by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
Last week after finishing my post, My adventures on Translation : Bécquer Eternal / Bécquer Eterno, where I talked about how a literary translation differs from a technical one, serendipity, that most gracious sister of chance, brought me to the following sentence while reading Robert Greenberg’s How to Listen to Great Music:
“Broadly defined, music is sound in time (…) Far beyond spoken language—which, with its sounds in time, might rightly be considered a low-end sort of music—music is a universal language.”
This struck me because it was exactly what I had been trying to convey in my post.
If language is as Mr. Greenberg so nicely puts “sounds in time” and “a low-end sort of music”, it makes perfect sense that to translate a sentence from English into Spanish word by word will not work in a literary/lyrical text because the length and sounds of the words that represent the same concept in English or Spanish are different. Thus “the sounds in time” the translation delivers in the other language will not “sing”.
To make them sing, the translator must find, in the other language not only words that translate the meaning, but words that translate the music. And that is quite a difficult task.
As an example of how words are indeed a form of music, I invite you to listen to this traditional song that fits perfectly the words of Bécquer’s Rima XXV.
Please don’t feel discouraged if you don’t speak Spanish because music, as Robert Greenberg tells us above, is “a universal language.”