Author Topic: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations  (Read 1083 times)

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Offline Iconodule

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OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« on: October 03, 2018, 12:12:47 PM »
A new article on OAJ regarding the importance of meter in Orthodox liturgical texts and why translators should try to preserve it. This was a topic of a very interesting discussion (at least for me) on this thread.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2018, 12:14:40 PM by Iconodule »
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2018, 12:19:59 PM »
It is important and necessary work.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2018, 11:54:05 PM »
It is important and necessary work.

You're damned right it is.   I know of several prominent people both in the AANA and the GOA who do not want metered translations.  If that were enacted, then the ancient melodies would essentially disappear unless chanters took great lengths to make the "preferred" translations fix or the other result is that all hymns would become idiomela which are traditionally sung in the sticheraric species of a mode.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2018, 12:29:59 AM »
It is important and necessary work.

You're damned right it is.   I know of several prominent people both in the AANA and the GOA who do not want metered translations.  If that were enacted, then the ancient melodies would essentially disappear unless chanters took great lengths to make the "preferred" translations fix or the other result is that all hymns would become idiomela which are traditionally sung in the sticheraric species of a mode.

It wasn't until I tried translating a few things in typical Obikhod or Kiev chant that I realized how difficult it is.  Hopefully, better people step up to the plate.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2018, 08:24:43 AM »
It is important and necessary work.

You're damned right it is.   I know of several prominent people both in the AANA and the GOA who do not want metered translations.  If that were enacted, then the ancient melodies would essentially disappear unless chanters took great lengths to make the "preferred" translations fix or the other result is that all hymns would become idiomela which are traditionally sung in the sticheraric species of a mode.

It wasn't until I tried translating a few things in typical Obikhod or Kiev chant that I realized how difficult it is.  Hopefully, better people step up to the plate.

Obikhod was created so Slavs could learn Byzantine chant.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2018, 08:40:25 AM »
It is important and necessary work.

You're damned right it is.   I know of several prominent people both in the AANA and the GOA who do not want metered translations.  If that were enacted, then the ancient melodies would essentially disappear unless chanters took great lengths to make the "preferred" translations fix or the other result is that all hymns would become idiomela which are traditionally sung in the sticheraric species of a mode.

It wasn't until I tried translating a few things in typical Obikhod or Kiev chant that I realized how difficult it is.  Hopefully, better people step up to the plate.

Obikhod was created so Slavs could learn Byzantine chant.

What came first:  the language or the chant?
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2018, 09:09:19 AM »
Regarding a future English metered Eirmologion, would I be correct in thinking most of the material is already out there, it just needs to be collected and edited?
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2018, 09:18:25 AM »
Also a question about the recently released Musical Ark book... are the translations metered?
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2018, 09:20:04 AM »
It is important and necessary work.

You're damned right it is.   I know of several prominent people both in the AANA and the GOA who do not want metered translations.  If that were enacted, then the ancient melodies would essentially disappear unless chanters took great lengths to make the "preferred" translations fix or the other result is that all hymns would become idiomela which are traditionally sung in the sticheraric species of a mode.

It wasn't until I tried translating a few things in typical Obikhod or Kiev chant that I realized how difficult it is.  Hopefully, better people step up to the plate.

I get the impression that Obikhod/ Kievan chant don't really need meter, the way Byzantine or Greater Znamenny chants do.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2018, 09:43:38 AM »
It is important and necessary work.

You're damned right it is.   I know of several prominent people both in the AANA and the GOA who do not want metered translations.  If that were enacted, then the ancient melodies would essentially disappear unless chanters took great lengths to make the "preferred" translations fix or the other result is that all hymns would become idiomela which are traditionally sung in the sticheraric species of a mode.

It wasn't until I tried translating a few things in typical Obikhod or Kiev chant that I realized how difficult it is.  Hopefully, better people step up to the plate.

I get the impression that Obikhod/ Kievan chant don't really need meter, the way Byzantine or Greater Znamenny chants do.

Still needs it, but certainly not to that extent.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2018, 10:24:27 AM »
Also a question about the recently released Musical Ark book... are the translations metered?

He's not covered that yes (except the Dismissal Hymns, which seem to be composed through).  His translation, while drawing on Fr. Ephraim and Fr. Kezios and the GOA and Met. Kallistsos, is unique, and his compositions are unique as well (although within the boundaries of the tradition). 
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2018, 05:08:35 PM »
Regarding a future English metered Eirmologion, would I be correct in thinking most of the material is already out there, it just needs to be collected and edited?

Depends on what you mean. Most of the material exists in unmetered form, but nobody has metered the entire heirmologion to my knowledge.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2018, 05:18:44 PM »
Also a question about the recently released Musical Ark book... are the translations metered?

They are not because most of the contents of the book are idiomela and papadika. The standard practice which is emerging among composers of Byzantine Music in English is that idiomela and papadika in English are recomposed (and hence do not need metrical translations) and prosomoia are metered (and hence need no new music to be composed).
« Last Edit: October 04, 2018, 05:19:55 PM by Cavaradossi »
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2018, 07:54:21 PM »
With regards to the Byzantine Rite liturgy, I myself prefer non-metrical translations as they are easier to read, and I tend to prefer Slavonic liturgical arrangements which are not metrical, but which are the result of individual composers such as Chesnokov, Gretchnikov, Vedel, Archangelsky, Yatsenyvych, Paliashvili, and among more recent composers, the likes of Michaelides, Tikey Zes and Roman Hurko.

So, the St. John of Kronstadt Pentecostarion was the obvious choice for me over the Holy Transfiguration volume.  Actually, I think 100% of my Orthodox library is non-metrical, since most of it came from Slavonic sources, like the Unabbreviated Horologion and the various Liturgikons I have; Metropolitan Kallistos Ware ane Mother Mary might be following a metrical scheme, but they do not use the slash notation, which I find inteferes with readability, and as far as I know the other major non-Slavonic sources of Byzantine material in my library, Fr. Seraphim Nasser and Archbishop Fan Noli were not using metrical translation either.

This is a matter of strong personal preference; there exists in Orthodoxy a subculture which aims to suppress four part harmony, the Obikhod, and so on, and which is opposed to tonality in music for various reasons which in my opinion are not compelling; they would destroy a great deal of beauty.  It would be akin to the Roman Catholic Church suppressing Byrd, Tallis and Palestrina (who Pope Pius X wisely endorsed in his encyclical intended to restore Gregorian Chant to a place of prominence).  Also, of the Metrical systems of Eastern Orthodox chant, only Byzantine Chant seems to work, just barely, with English (for example, the Capella Romana recordings, and some videos I have seen online of certain Greek and Antiochian parishes, not to mention the Greek Orthodox parish in my hometown). 

That said I do support the effort to create a metrical, English language Irmoilogion, because the concerns expressed over the possible loss of traditional melodies worry me, and I would not want that.  In particular I would dread a scenario where people hear traditional chant only in recordings from, or making pilgrimages to, monasteries such as the Mount Athos community, or Valaam.  The most vibrant scenario seems to be the current status quo where ancient and modern compositions co-exist in a delicate balance.

I love the traditional chant of the Assyrian church and the Coptic and especially the Syriac Orthodox church (which is my favorite form of traditional chant,  by far; I enjoy it as much as I enjoy Russian or Ukrainian four part harmony); that said, a scenario similiar to that of the Eastern Orthodox or Armenian church where the ancient systems of chant coexisted with modern musical compositions I think would be healthier, and would foster greater appreciation for the ancient (and help do away with travesties like the dreaded keyboard accompaniement).

From a pure readability standpoint I would observe the slash notation in the metrical books published by Holy Transfiguration is a bit awkward, although I understand how, on the other hand, that might well make the chants easier for the psaltis to read at the chant stand, so I have to respect that.  But for purposes of “reading copies”, I am glad that the traditional language Pentecostarion from St. John of Kronstadt, and similiar works, existed. 
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2018, 11:58:43 PM »
Also a question about the recently released Musical Ark book... are the translations metered?

They are not because most of the contents of the book are idiomela and papadika. The standard practice which is emerging among composers of Byzantine Music in English is that idiomela and papadika in English are recomposed (and hence do not need metrical translations) and prosomoia are metered (and hence need no new music to be composed).
Are the originals metered in Greek?
What about translating the Greek into English verse (probably blank verse, but rhyming would be extraordinary) that's metered differently from the Greek, but in a manner that makes sense in English like iambic pentameter, then composing new music to match that?

I'm not following the concern that the ancient melodies will be lost if English words are not put to them instead of the ancient words, though.  ??? However, it would be a very good idea to do so because the melodies are practically Holy Tradition, especially where it is said they came from angels!
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #15 on: October 05, 2018, 12:04:27 AM »
It would be akin to the Roman Catholic Church suppressing Byrd, Tallis and Palestrina
It sounds like they kind of tried at Trent:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parody_mass
Some Vatican II liturgical innovations are actually hundreds of years old  :P
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #16 on: October 05, 2018, 05:48:18 AM »
Some Byzantine hymns in Arabic are rhymed (or partly rhymed). They're so musical then...
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #17 on: October 05, 2018, 09:10:58 AM »
It is important and necessary work.

You're damned right it is.   I know of several prominent people both in the AANA and the GOA who do not want metered translations.  If that were enacted, then the ancient melodies would essentially disappear unless chanters took great lengths to make the "preferred" translations fix or the other result is that all hymns would become idiomela which are traditionally sung in the sticheraric species of a mode.

It wasn't until I tried translating a few things in typical Obikhod or Kiev chant that I realized how difficult it is.  Hopefully, better people step up to the plate.

I get the impression that Obikhod/ Kievan chant don't really need meter, the way Byzantine or Greater Znamenny chants do.
part of the problem is that the collapse of the yers changed the material (i.e. the Slavonic language) the chants were working with, much like the change in Greek from before St. Basil and after him.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #18 on: October 05, 2018, 10:43:09 AM »
With those early Slavonic chants, did the translators try to keep the meter of the Greek originals?

It's a shame how much falls by the wayside in the modern Russian chanting, though there is great beauty in the simplified, standard chants. And they're much more forgiving of mediocrity. Of course everyone should strive for excellence, no matter what, but one can wince one's way through mediocre obikhod/ kievan. Mediocre Byzantine chant is intolerable.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2018, 10:44:48 AM by Iconodule »
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Offline Iconodule

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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #19 on: October 05, 2018, 02:11:23 PM »
With regards to the Byzantine Rite liturgy, I myself prefer non-metrical translations as they are easier to read

There's no reason why a metered translation should be harder to read than a non-metered one, provided the translator doesn't mangle or Yodify the syntax to fit the stresses. Part of Richard Barrett's argument is that it is indeed possible to translate hymns into English and keep the meter without torturing the language.

I am feeling a little more against the strict archaism of "traditional language" translation, because it creates some needless inflexibility. For instance, so many hymns are addressed to God or a saint in the second person- that means lots of verbs with the -st ending. When combined with the past tense, this makes many verbs very awkward- "raisedst," "circumcisedst" etc. Translators get around this by rendering the phrase as "thou didst [infinitive of verb]" which is okay here and there but becomes clunky when it starts appearing everywhere. By contrast the past tenses for "you" are much easier and straightforward.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #20 on: October 05, 2018, 04:12:17 PM »
Also a question about the recently released Musical Ark book... are the translations metered?

They are not because most of the contents of the book are idiomela and papadika. The standard practice which is emerging among composers of Byzantine Music in English is that idiomela and papadika in English are recomposed (and hence do not need metrical translations) and prosomoia are metered (and hence need no new music to be composed).
Are the originals metered in Greek?
What about translating the Greek into English verse (probably blank verse, but rhyming would be extraordinary) that's metered differently from the Greek, but in a manner that makes sense in English like iambic pentameter, then composing new music to match that?

I'm not following the concern that the ancient melodies will be lost if English words are not put to them instead of the ancient words, though.  ??? However, it would be a very good idea to do so because the melodies are practically Holy Tradition, especially where it is said they came from angels!

I'm not sure where he got that impression. The melodies are at no risk of being lost because any chanter worth his salt has them memorized.

Creating new metrical settings for the automela would be undesirable. The major reason is that it would mean an entirely new set of melodies to memorize. Since the number of prosomoia used throughout the year is easily around 30 or 40 (several hundred if one counts the heirmoi) whoever undertakes such a project would not only have to compose all of these melodies, but furthermore he would have to convince people that they are worth memorizing when metered settings which can be sung to the standard melodies already exist.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2018, 04:16:24 PM by Cavaradossi »
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #21 on: October 05, 2018, 04:52:23 PM »
With regards to the Byzantine Rite liturgy, I myself prefer non-metrical translations as they are easier to read

There's no reason why a metered translation should be harder to read than a non-metered one, provided the translator doesn't mangle or Yodify the syntax to fit the stresses. Part of Richard Barrett's argument is that it is indeed possible to translate hymns into English and keep the meter without torturing the language.

I am feeling a little more against the strict archaism of "traditional language" translation, because it creates some needless inflexibility. For instance, so many hymns are addressed to God or a saint in the second person- that means lots of verbs with the -st ending. When combined with the past tense, this makes many verbs very awkward- "raisedst," "circumcisedst" etc. Translators get around this by rendering the phrase as "thou didst [infinitive of verb]" which is okay here and there but becomes clunky when it starts appearing everywhere. By contrast the past tenses for "you" are much easier and straightforward.

Are you sure you are using the correct second person declination of the verbs in question?  I could have sworn it was “raisest” in that particularly case, which I agree is the very awkward, indeed the chillingly awkward sounding “raisedst,” which is very nasty and which I would not like to encounter in a liturgy.  Indeed, the sound is so appalling that in the probable event you are correct and I am in error, it is because my mind intentionally suppressed and then altered my recollection in order to spare me from the exceedingly traumatic memory of hearing such a nauseatingly prolix verb.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #22 on: October 05, 2018, 06:03:21 PM »
“Raisest” is present tense. In past tense the “-st” becomes “-dst”. Only in irregular verbs is this avoided- “becamest,” “awokest,” etc.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #23 on: October 05, 2018, 08:57:44 PM »
“Raisest” is present tense. In past tense the “-st” becomes “-dst”. Only in irregular verbs is this avoided- “becamest,” “awokest,” etc.

Ah right.  Yes, that is most unpleasant to read.  Difficult to pronounce, even.
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #24 on: October 09, 2018, 01:26:55 PM »
For those knowledgeable about chant- what is an iambic canon? Does that mean the hymns are composed entirely in iambs?
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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #25 on: October 10, 2018, 01:08:02 PM »
For those knowledgeable about chant- what is an iambic canon? Does that mean the hymns are composed entirely in iambs?

They are composed in Byzantine dodecasyllable, a form of strict iambic trimeter, which is a little different than how most English speakers understand an iambic meter to be.

An iambic metron is as follows: anceps-long-short-long and where anceps is a free syllable and can either be short or long (often written as |x–u–| where x is anceps, – is long, u is short, and | demarcates the boundaries between metra). The iambic trimeter then is |x–u–|x–u–|x–u–|.  The caesura falls usually after the fifth syllable but sometimes after the seventh.

Another thing to note is that in Classical Greek meter, syllables are counted as long and short (or alternatively as heavy and light) and not based on accents as they are in English and in Greek metrical hymns for ecclesiastical use. Long syllables contain a long vowel or a diphthong or are said to be long by position when they contain a short vowel which is followed by more than one consonant. Other syllables are said to be short. A short syllable at the end of a line may be scanned as long, a phenomenon known as brevis in longo.

Take for example this line from the first ode of the iambic canon of the nativity attributed to St. John of Damascus (with the caesura marked by a colon):
|– –  u  –| – :– u–| u –  u –|
 Ἤνεγκε γαστὴρ ἡγιασμένη Λόγον


What makes the iambic canons truly unique though is that the meter formed by the tonic accents also matches up for musical purposes (since ecclesiastical music is based on accent and not syllable length). Thus if we compare this verse scanned by how it is accentuated when read in Modern Greek to the equivalent verse in other troparia from the same ode, they will match closely:
/ x  x  x  /  x xx  / x  / x           
Ἤνεγκε γαστὴρ ἡγιασμένη Λόγον
/  x x  x  /   x    x x / x  / x
Ἔδειξεν ἀστὴρ τὸν πρὸ ἡλίου Λόγον


To add another layer of complexity to this feat, the first letter of each verse forms an acrostic which spells out four lines in elegiac meter (the composer was a genius).

So to answer the question, yes, iambic canons are composed according to strict iambic trimeter (in the form of Byzantine dodecasyllable), but musically it is not apparent because the music is composed according to accent and not syllable length.
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Offline Iconodule

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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #26 on: October 10, 2018, 01:45:21 PM »
Thanks so much Cavaradossi for taking time to clear this up. I wonder if you should just start a thread bringing all this stuff together, "Cavaradossi's guide to Byzantine church poetics"...

So, if I understand you rightly-

1. The iambic "foot" of Greek poetry consists of four syllables- anceps-long-short-long. Each line consists of three of these, hence iambic trimeter means a 12-syllable line.
2. The iambic canons are composed according to syllable weight; however, they also conform to the accent-based requirements of church music.

Let me know if I have that right.

And then a question: If someone is translating these iambic canons to English, and wants them to be sung according to the traditional melodies, would it be sufficient to map the meter out according to stressed-unstressed syllables, or does syllable weight need to be considered (as far as I know, syllable weight is not strictly considered in English verse)?
« Last Edit: October 10, 2018, 01:47:59 PM by Iconodule »
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Offline Cavaradossi

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Re: OAJ: In Defense of Metrical Translations
« Reply #27 on: October 11, 2018, 01:18:26 AM »
Thanks so much Cavaradossi for taking time to clear this up. I wonder if you should just start a thread bringing all this stuff together, "Cavaradossi's guide to Byzantine church poetics"...

So, if I understand you rightly-

1. The iambic "foot" of Greek poetry consists of four syllables- anceps-long-short-long. Each line consists of three of these, hence iambic trimeter means a 12-syllable line.
2. The iambic canons are composed according to syllable weight; however, they also conform to the accent-based requirements of church music.

Let me know if I have that right.

In a nutshell, yes.

And then a question: If someone is translating these iambic canons to English, and wants them to be sung according to the traditional melodies, would it be sufficient to map the meter out according to stressed-unstressed syllables, or does syllable weight need to be considered (as far as I know, syllable weight is not strictly considered in English verse)?

Yes, I think one would need only to map the accents out. The iambic nature of the canons is sort of a bonus feature as far as we are concerned musically (same as the acrostic), especially since when the iambic canons were composed, syllable length had long since ceased being a feature of spoken Greek. Furthermore, as I see it, metrical poetry based on the contrast of long and short syllables doesn't have a good track record of working out well in English anyway (especially since accent and syllable length in English are not independent as they were in Classical Greek), so it seems like a rather unimportant feature for us to attempt to preserve on a practical level.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2018, 01:20:42 AM by Cavaradossi »
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