Translator’s Note

Adorno published Der getreue Korrepetitor in 1963. Subtitled Lehrschriften zur musikalischen Praxis it was taken up after his death into volume fifteen of his Gesammelte Schriften or collected writings, which volume also contains Komposition für den Film, a book he co-authored with Hans Eisler in 1944. Parts of The Faithful Répétiteur derived from Adorno’s time in America as well, namely from the studies he made of the NBC Music Appreciation Hour. They provided much material for the book’s first chapter, from which the excerpt presented here is taken. The excerpt begins at the point in the chapter at which “the negation of music appreciation turns into the plan for an idea of structural listening”, as Adorno says in the book’s preface. Read the rest of this entry »


Most translations have as one of their central goals an attempt to render the sense of a source text into a target language. But there is more to a text than what we mean by its “literal meaning”. One could even go much further, and say that phonic or graphic properties of a text, more than merely adding something the sense of the text, are co-constitutive of its sense, and that if they are changed, then the sense is changed. The concept of “translation loss” registers the fact that no translation can keep all the elements of a source text the same as they are: every translation must concentrate on some at the expense of others.

Aside from the interesting philosophical issues that this raises, it can pave the way to a broader conception of the possibilities of translation. I was first alerted to “phonic imitation” by Hervey, Higgins and Loughridge (Thinking German Translation, 44):

An entertaining illustration of the way phonic imitation in a [target text] renders the sense of the unrecognizeable is John Hulme’s Mörder Guss Reims, which consists in a playful imitation of English nursery rhymes. Here, for example, the text of ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ is reproduced as

Um die Dumm' die Saturn Aval;
Um die Dumm' die Ader Grät' fahl.
Alter ging's Ohr sä¨ss und Alter ging's mähen.
Kuh denn 'putt' um Dieter Gitter er gähn.

Here is Gustav Mahler’s Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht in phonic imitation. Mahler’s original text is available here, together with a translation that attempts to convey more literal meaning.

Venn mine shuts, hocked sight mucked

Venn mine shuts, hocked sight mucked,
Fur licker hocked sight mucked,
Hub BIC mine ant row, rig an' tug!
Gay hick in mine gamma line,
Do inkless gamma line,
Vine, an' vine, ooo! Mine an' shuts,
Ooo! Mine, an lea, ban shuts!
Bloom line blow! Bloom line blow!
Fair Dorevitch! Fair Dorevitch!
Berg-line Zeus, berg-line Zeus,
Dosings Alf crooner hide 'er.
Yuck! VSD felt's ocean!
T's a cute! T's a cute!
Zing! it nicked! Blue! it nicked!
Lenses char for buy!
Alice' singin', listnin' 'ouse.
Tess' are Ben's, Venn Nick's laughin' gay.
Then kick un-mine lied 'er.
Un-mine lied 'er.

Notes and Difficulties

Venn (ll. 1, 17), John: English logician 1834-1923.

Row (l. 3) must be pronounced as the word for ‘altercation’, not as the word
for ‘scull’.

VSD (l. 12): an abbreviation for I know not what.

In many places one could have chosen between an “an'” and a present participle verb
ending “-in'”.

Further reading

Charles Bernstein cites a few examples of phonic imitation, or, as he terms it, homophonic translation:

Louis and Celia Zukofsky’s Catullus., David Melnick’s Homer
at Eclipse: Men in Aida part one and part two; Ron Silliman on homophonic translation (his own, Melnick’s, and Chris Tysh’s), and two examples by Charles Bernstein — from Basque and from Portuguese.

I got to know the music we are accustomed to calling classical as a child, through four-handed playing. There was little of the symphonic and chamber music literature that would not be incorporated into home life with the help of the large wide-format volumes, uniformly bound in green by the bookbinder. They seemed made for page-turning, and I was allowed to turn the pages well before I knew the notes, following only my memory and hearing. Even Beethoven’s violin sonatas found themselves included in peculiar arrangements. Some pieces, such as Mozart’s G-minor symphony, so impressed themselves on me during that time that even today it seems to me that no orchestra could ever produce the tension of the introductory semi-quaver movement as completely as the questionable attack of the second player. This music more than any other was suited to the apartment. It was brought forth on the piano as on a piece of furniture, and those who plied it without shyness in the face of interruptions and wrong notes belonged to the family.

Four-handed playing laid the geniuses of the bourgeois nineteenth century as a gift at my cradle in the beginnings of the twentieth. Four-handed music: that was music with which one could still live and commerce, before the musical compulsion itself demanded solitude and secret craft. That says something not merely about the practice of playing but also about that which was played. Read the rest of this entry »