About katherinewrentranslator

Trained as a professional musician I have worked as a viola player with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra since 1998. I also have an MA in Translation Studies and a BA in German and English, which I achieved with first class honours. I work as a translator from German to English, specialising in music and mountain sports and tourism. As well as performing, I give pre-concert talks, translate musical and cultural texts and write articles on music. I am also engaged in translating Wagner's "Oper und Drama."

Music and Translation in Opera, Music Theatre and Popular Music

9th June, Birmingham – Organised by ITI WMG and MAT group.


When the Music and Translation workshop in Birmingham was advertised earlier in the year, it went straight in the diary: my specialist field is music and so this was a not-to-be-missed and rare opportunity to get some CPD in my area of expertise.

I had a concert the night before, so despite being up at the crack of dawn, I unfortunately missed the first session. This was “Singing with Other Voices – translation in opera and music theatre” with John Lloyd Davies, an opera and theatre director, designer and dramaturg who has worked in many of the world’s leading opera houses.

After a quick coffee and a résumé of John’s talk from my (as always) friendly colleagues, I was straight into the hands-on activity of translating a song in our language groups. I really enjoyed translating as a group, learning from the various strengths that we each brought to the table. We had people working in the creative sector, who came up with alternative versions to fit the music better, and people with a strong religious background in both languages who helped with the text-type:  we needed to decide whether it was appropriate to use “thee and thou” and whether or not the German was based on a standard version of the psalm. If it had been, we may have felt we should try to stick closely to the standard English “Book of Common Prayer”. As a musician, my biggest input was probably how singable our efforts actually were!

We rounded off the morning session with a choir singing through both the original versions of the songs and our translated versions. We were working under a lot of time pressure, but given that, I don’t think we did too badly!

operdramThe afternoon session was led by Klaus Kaindl, Professor in Translation Studies at Vienna University, where he specialises in opera and popular music translation. His excellent and wide-ranging presentation looked at the linguistic aspects of opera translation, singability of texts and the opera in changing cultural contexts. He also looked at popular song in translation and how the image of the artist is of primary importance here. This was nicely illustrated by Elvis Presley’s “Surrender” – actually a version of “Torna a Surriento”!

The day ended in mixed language groups, where we looked at different translated versions of “La Paloma”. These differed widely according to the different traditions and conventions of the target cultures.

You can see some samples of my own translations of musical texts on my website, http://www.katherinewrentranslator.co.uk/sample-translations

Many thanks to Dr. Ulrike Nichols and Juliet Hammond-Smith for organising such a stimulating workshop and making the long trip down so worthwhile.

Programme notes in a digital age

For the last couple of months I’ve been busy writing programme notes for the RSNO. One of the issues being debated at the moment is, “Do we really still need commissioned programme notes in the digital age?” After all, can we not just look information up on Wikepedia or Google? Well, you could, but I think you’d be missing out on a lot, and here’s why:

  • Every concert is carefully put together – programme notes reflect this, making reference to other works in the concert and any links between them.
  • There may be a narrative to the season – for instance the RSNO and Prokofiev are both in their 125th Anniversary seasons. To celebrate this, they are performing a complete cycle of the Prokofiev piano concertos across two seasons.
  • Programme notes can maintain the ongoing narrative of this series.
  • An orchestra may have other events around a particular work or composer. These can be advertised alongside the programme notes.
  • By using the same writers on a regular basis, the audience come to recognise and trust individual writers.
  • House style – commissioned programme notes mean the orchestra has some kind of control over the style of writing, meaning the notes can be pitched how the orchestra would wish.
  • If, like me, the writer is also a performer, it is another way of building personal links between musician and listener.
  • Practicalities – if someone chooses to read programme notes on their phone or tablet during the performance, it’s horribly distracting for those around them.

So remember that by buying a programme, you are buying a “personalised” approach to that evening’s concert, which can only enhance your experience of the music.

Prokofiev Discover Day – Cinderella – 9th April Edinburgh

1935 pic-standing-thm“Well, right now I am working on a symphonic suite of waltzes, which will include three waltzes from Cinderella, two waltzes from War and Peace and one waltz from the movie score Lermontov. The War and Peace has just been brilliantly produced in Leningrad, where the composer Cheshko made an especially noteworthy appearance as a tenor, giving a superb performance in the role of Pierre Bezukhov. Besides this suite, I am working on a sonata for violin and piano [No. 1 in F minor], upon completion of which I will resume work on the Sixth Symphony, which I had started last year. I have just completed three suites from the Cinderella ballet and I am now turning the score over to copyists for writing the parts, so that most likely the suites will already be performed at the beginning of the fall season”
The above quote from 1946 gives us a wonderful insight into the workaholic Prokofiev’s mind. At the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 9th April, I will be exploring the background to Prokofiev’s Cinderella, written in the grand fairy-tale tradition of the great Tchaikovsky ballets. You can find details of the event and booking information here.

We will set the ballet in its historical context, looking at Prokofiev’s return to Russia in 1935 and what this meant musically to an artist used to working in the liberal environment of Paris and the USA.
Cinderella was written during World War II, a surprisingly productive period for Prokofiev. Other works from this period include one of his best-loved symphonies, no. 5, the film score to Ivan the Terrible and the epic opera on Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Prokofiev became almost obsessive about this opera, and it eventually brought him into conflict with Stalin’s notorious culture minister, Zhdanov.
In the morning we will look at the first part of Prokofiev’s career, prior to taking a closer look at the 4th Piano Concerto, which the RSNO will play with Alexander Lazarev and Nikolai Lugansky in the same programme as Cinderella.
This rarely performed concerto was one of several commissioned from prominent composers of the time by Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I. Neither he nor Prokofiev was particularly well-versed in social etiquette, which led to some frank exchanges between the two men! You can read more on Wittgenstein in  Manus Carey’s article on the RSNO Website.
Come along to the Usher Hall on 9th April to find out more and to welcome our special guests from Scottish Ballet, music director Richard Honner and Chief Executive and Artistic Director Chris Hampson, fresh from their winter production of Cinderella.
Oh, and don’t forget to buy your tickets to hear Lazarev and Lugansky perform these great works in Edinburgh (15th April) and Glasgow (16th April)!

James MacMillan


As the RSNO celebrates its 125th Anniversary, we are celebrating many musicians who have played an important part in the orchestra’s life. On 17th-19th March in Glasgow/Edinburgh/Aberdeen  we hear a joint commission (with the RLPO and Bournemouth SO) by Sir James MacMillan, a composer who has frequently featured in our concerts since the 1990s.

The first MacMillan piece I played with the orchestra was “The Berserking” for piano and orchestra. I confess to having more than a passing interest in MacMillan’s music at this point: as a composition student at Manchester University I had missed studying with him by one year… Talk about bad luck! What immediately grabbed me about his music was its passion, the wide range of colour he draws from his ensembles and the rhythmic vitality. There have been many emotional journeys for me in this music, not least our performances of “The Confession of Isobel Gowdie” on tour in Sweden in 2004.

As I’ve delved further into MacMillan’s music, I’ve increasingly been drawn from his orchestral to his choral music, which for me is where he is at his most engaging. I remember hearing the beautiful “Strathclyde Motets” at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago interspersed with music from the Renaissance, and my YouTube discovery (I did buy the CD afterwards!) of “Tu es Petrus” for choir, organ and brass written for the Pope’s visit to Westminster Cathedral in 2010. Go and listen to it – it’s mind-blowing.

MacMillan isn’t just a man for the big occasion, though. He is equally at home writing for amateur groups: “The Galloway Mass” for congregational singing springs to mind and it has been announced recently that he is writing a piece for the GSA choir to sing at the Mackintosh Building’s reopening. He is a passionate advocate for music education and in 2014 he founded “The Cumnock Tryst”, a four-day music festival based in the town where he grew up. MacMillan himself acknowledges that if it weren’t for the musical experiences he had there as a boy, he may not have become a musician.

Twenty years after my first encounter with MacMillan’s music, I still wish so much that I’d coincided with him at Manchester University. I’m sure I’d have learnt much about composition, but more than that, as a small-town girl myself, I share a belief with him that music-making of a high standard is for everyone, everywhere.

Translating the Classics

As a musician-translator, one of the real joys for me is translating CD booklets. My reasons for this are:

– As a translator I like being able to engage with a longer text in my specialist area
– As a musician it maintains my knowledge of music history
– As someone who is passionate about audience engagement it gives me great pleasure to share German recordings with a wider audience.

Recently I’ve been translating booklets for CDs of Mozart and Beethoven. The market for these composers is quite saturated, so it’s relatively rare that I get to translate texts on them. Equally, I don’t get to do pre-concert talks on them so often as the late 19th century onwards tends to be more my cup of tea.

It’s good, then, to be able to refresh my knowledge of the Classical period, in both English and German, as well as getting some fresh perspectives on the music from some of Germany’s best scholars and musicians.

As a viola player myself I have an intimate knowledge of the subject area, especially in chamber music, which helps me to find “der treffende Ausdruck”, or ” the most appropriate expression”.

If you want to see my work, visit TACET records and buy a CD!


Prokofiev Discover Day RSNO 7th November

When I was asked last year if I was interested in delivering one of the RSNO’s new Discover Days on Prokofiev, I immediately jumped at the chance. I’ve been giving pre-concert talks for a few seasons now and I love the opportunity that that gives me to meet our audience and to share my love of music. It would be a real pleasure to spend a whole day looking at one of the most enigmatic and talented composers of the 20th century.

Prokofiev is a fascinating character. Highly intelligent (a whizz at chess, apparently!), he wasn’t always the most patient man. Many found him aloof, even arrogant. Ploughing through archive material online, this comes across for me even in his appearance. Matisse captures his latent energy perfectly in this sketch:


Prokofiev’s energy comes across in his performances, too. There’s a wonderful recording online of him playing his 3rd Piano Concerto in 1932, which became something of a signature piece for him: he was a superb pianist as well as composer. The melodies are shaped with a beautiful rubato and yet there is a potent energy driving the music forward. You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIxqUOUeVzM

One thing that I am very much looking forward to on the Discover Days is discussing Romeo and Juliet (and, in Edinburgh, Cinderella) with Scottish Ballet’s conductor, Richard Honner. I played Romeo with Scottish Ballet and Richard back in the late 90s before I joined the RSNO and I know he shares my love of this music. We met a few weeks ago to swap ideas. I won’t spoil the day by telling you what we talked about, but I will tell you how much I enjoyed my tour of Scottish Ballet’s premises at Tramway – a far cry from West Princes Street, where the company was based in my time.

That brings me neatly onto the subject of our venue for the Discover Day in Glasgow: the RSNO’s New Home! Actually, I hardly know it myself yet – we’ve only been there for a week, but I can tell you that it is incredible! We are so fortunate to have it built for us.

So what are you waiting for? The chance to explore some wonderful music with me, to share the passion of Romeo and Juliet and to be one of the first people to see inside the RSNO’s New Home. I’ll see you there on 7th November!

To book, phone the RSNO on 0141 225 3552

Learning Danish Greenland-style!

Katherine in KulusukDSCN3681

As a translator, it’s really important to keep your language skills up to date. Naturally that involves reading, writing, speaking and listening to material in your working languages: German and English in my case.

It’s vital to retain fluency, accuracy and to keep abreast of changes in the languages you work with.

I also think it’s beneficial and refreshing to learn a new language once in a while, or to revisit one of your secondary languages. It gives the language-learning part of your brain a good old workout and encourages you to focus on language structure. It also encourages you to work creatively with words. To start with, your vocabulary will be pretty restricted, meaning you have to explore alternate ways of expressing what you want to say. Playing around with words and expressions like this is a vital skill in translation, too.

To learn a new language you need motivation. For me, this came in bucket loads after visiting Greenland this summer. I absolutely fell in love with the place: not surprising when you look at the picture above! It’s not just the landscape, though. I want to be able to speak to people about their lives and their culture. I want to share their jokes and join in their conversations and I want to say just how beautiful their country is.

I should point out that the first language of Greenland is Greenlandic, but that’s maybe a challenge too far at the moment. My friends at “Visit Greenland” did teach me that beautiful is “kusanaq”, though! In the meantime, I hope to share a second language with the Greenlanders, and to that end I’m busy learning about their country in Danish.

How is Music Translated Today? Intersemiotic, interlingual, intralingual and intersensorial transfers across musical genres. Translating Music Project – London 15th July 2015

I attended the above conference a week ago in London. It was a great opportunity to meet fellow translators, musicians and researchers in this specialised field. For me it offered a mixture of revisiting translation theory from my MA and some new ideas to explore, especially in the area of accessibility.

Dinda Gorlée presented a paper on “Intersemioticity and intertextuality: Picaresque and romance in opera”. Focusing on Grieg’s incidental music to Peer Gynt, she explored how, whilst the music remains unchanged, the meaning of the text can alter over time due to cultural changes and the text’s relationship to other texts (intertextuality). This operates both forwards and backwards in time. The composer may already view the text in a different light to when it was originally written (vis à vis Wagner’s use of Teutonic myth). Equally, an opera text may require a modernising translation to appeal to a new audience. It is therefore important that the translator should be aware of all pertinent intertextual elements when translating and/or adapting the text.

Marta Mateo’s lively talk on “Film musicals across the continents: the role and form of translation” opened up the many issues and dilemmas facing the translator in this genre. As most musicals use a mixture of dialogue and song, the translator has to deal with multiple channels: visual, verbal and aural. There is also a choice to be made between subtitling or dubbing, the norms for which can vary between countries. Sometimes a song is so well-known in the source language that it seems best to leave it there and subtitle it, even if the dialogue is dubbed into the target language. Due to differences in voice, this can lead to problems of coherence, sometimes with comic effect.

Many of the translational choices apply to song translation more widely:

• Leave song untranslated
• Translate the lyrics in isolation from the music
• New lyrics to the original music
• Translate the lyrics and adapt the music
• Adapt the translation to the music. (Based on Franzon, 2008).

Translational decisions need to be made according to:
• Mode of presentation
• Text genre
• Function of translation
• Target context.

Much of this paper was also relevant to my work translating texts for orchestral concert programmes.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the day for me was the two papers on accessibility issues. Exciting because they were something that I hadn’t really thought of in the context of translation (but perhaps should have!) and also because I can see many ways in which they could be applied in my audience engagement work as an orchestral musician.

Pierre Schmitt presented a paper on “Singing/Signing to the Music. Sign Language translations for a shared experience of music.” As well as practical issues such as where to place the signer if also using subtitles and the position of the signer on or off the stage in performance, this talk also opened up for me the very exciting idea of using sign language as an integral part of the performance itself. Definitely something I’d like to try with the RSNO’s contemporary music group, Alchemy.

Perhaps the talk that had the biggest impact on me was Louise Fryer’s paper “Audiodescribing music: what’s not to hear”. As a musician, I’m very much focus on sound and tend to forget just how important the visual element of a concert is. This starts the moment you walk into the concert hall. Factors such as the appearance of the performers and the instruments they are playing may seem fairly obvious. Less obvious is the social aspect of concert-going: what are other people looking at, laughing about and talking about? It’s also easy to forget the visual impact of, for example, a string section bowing in unison. Again, these are ideas I can take home and apply in audience engagement.

The day finished with two papers on contemporary song translation by Sylvain Caschelin (“Translation Trials: Anarchy in the UK revisited”) and Sebnam Susam-Saraeva (“Translation and cover songs in popular music”). Linking with many of the cultural and practical issues raised in the first two presentations of the day, there were some very interesting issues of culture arising from the specific song examples shown in these talks. The issue of using a third language as a mediator when translating songs into multiple languages was also raised. I found it interesting to see how different songs are attractive to different cultures and how their context can alter when moving between cultures.

In summary, the conference provided me with lots of inspiration for my own work as a musician and translator. Music translation was a pretty small part of the taught element of my MA, so it was great to have some contact with other translators working in this field and to see how much there is to explore in this field.

On the practical side, the accessibility talks opened up a whole new area of work for me and are something I would definitely like to explore and put into practice.

For more information on the “Translating Music” project, see here:


Der zweite Teil meines Blogs über TACET konzentriert sich auf die Pressemitteilung.

Pressemitteilungen sind in der Regel kurz und prägnant und müssen oft kurzfristig übersetzt werden.Oft sind sie ziemlich informell in Ton und umfassen direkte Appelle an die Leser:

„Lassen Sie Sich überraschen …“ [Allow yourself to be surprised…].

Aber auch wenn der Text informell ist, ist er nicht unbedingt leicht übersetzbar. TACET verwendet gerne in ihre Pressemitteilungen Bildsprache. Beispiel:

„Peng! – ein Luftballon platzt. Peng! – ein zweiter. Und dann purzelt eine Menge bunter Melodien von der Bühne des Concertgebouw Amsterdam. Das Nederlands Philharmonisch Kammerorkest spielt frech wie kleine Kinder auf der Straße. Der langsame Satz glüht innig. Dem Publikum geht das Herz auf. Ist das wirklich Charles Gounod, der Langeweiler mit dem Ave Maria? Alle lauschen gebannt einem Feuerwerk aus Ideenreichtum, Instrumentationskunst und Spielfreude und staunen, wie es dem Geiger Gordan Nikolic gelingt, in all dies eine Atmosphäre des Geschehenlassens hineinzuzaubern, die den Hörer zu nichts zwingt und doch unwiderstehlich ist.“

Erstens haben wir eine lautmalerische Wort, „Peng!“ Mindestens ist das nicht allzu schwer zu übersetzen: Bang! Dann gibt es eine Redewendung: „Dem Publikum geht das Herz auf“. Ich überzetze das folgendermaßen: The audience’s hearts are filled with joy.

Eine Besonderheiten der deutschen Sprache ist das Kompositum: Oft benötigt das einen ganzen Satz auf englisch:

„Einem Feuerwerk Ideenreichtum, Spielfreude und Instrumentationskunst“ [a cascade of rich ideas, artful instrumentation and the sheer joy of playing.]

„Eine Atmosphäre des Geschehenlassens“ [an atmosphere of simply letting it all happen]

Also, die ganze Übersetzung dieser Pressemitteilung ist:

Bang! A balloon bursts. Bang! A second one. And then a whole bunch of colourful melodies tumble from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw stage. The Netherlands Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra plays as boldly as little children in the street. The slow movement glows inwardly. The audience’s hearts are filled with joy. Is that really Charles Gounod, the boring one who wrote that Ave Maria? Everyone listens spellbound to a cascade of rich ideas, artful instrumentation and the sheer joy of playing. They are amazed how, in the midst of all this, the violinist Gordan Nikolic manages to conjure up an atmosphere of simply letting it all happen, which doesn’t demand anything of the listener and yet is completely compelling.

Das obige Beispiel zeigt, wie Übersetzer/innen sowohl in der Quellsprache als auch in der Zielsprache gut ausgebildet sein müssen, aber es ist auch wichtig, sich mit der Musikindustrie gut auszukennen. Beispiel:

„Auszeichnungen wie 5 Stimmgabeln von der Französischen Zeitung Diapason“.

Wenn man das Wort „Diapason“ im Wörterbuch sucht, entdeckt man das gleiche Wort auf englisch. Da es kein bekanntes Wort ist, suchte man vielleicht eine Begriffsbestimmung: [An organ stop sounding a main register of flue pipes, typically of eight-foot pitch] oder [A grand swelling burst of harmony]. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/diapason).

Wenn man im französisch-englisches Wörterbuch sucht, ergibt es: [tuning fork]. (http://dictionnaire.reverso.net/francais-anglais/diapason). So könnte man den obengenannten Satz als [awards such as the 5 tuning forks of the French magazine ‘Tuning Fork‘] übersetzen. Nicht ganz falsch, aber das klingt sein bisschen lächerlich auf englisch !

Tatsächlich ist die Zeitschrift Diapason in der Musikwelt gut bekannt und daher braucht es keine Übersetzung. Ich war nicht so sicher, ob ich „5 Stimmgabeln“ lokalisieren sollte. In der Regel ist es 5 stars auf englisch, aber 5 tuning forks erinnert sich an den Zeitschrift-Titel und auch an die verwendeten Grafiken. Nicht alle stimmen mir zu, aber ich beschloss, die wörtliche Übersetzung mit dem üblicheren englischen Ausdruck in Klammern zu halten:

[has already received numerous awards on CD, such as “5 tuning forks” (5 stars) from the French magazine Diapason].

Hoffentlich haben Sie jetzt einen Eindruck von meiner Arbeit für TACET und Sie verstehen auch die Wichtigkeit einer guten Sprach- sowie Fachkenntnissen im Bereich der klassischen Musik.