Interpretation. Version. Adaptation. Translation.

Train to London, Thursday, August 26.

Carmen Troncoso

After Roger’s Blog “Words and Music 9 Pierrot Lunaire: re-discovering Albert Giraud”.


As long as our artistic work based or influenced by others’ work(s) is well defined in its purpose and scope as well as properly acknowledged, endless , creative, innovative proposals can be developed, opening new insights, new frameworks, and, as Roger wrote once, providing ‘a new lease of life’.

However, this chain of related names and works has to appear as part of the new expression, the new version, the new ‘thing’. So I agree with the opinion that we shouldn´t need to trace the originals. They should be there, as part of the new event.

In his latest blog, Roger draws our attention to the unfair assessment of an artist’s work due to an incomplete acknowledgement of this chain. In this case, the loss of Giraud’s original poems for so long. There was a personal selection of Giraud´s poems (‘Three times seven’ out of fifty), taking only part of the whole, changing the order of appearance, and then offering a translation, which seemed to have improved the original. Result: on the one hand, a fantastic new work; on the other hand, the devaluing of Giraud.


It is undoubtedly difficult to convey an original poem in another language. Words, verbs, atmospheres, feelings, perceptions, imagination…   all of these are, or can be, ambiguous or subjective.

In Spanish, for example, we say tocar música, which, literally translated, would be to touch music. That action predisposes, presumably, to a different approach to the music (verbally influenced) than the English verb to play, which, regrettably, can´t be enjoyed by Spanish people, at least verbally. We, Spanish people, don´t play (Spanish jugar).We interpret. That is also a different way to address the music, isn´t it?

Moreover, if asked about my profession, my answer would be Intérprete en flauta dulce, which translated is recorder interpreter (about the English word recorder as selected name for the flauto dolce or flauta dulce (sweet flute) and Blockflöte or flute a bec (fipple flute) can be told a nice long story). Therefore, as recorder interpreter, it is clear for me and for the listeners, composers, ‘others’, that I am committed to working with others´ work.

What do I interpret? The score? The composer´s musical ideas? The style that represents? All of that?

I won´t, nevertheless, translate the other´s sounds nor the other´s musical taste; because, as stated above, I can /want/have to interpret the musical material.

To perform, on the other hand, if searched in a translator, offers a colourful palette of actually not similar actions. Based on those meanings, it can be assumed that as performers? we [can]

do music, as well as make, act, undertake, interpret, touch, represent, sing, celebrate(!), give, behave (! Interesting), do our show, put [music].

In Spanish, we also use to say ejecutar música. Searching in the translator, we could now assume that we are able to run music, as well as execute (put to death? Carry out? ..Watch out! The ambiguity could be danger), implement, perform, enforce (!), accomplish, discharge (?), carry through, live up [music].

Thus, as players, performers, intérpretes, or ejecutantes, we have a wide range of actions available: we can run music until its execution, behaving! (What could that mean?) , yet doing our show by enforcing it; [the music? the show?] in order to live up, or to live it up. We can accomplish music, carrying through to represent the honest way in which we touch and celebrate, yes, the music. 

What a deep job ours is! Whose? Interpreters? Performers? Players?

According to this, composers face a significant risk when trusting their scores to the touchers.

Be careful! : What if he/she is an executor? You could argue nothing over the split, damaged notes. The meaning was there…You didn´t heed the warning. So don´t cry over the spilt milk.

A few days ago, I read in an interview a performer telling with ironic surprise how after his concert, some reviewers reacted negatively to the fact that he had decided to add ‘a single, shocking 7th-note to a chord in a Schubert impromptu.’ In his ironic words: ‘honestly, there’s no pleasing some people…’

I felt embarrassed. Was he an executor? Did I overreact? How can artistic freedom mean losing respect for others?

To what extent can performers (including all their definitions and possible actions) change other´s work, putting themselves over other´s music? It is a tricky question. Because performers also create their sonic imagination and response to any score they open. Change is an action found neither for Spanish nor for English performers ’actions. Where is the, in this case, significant difference between change and interpret?

I open the topic. Actually, there is much here to reflect on (I think?).

Words influence our perception, our imagination, our reactions.

Any word is surrounded by meanings, emphasis, moods, intensities and also by different styles.

Why do I draw attention to this? Because I think, there is a relationship between interpreting other´s music and interpreting other´s words, poems.

Regarding translation, however,…

What could we say?


“Traduttore= Traditore”?












2 responses to “Interpretation. Version. Adaptation. Translation.”

  1. Francis Unwin Avatar

    I am so surprised! I make a life as simultaneous interpreter. Yes, we interpreters can only be loyal to the source discourse, if we provide a version that makes the discourse meaningful to the hearers in another language. another context, another culture. We cannot be loyal if we say exactly the same.
    Is it the same for musicians?
    What does “presto” means today and what did that meant for Mozart? It may be somehow different, given that in Mozart’s time, the fastest experience for a person was a horse gallop…
    Perhaps all this is obvious and trivial.
    But is the new duty any interpreter finds, every new day…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *