping" seems to basically be made up. But the second translation is pretty awkward as English verse goes. I've not studied German so I can't nitpick too much, and I'm a poor translator in any case, but I would like something faithful both to the meaning of the words and the metrical form.

Despite these imperfections I was thoroughly glad I went. This movement echoed in my head as I cycled home, and will probably stay with me the rest of the week.

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