These translations began as notes for my own use while listening to the Leusink cycle of the cantatas. These recordings are issued with the German text but no translations. Record companies increasingly reissue cantata recordings without texts or translations. Some of the translations that are supplied use translations intended for singing. Such versions are often an inadequate guide to the exact meaning of the German . When there are radio broadcasts of cantatas, it is frustrating not to be able to follow the text. In these circumstances it seemed worthwhile to make my translations generally available and with Aryeh's kind help and cooperation they have been placed on the Bach Cantatas Website.
The sole aim of these translations is to enable those who are not fluent in German to follow the texts of the cantatas closely. They have no claim to any literary merit and are entirely subservient to the music. The interlinear format is chosen for the same purpose.of making the text as easy to follow as possible.
Within the constraints of line by line translation I have tried to make the meanng of the text as clear and simple as I can. This is not always easy, with the complexities of German word order, the extravagant language of some Baroque writers and strained expressions because of the exigencies of rhyme. To this end I have avoided archaic diction and 'sacred' language (thou, ye etc) and have often chosen a flat, banal or verbose translation in the interests of clarity. The website is used by many who know English as a second language but not German. I would be delighted if my translations helped them to follow the text of the cantatas and do not wish to place the additional barrier of unfamiliar English usage in their way.
I have used the German texts available on Walter F. Bischof's invaluable site (http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/bach.html ). These texts have been checked against those available in Alfred Dürr’s Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kantaten and corrected in a small number of places. With characteristic generosity Tom Braatz scrutinised many of my early translations and made valuable suggestions. Needless to say he is not responsible for errors which remain, and any corrections or suggestions for improvements would be most welcome.
These translations may be used gratis in programmes and programme notes for concert performances. Please add an acknowledgement, to enable anyone who wishes to find the Bach Cantatas Website (http://www.bach-cantatas.com) and send me an e mail. Please also inform me if any other use of these translations is envisaged.
Taken as a whole, in their extent and wonderful variety, the cantatas seem to me simply the greatest achievement of the greatest composer. If these translations help others to share the delight I have found in this music, the drudgery of translation will be amply rewarded.
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September 2003, December 2004, November 2007, July 2008