One of the joys of working on Sunday Cantata has been to delve into the texts of the chorales used in Bach’s cantatas. My policy has been to quote the translation in the Lutheran Service Book whenever possible, for the benefit of listeners who are familiar with the hymns.
Every now and then, however, I need to depart from the LSB translation, when it diverges too far from the German original. And that is always a bit of a worrying sign. Either the chorale in question is dodgy, which is obviously a little disappointing (I always like to think that Bach and the parish of Leipzig were not dodgy theologically); or the LSB translation has re-written a hymn for no apparent reason.
I haven’t come across any incidents of the first problem as yet in my research.
However, the other week, I did come across a depressing example of the latter type. While working on BWV 36, I was delighted at first to find the libretto include a verse from Philipp Nicolai’s ‘Queen of the Chorales’, Wie schön leuchtet. And then I discovered what the LSB (following the Lutheran Book of Worship and Lutheran Worship) does with it.
Here’s the German text of v. 6 of Nicolai’s text, with the relevant portion highlighted:
Zwingt die Saiten in Zithara
Und laßt die süße Musika
Ganz freudenreich erschallen,
Daß ich möge mit Jesulein,
Dem wunderschönen Bräut’gam mein,
In steter Liebe wallen!
Dankt dem Herren!
Groß ist der König der Ehren!
And here’s the LBW/LW/LSB take on it:
O let the harbps break forth in sound!
Our joy be all with music crowned,
Our voices gladly blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way—
Today, tomorrow, ev’ry day!
His love is never ending!
Sing out! Ring out!
Jubilation! Exaltation!Tell the story!
Great is He, the King of Glory!
What on earth happened there? The prayer “that I may in constant love sojourn with Jesus, my most beautiful Bridegroom” is not only turned upside-down (“Christ goes with us all the way”), but it is stripped of its very heart: Christ as the Bridegroom, whom I am to love as His bride.
Poke a little harder at the translation, and it turns out that this Bridegroom mysticism runs through the whole of Nicolai’s text—and is almost entirely removed from the LSB.
But not only from the LBW/LW/LSB. Turns out that the rot set in already in The Lutheran Hymnal.
I would be interested to know why. Anyone? I can’t think of a good reason myself. I mean, if the original was so bad, it shouldn’t be sung. And if it wasn’t, it shouldn’t have been emasculated.