Schubert and Schumann: songs and translations by Robert Randolph Garran
Schubert and Schumann: songs and translationsby Robert Randolph Garran. Melbourne University Press/Angus & Robertson
These 370 pages, first published in 1946 and now reprinted unchanged, contain the German text of some 150 Schubert and 100 Schumann songs (including the best-known cycles) with rhymed singing versions, together with notes on translation, Romanticism, and the poets represented.
As a constitutional lawyer, Sir Robert Garran (1867-1957) had “one of the most distinguished careers in the history of Australia”, to quote an obituary tribute. I think this reprint does him a grave memorial disservice. It is all too clearly the result of a relaxation from his more demanding duties, with a corresponding relaxation of their more exacting standards. To me, it looks unbuttoned to the point of embarrassment. Even the occasional promise remains unfulfilled. Thus the German text is certainly not always “as written by the poet (p.9), as witness the weird drivel attributed to Mörike on p.348. Again, despite the claims on p.10, the original rhyme-scheme is often ignored or misunderstood; e.g. pp.48, 84, 86, 106, 122, 126, 198, 200, 210, 218, 228 and 232 of the Schubert section alone.
The English texts aim to read like an original, express the meaning, fit the music, and put the singer at his case. Their success can be judged from two entirely typical random samples (from D531 and 854)
Away, you! ah, away, you!
Go, grisly skeleton!
I am so young, I pray you!
So touch me riot, begone!
An urge of longing partakes my heart,
Till life is founder'd in cruel smart.
My youthful senses awoke in dole,
But love then led me toward the goal.
Listeners as well as performers will welcome these translations, which have become internationally recognized; or so the publishers assure us, with all the weight of a learned press. But I expect that most other universities, and readers, and all singers who want to be taken seriously, would rather let sleeping doggerel lie.
The Musical Times, Aug. 1973 (p. 797) © the estate of eric sams, 1973