Translation Project

Translation Project

After four weeks of working on my Translation project I finally have some time to talk about it!

So far, my role has been to translate two chapters from a compilation of Liszt’s writings about different composers and musical pieces – the first a chapter on Beethoven’s Fidelio (approximately 1.400 words) and the other on Mendelssohn’s music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (approximately 3,500 words). Each chapter will eventually be coupled with a commentary about the piece in context, to be submitted as part of a book proposal.

Translation 1: Beethoven’s Fidelio

Now I am half way through the project, the first translation on Fidelio has been completed. I work approximately between 20 and 22 hours a week, over the course of 6 days, and Skype conference my supervisor twice a week. She makes suggestions and we use the Skye sessions to discuss any major translation problems or alterations that have cropped up.

Initially, I began to read the texts that I would be working with, as well as read and critically evaluated a recently published translation, looking at the style and how successful the translation was.  During my first Skype conference with my supervisor, we discussed the project as a whole, the book proposal and my role. I then began to transcribe the Fidelio text into a Word document to prepare for translation.

After transcribing, I then began to translate the text into English, and used online references such as dictionaries ( and as well as translation dictionaries ( As I was unfamiliar with the Beethoven’s Fidelio, my research also included looking into the music, the background and the performers. Shortly after my second Skype call with my supervisor, I had completed the first draft of the text – approximately 1,500 words in English

The Text

At first, my main concern was that the language would be vastly different to those that I have translated at University. The piece is much older than any other have I attempted, on a subject matter that I am not familiar with.

What is nice about Bachelors/Masters or Translation Projects is the ability to work with a variety of different text genres in a ‘safe’ environment. No-on expects you to become an expert on a topic overnight, and they don’t denigrate your attempts – it is very unlikely at a beginning stage that you will translate a text perfectly first time. Unlike at university where I have to be my own proof-reader/fact checker etc. before I turn a piece in for assessment, my supervisor is able to make suggestions to improve the translation. After completing the first translation in a week (this is a part-time position – I start helping out at school on Wednesday!) we have spent the last two working on editing and in some cases retranslating.

The text is quite dense and sentences needed to be broken down several times, in order to achieve a fluent and cohesive structure in English – since German and English sentence structure is very different, verbs need to be rearranged. At the time of Liszt’s writing, German language was not standardised in spelling – which makes looking up some unfamiliar words a challenge! Liszt is also not very fond of paragraph breaks – in some cases there are sentences that are over 100 words long! Translating these paragraphs can be pretty hard going because he jumps all over the place, and German verbs are not exactly forgiving, so untangling them can take a long time. In some cases, some sentences are so convoluted that it can take me half an hour to sift through one sentence to try and get the meaning and retain the key elements in something that sounds vaguely like English.

These are also the longest texts that I’ve encountered – before this the most I had worked on was 800 words. The Fidelio text is the shorter of the two, Mendelssohn I’ve decided to split into three to allow me to concentrate on each section. In a real translation situation this possibility would probably not be available due to client deadlines, since I have the luxury of time (another 7 weeks!), breaking them up seemed the best thing to do.

I’ve just moved on the Mendelssohn text – I hope to be able to update more regularly soon!




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