Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Cantique de Jean Racine

I was wondering if anyone knew of a decent, poetic, singable, English translation of the Cantique de Jean Racine?  With time constraints on the church choir I'm not sure that the French will be attainable, but most of the English versions I've found are lacking some substance or just wrong.
Thanks for the help!
Jon Easter
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on August 19, 2010 7:22am
Sadly, as a native French speaker, I have to say that just about every English translation of the "Cantique" falls desperately short.  What is poetic and singable is often execrably inaccurate, and if the audience pays attention to what's been sung, they won't have heard what Jean Racine intended.  However, an accurate translation is, also sadly, less than truly poetic and singable in English.  I'm not aware of any translation in English out there that meets the entire bill.  So the issue becomes:  which is more important - poetry and singability, or accuracy?
Ron Duquette
Director of Music
Catholic Community
Fort Belvoir, VA
on August 19, 2010 12:46pm
Hi, Ron.  I didn't realize you were a Francophone.
A graduate student once pointed out to me that in order to do really good poetic translation, the translator has to be both fluent and a poet in both languages, and even then it will NOT be an exact translation because poetry evokes unwritten associations.  But he WAS both fluent and poetic in both languages, and did some really wonderful translations for me while he was here.
The opposite, of course, is all the really bad singing translations of opera libretti, which would turn anyone off to opera! 
on August 19, 2010 8:49am
Check the book "the interpretation of French Song" by Pierre Bernac published by Norton.
on August 19, 2010 7:24pm
Not at all a translation, but Hal Hopson made a contrafactum of Faure's piece using an English version of Ps. 84 ('How lovely is thy dwelling').  Perhaps through Carl Fischer?  Certainly not for the purist, but it might suit your church choir well.  While the scriptural text is substantive, I would understand if you considered it 'wrong' for the music.  In my opinion, however, the adapted Psalm text works better than the attempts at translating Racine's poetry to English.  
For what it's worth, the string + harp parts intended to accompany Rutter's edition of the Cantique fit with Hopson's arrangement.
on August 20, 2010 3:37am
Probably not what you want to hear but this is a pons asinorum that you need to cross. Sing it in French and have done. There is a phonetic guide here though it does contain one glaring error (there should be no z sound in 'Tres Haut' as it's an aspirated aitch.) You just have to get used to pronouncing the feminine endings like you were taught not to in French class :)
on August 20, 2010 9:08am
There are a few other errors as well: cieux ([sj-], not [zj-]), paisible ([-zi-], not [-si-]), Sauveur has [-r] at the end of it, languissante has [-gi-] in the middle, Christ is [krist], immortelle begins with [im-], and a number of feminine endings have wrongly been given a final schwa when in fact the -e is not pronounced because the following word begins with a vowel.
on December 17, 2010 10:09pm
Sometimes a slavishly accurate translation is simply graceless.
The edition that I have used for 50+ years is from Broude Brothers B.B.801. The French text is the primary but there is a lovely English sub-text by Harold Heiberg;
O Redeemer divine,
Our sole hope of salvation,
Eternal light of the earth and the sky... 
on December 19, 2010 2:12am
My high school concert choir performed it in French   I brought our French teacher into one rehearsal near the beginning of the process, and once again later to smooth out the rough spots. Our choir members were very pleased to have mastered the French pronunciation.
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.