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David Gordon Choral Supertitles
elegant words for heart and mind...

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Delectare, Docere, Movere: The Art of Supertitling J. S. Bach

The choral music of J. S. Bach does not work unless we maintain a close connection to the text. And the meaning of the texts in Bach’s music is much more than merely the literal meaning of the words. Bach was a composer of ideas, and he used music to express those ideas.

Like most Baroque composers, Bach understood the principles of clasical rhetoric: Delectare, Docere, Movere (entertain, teach, and move the heart). Like a great stained glass window, the music must be beautiful or we do not notice it. It must challenge us to learn and grow. And in order to truly engage us it must stir our heart.

Today, Bach's music reaches far beyond its very specific roots as Lutheran liturgical music in the early 18th Century, and now speaks to all people of all faiths.

One does not have to be a Lutheran, or even a Christian, to enjoy and be deeply moved by the music of J. S. Bach, but one does need to understand that he was trying to express complex concepts in the poetic beauty of his music.

Our appreciation of Bach's music is deepened if we take into account these spiritual ideas he was expressing. Then the music becomes more than entertainment. It teaches us wonderful and humane principles. It speaks to our souls and stirs our hearts.

Without an understanding of this theological and liturgical foundation of Bach's great choral works, it is impossible to capture their spirit in an English translation.

At the Carmel Bach Festival, for all main choral concerts presented in languages other than English, we project English supertitles on a screen suspended on the acoustic shell at the rear of the stage.

For a decade we rented supertitles from other sources: they were usually quite literal, often mundane, and did not capture the beauty and poetry of the musical ideas or the real sense of the beauty of the language (especially the elusive and metaphorical 18th century German).

Since 2004, I have created all of the Festival’s supertitles (including music of Bach, Handel, Telemann, D. Scarlatti, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Haydn, Brahms, and Mozart), and the response in our audience surveys has been overwhelmingly positive.

Drawing on decades of experience as performer, lecturer, and translator, my goal is to lovingly and carefully create supertitles that are designed to focus the mind and heart of the listener on the musical, linguistic and theological essence of the music and text.

Good supertitles are not a literal word–for–word “translation.” They should gently invite the audience into the experience of listening. Nothing should jar the senses, or distract the listeners from their connection to the music and their engagement with its persuasive power.

This is my mission in translating the texts of Bach's choral works, and in distilling those translations into supertitles for his music.


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