Archive for the ‘translation’ Category

I’ve been working on some song & aria translations lately and have needed to check the pronunciation for various words.  I own a modest collection of printed dictionaries with IPA at home, but was curious about whether this information is available online.  Here’s a roundup of online dictionaries I found that use IPA:







Note, of course, that the dictionaries above don’t take into account all of the rules of lyric diction (e.g. avoiding uvular R), but they do come in handy when checking things like open vs. closed vowels.  Also, with noted exceptions, the dictionaries listed have audio pronunciation examples for selected words.

Another FYI: has iOS/Android apps, but the IPA (for selected languages) is only on the full website, not the apps.  I’d like to do a survey of online/offline dictionary apps with IPA in a future blog post – if you’re aware of any, please let me know.

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Blog reader Martin Morell wrote me to share his website, The Italian Madrigal Resource Center at  The site has free and downloadable scores, texts, and translations of hundreds of Italian madrigals, many of which you won’t find at the big public-domain choral literature sites like CPDL.  (Free registration is required to download materials from  In addition, the site includes background information and links to resources about Italian madrigals, as well as advice on how to assemble your own madrigal group.  Martin also adds:

[] offers downloadable texts and translations of some 250 Italian madrigals; moreover, in cases where a contemporary (i.e., 16th/17th c.) English translation exists, that version is generally included as well.

Martin, thanks for sharing your outstanding site!

Front cover of Queen Anna's New World of Words

Credit: Greg Lindahl

Following up on the topic of an earlier post, “Working with music texts, Part 2: Translate the text,” there are times when we need to translate archaic words or spellings that have fallen out of modern usage and are nowadays only encountered in a literary context such as poetry or libretti.  Fortunately, there are quite a few websites, apps, and e-books to help with deciphering these bits of antiquated language. Note that several of them are historic dictionaries in the original language, so depending on your level of fluency, you may want to have a translation reference or tool handy for translating the definitions.




N. B.: I’ve heard that for translating much of the German repertoire, one might have more success using a pre-WWII dictionary that pre-dates the spelling reforms of the mid- to late-20th century.


If you have any digital resources to add to this list, let me know!

This post was inspired, and much of the information gleaned, from this discussion thread in the archives of the New Forum for Classical Singers.  A hat-tip to the folks there who share their expertise.

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Nico Castel libretti on bookshelf

Credit: The Juilliard Store

This is part 2 of the Tech tools for working with music texts series.

Step 2: Translate the text

My next step is to translate the text I’m singing. I like to do a word-for-word translation and write it into my score. If I’m short on time, or if I have difficulty translating the text myself, I’ll look for a translation from one of these sources. Some of them have literal translations, some have poetic translations, and some have both.  I generally double-check the translations I find online, as they occasionally contain mistakes.

If I’m doing the translation myself, these are the main tech tools and references I use:

If I got really stuck on a translation problem, another option would be to post the translation work I have done so far on a forum like ChoralNet, the New Forum for Classical Singers, or a language-learning forum and ask the community for help.

As I work, I like to type my translation into the Evernote or Dropbox document I created earlier that contains the original text.  Once my translation is done, I can write it into my score on my iPad with the forScore app’s annotation feature.  I can either use the “Draw” option and write it in freehand with my stylus (zooming in if there’s limited space to write in) or the “Type” option and type it in, adding extra spaces between words so that my word-for-word translation lines up properly with each word of the original text.  I may also write in a paraphrase or poetic translation, in a different color than the literal translation just so my eye can distinguish.  If there’s some pesky, godawful singing translation already printed in the score, I can erase it first using forScore’s “Whiteout Pen” option.

It’s during these kinds of tasks that I really appreciate having a tablet.  I like having the equivalent of a big, heavy bookshelf full of dictionaries and reference books and scores all on this slim little tablet that I can take anywhere. The information is accessible to me at any time and place, so I can work on the translation wherever I happen to be.  With my translation document stored in the cloud using Evernote or Dropbox, I can read it or work on it regardless of whether I have my laptop, iPad, or phone with me.

There are some other kinds of translation tech resources that I haven’t looked into yet but would like to, for example, translation-related iPad apps (myLanguage Translator Pro looks interesting and has good reviews) and also dictionaries/references in app or ebook format that work offline.  But I will have to save that for a future blog post.

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This is part 1 of the Tech tools for working with music texts series.

Step 1: Find the text – preferably in a form I can cut/paste

Here are some websites I use to look up cut-and-paste-friendly texts for various kinds of vocal repertoire:

  • Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL) – Texts & some translations for: choral works, arias from oratorios and other concert works; mass/requiem/other sacred texts
  • – Texts & translations of Bach cantatas
  • Gilbert & Sullivan Archive – Complete texts of the G&S operas
  • The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive – Texts & translations for a vast array of vocal literature
  • Aria Database – Opera aria texts & some translations
  • Opera Guide – Lots of libretto translations in German and English; some original language libretti in German, Italian, and French
  • OperaGlass – Libretti and and much, much more
  • Lyle Neff’s Libretto Page – More libretti
  • Kareol – Libretti including 20th-century works; in the original language and in Spanish translation; click on “Por Autores” for composer or “Por Obras” for title; when you get to the page for the specific opera, click on the “Libreto” link at the very bottom of the page
  • Leyerle Publications – Text, translations, and IPA.  Home of the excellent Nico Castel libretti books, the Beaumont Glass books of lieder texts, and many other comprehensive song text reference books.  Okay, it’s not an online resource (well, mostly not) but everybody needs to know about these books – you can always go to the library and scan them
  • IPA Source ($$$) – Text, translations, and IPA for songs and arias; note that you CANNOT copy/paste from their texts because they are in secured PDF files
  • SingersBabel ($$$) – Text, translations, IPA, and audio for choral works and oratorio arias, art song, and song cycles.  Not sure if their PDFs are cut/paste-able. [Update: Dan M. at SingersBabel says: “The PDFs on the site are secure and therefore copy/paste isn’t possible, but the original text and poetic translation (when available) can be copied from the box directly above the PDF.”  Thanks for the clarification, Dan!]
  • Poetry and literature websites – e.g. the poetry of Goethe or the complete works of Shakespeare
  • Google – because sometimes texts crop up on random websites or in liner/program notes online

It’s not unusual for me to have to do some quality control and vetting of texts I find online.  Sometimes they are well-edited.  Other times I run across questionable quality, discrepancies due to different editions, or translation mistakes.

Ebooks are another way to get texts, sometimes for free.  For example, here are free ebook libretti at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Project Gutenberg.  Apple’s iBooks store has some free opera libretti too.  To read the Amazon and B&N ebooks, you can download the Kindle app or Nook app for most tablets and smartphones.

If a text isn’t available in a convenient electronic format, there are, of course, lots of printed reference books too.  One could try scanning the text or libretto from a book using the OCR option on your scanning software and extracting the text that way.

Once I have the text in electronic format, I upload it to a cloud-based service so that I can access it anytime from my laptop, iPad, or smartphone.  This way, I always have the text with me to study and review.  I can view the texts on my iPad, where my score library already lives.  And if I’m translating or annotating the text, I can work on it on my iPad while I’m on the go.

So far, I’ve been using Evernote (like a notepad app in the cloud) to store and edit plain text versions, or Dropbox if the text is in a PDF document.  Since forScore can import PDFs from Dropbox, I can put my text into a forScore setlist together with my score.  In the future, I might try out a more heavy-duty iPad/Android office suite such as Quickoffice Pro HD that would let me edit texts as a Word document, sync them to my Dropbox, and export them to PDF files that could be transferred to forScore.

Ach, ich fühl's on Evernote

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Front cover of libretto

Credit: Wikimedia

I have a system for learning texts for works of music.  I’m continually trying to make improvements to it, and to make myself actually follow the process.  My process is a little bit different for concert/recital works vs. stage works, but it goes something like this:

  1. Find the text – preferably in a form I can cut/paste
  2. Translate the text – if not in English (or if in archaic English!)
  3. Dramatic intention – Paraphrase the text, work out a subtext
  4. Work the diction – make IPA notes/transcriptions, listen to recordings of native speakers singing or reciting the text
  5. Memorization – listen to the text, speak the text in monologue/dialogue/rhythm
  6. Review & Reinforce – this is the time when you’re in rehearsals and think you’re off-book, but keep flubbing little lines in the recits, etc., so it’s about finding ways to drill and kill…

In the next few posts, I’ll discuss some of the tech tools and online resources I use to get things done when I’m learning texts.