In part 1 of this post I mentioned some interesting similarities between translation and interpretation with regard to musical performance. Clearly they are not equivalent in meaning but they overlap, and it interests me when and why certain distinctions are made. One small example is Bourrée II from Bach’s fourth suite for solo cello: it’s a piece that needed some “translation” before I could interpret it.
Here is the piece as Bach composed it:
Click here for an mp3 I made (after you download it, change the suffix from .pdf to .mp3). This was done a bit quickly and it’s a little noisy but you’ll get the idea. It’s best to listen to it with headphones rather than through computer speakers, owing to the low, muted bass notes.
This is a polyphonic piece: there are two distinct contrapuntal voices (and, from an analytic point of view, the top voice can be further divided in places). The voices are clearly notated in mm. 1-2 (despite some missing rests), but less so in m. 3, for example, but are no less aurally distinct. In terms of performing the piece, I wanted to explore distinguishing the two voices as clearly as possible—sounding almost as if there were two performers, or perhaps rendered in a keyboard-like manner. One way to do this is through articulation: the notes belonging to the bass voice are played soft and staccato, while the notes of the melody are being played legato. This is where, for me at least, some translation was required.
Why “translation?” This seems to be the appropriate term with regard to questions of technique. As it’s written this piece is meant to be bowed, but my intention was to play it on bass with right-hand pizzicato. Furthermore, my interpretation—one that emphasizes the polyphonic nature of this piece—required technique-related decisions that were even further removed from the original. But in order to arrive at this interpretation, there were certain physical limitations that couldn’t be ignored (fingering, etc.). So in this case, necessity was the mother of translation.
Notes belonging to the bass voice were played with my thumb and muted with my palm. But the melody notes are just one string over, so I had to be careful not to mute those along with the bass notes. Last, managing those two elements made it increasingly difficult to maintain correct intonation (it’s a fretless bass).
Here are mm. 1-4 notated as I’m attempting to perform it:
As you can see and hear, notes in the bass voice are played staccato with quarter-note rests. The melody is very similar to how the original is written, but I’ve held over the E-flat from bar 2 to bar 3, sustaining the syncopated melody against the plodding bass. It’s a freedom I’ve taken in my interpretation, but it was provided for and inspired by, my translation.
With regard to this example then, it seems that “translation” is the more appropriate term for bridging the differences between the two more disparate domains—in this case, a bowed cello performance vs. a pizzicato bass performance. And “interpretation” applies to what both domains have in common—the score—whose meaning (or information, essence, data, etc.) is preserved between the two.
P.S. You’ll notice that the bass note in the pickup to m. 5 is missing. It was a casualty of preserving the rest of the fingering. I suppose you could say, it was “lost in translation.”