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How to find translations and phonetic transcriptions of vocal works

There are several ways to find translations and phonetic transcriptions of opera, song, and sacred vocal music texts.

  1. Choose a print resource below
  2. Search the Library catalogue
  3. Check the liner notes of audio/video recordings
  4. Visit reputable online sites
  5. Consult a dictionary to clarify the meanings of individual words

1. Print resources

The following list contains many, but not all, of the Music Library's books for singers, coaches, accompanists, and others who wish to understand the meaning of various vocal texts and to pronounce them correctly.




Types of translations/transcriptions

  • French: The original text is translated into French as well as English
  • Idiomatic: The translator has rendered the original text into idiomatic English phrases (as opposed to word-for-word translations), but has not necessarily retained its rhyme and verse structure.
  • IPA: The pronunciation of each word is transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet.
  • Poetic: The translator has attempted to reproduce the poetic nature of the original text in the translation.
  • Word-for-Word: Each word is translated literally. The grammatical sense of a translation is sacrificed to clarify the meaning of each individual word.

By language:

French

Bernac, Pierre. The Interpretation of French Song.
MT892 B4 1997

  • Poetic

Castel, Nico. French Opera Libretti. 2 vols.
REF ML48 F74 1999

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Castel, Nico. Italian Belcanto Opera Libretti. 3 vols.
REF ML48 I83 2000
Vol. 3 contains French opera libretti of operas composed by Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini.

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Johnson, Graham. A French Song Companion.
ML54.6 J76 F74 2000

  • Idiomatic

German

Cao, Hélène, and Hélène Boisson. Anthologie du lied.
REF ML54.6 A68 2010

  • French
    Poetic

Castel, Nico. German Miscellaneous Opera Libretti.
REF ML48 G37 2005

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Fischer-Dieskau, Dietrich. The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder.
REF PT1160 E6 F5 1998

  • Poetic

Glass, Beaumont. Selected Song Texts of Great German Lieder.
ML54.6 G53 2004

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Miller, Philip Lieson. German Lieder.
REF ML54.6 G275 1990

  • Poetic

Paquin, Marie-Thérèse. Dix cycles de Lieder : Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Schubert, Schumann.
REF ML54.6 D59

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Idiomatic
    French

Phillips, Lois. Lieder Line by Line, and Word for Word.
ML54.6 P55 L5 1996

  • Word-for-Word
    Idiomatic

Prawer, S. S. The Penguin Book of Lieder.
REF ML54.6 P46 1964

  • Poetic

Italian

Castel, Nico. Italian Belcanto Opera Libretti. 3 vols.
REF ML48 I83 2000

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Castel, Nico. Italian Verismo Opera Libretti.
REF ML48 I89 2000

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Gerhart, Martha. Italian Song Texts from the 17th Century.
REF ML54.6 I83 v.1

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Gerhart, Martha. Italian Song Texts from the 18th Century.
REF ML54.6 I83 v.2

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

LeVan, Timothy. Masters of the Italian Art Song.
REF ML54.6 M34 1990

  • Word-for-Word
    Poetic

Paquin, Marie Thérèse. Airs et mélodies: Mozart, Schubert, classiques italiens.
REF ML50.7 A383 1983

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Idiomatic
    French

Russian

Richter, Laurence R. Selected Nineteenth Century Russian Song Texts.
ML54.6 R53 2005

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Piatak, Jean and Regina Avrashov. Russian Songs and Arias.
MT883 P54 1991

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Spanish

Cockburn, Jacqueline, and Richard Stokes. The Spanish Song Companion.
ML54.6 S76 2006

  • Poetic

Various

Coffin, Berton. Phonetic Readings of Songs and Arias. 2nd ed.
REF MT883 P5 1982

  • IPA

Coffin, Berton. Word-for-Word Translations of Songs and Arias. 2 vols.
REF ML54.6 W65 1966

  • Word-for-Word

Retzlaff, Jonathan. Exploring Art Song Lyrics: Translation and Pronunciation of the Italian, German & French Repertoire. IPA transcriptions by Cheri Montgomery.

  • Poetic
  • IPA

Singher, Martial. An Interpretive Guide to Operatic Arias.
MT892 S5 1983

  • Poetic


By composer:

Johann Sebastian Bach

Ambrose, Z. Philip. The Texts to Johann Sebastian Bach's Church Cantatas.
REF ML54 B15 C32 1984
Also available online

  • Poetic

Martino, Donald, ed. 178 Chorale Harmonizations of Joh. Seb. Bach. 2 vols.
M3.1 B2 A15 1985
English translations are found in vol. 2.

  • Poetic

Unger, Melvin P. Handbook to Bach’s Sacred Cantata Texts: An Interlinear Translation with Reference Guide to Biblical Quotations and Allusions.
REF ML54 B15 C329 1996

  • Word-for-Word

Georges Bizet

Dibbern, Mary. Carmen: A Performance Guide.
ML410 B62 D53 2000

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Johannes Brahms

Glass, Beaumont. Brahms' Complete Song Texts.
REF ML54.6 B82 G52 1999

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Magner, Candace A. Phonetic Readings of Brahms Lieder.
ML883 M23 1987

  • IPA

Stark, Lucien. A Guide to the Solo Songs of Johannes Brahms.
MT115 B73 S73 1995

  • Idiomatic

Stark, Lucien. Brahms' Vocal Duets and Quartets with Piano.
MT115 B73 S7 1998

  • Idiomatic

Claude Debussy

Cobb, Margaret G., ed. The Poetic Debussy: A Collection of His Song Texts and Selected Letters. Rev. 2nd ed.
ML54.6 D42 C62 1994

  • Poetic

Rohinsky, Marie-Claire. The Singer’s Debussy.
ML54.6 D42 R62 1987

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Poetic

Gabriel Fauré

Gartside, Robert. Interpreting the Songs of Gabriel Fauré.
REF ML410 F27 G37 1996

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

George Frideric Handel

Castel, Nico. Handel Opera Libretti.
ML49 H13 K4 2005

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Leoš Janáček

Cheek, Timothy. The Janacek Opera Libretti: Translations and Pronunciation.
ML49 J36 J37 2003

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Idiomatic

Giacomo Meyerbeer

Letellier, Robert Ignatius, and Richard Arsenty. Giacomo Meyerbeer: The Non-Operatic Texts.
ML47 M47 2007

  • Poetic

Claudio Monteverdi

Stevens, Dennis. Claudio Monteverdi: Songs and Madrigals.
ML54.7 C54 1998

  • Poetic

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Castel, Nico. The Libretti of Mozart’s Completed Operas. 2 vols.
REF ML49 M83 C3 1997

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Modest Mussorgsky

Richter, Laurence R. Mussorgsky’s Complete Song Texts.
ML54.6 M9 R52 2002

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Idiomatic

Francis Poulenc

Deeter, Alissa, and Robert Peavler. The Mélodies of Francis Poulenc.
MT121 P78 D44 2014

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Poetic

Giacomo Puccini

Castel, Nico. The Complete Puccini Libretti.
REF ML49 P75 C37 2002

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Weaver, William. Seven Puccini Librettos.
ML49 P75 W423 1981

  • Idiomatic

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Challis, Natalia. The Singer's Rachmaninoff.
ML54.6 R18 S52 1989

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Poetic

Richter, Laurence R. Rachmaninov’s Complete Song Texts.
ML54.6 R18 R53 2000

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Poetic

Joaquín Rodrigo

Draayer, Suzanne Rhodes. A Singer’s Guide to the Songs of Joaquín Rodrigo.
ML54.6 R63 D7 1999

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Idiomatic

Franz Schubert

Glass, Beaumont. Schubert's Complete Song Texts. 2 vols.
REF ML54.6 S39 G515 1996

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Magner, Candace A. Phonetic Readings of Schubert Lieder.
MT883 M25 1994

  • IPA

Reed, John. The Schubert Song Companion.
REF ML134 S38 R44 1985

  • Poetic

Wigmore, Richard. Schubert: The Complete Song Texts.
REF ML54.6 S39 W54 1988

  • Poetic

Robert Schumann

Glass, Beaumont. Schumann's Complete Song Texts.
REF ML54.6 S4 V62 2002

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Dmitri Shostakovitch

Richter, Laurence R. Shostakovich’s Complete Song Texts.
REF ML54.6 S559 S6 2007

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Richard Strauss

Castel, Nico. Four Strauss Opera Libretti. [Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra, Salome, Ariadne auf Naxos]
REF ML49 S76 O6 2002

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Glass, Beaumont. Richard Strauss’ Complete Song Texts.
REF ML54.6 S78 G53 2004

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Jefferson, Alan. The Lieder of Richard Strauss.
MT115 S83 J4 1971b

  • Poetic

Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky

Richter, Laurence. R. Tchaikovsky’s Complete Song Texts.
ML54.6 T24 R53 1999

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA
    Idiomatic

Sylvester, Richard D. Tchaikovsky’s Complete Songs: A Companion with Texts and Translations.
ML54.6 T24 S9 2004

  • Poetic

Giuseppe Verdi

Castel, Nico. The Complete Verdi Libretti. 4 vols.
REF ML49 V45 C372 1994

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Weaver, William. Seven Verdi Librettos.
ML49 V45 O62 1975

  • Idiomatic

Richard Wagner

Castel, Nico. Three Wagner Opera Libretti. [Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal]
REF ML49 W14 S8 2006

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Castel, Nico. Der Ring des Nibelungen.
REF ML50 W14 R32 2003

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

Hugo Wolf

Richter, Laurence R. Hugo Wolf’s Complete Song Texts.
REF ML54.6 W64 G52 2000

  • Word-for-Word
    IPA

2. Search the Library catalogue

Books of translation/transcriptions | Translations in scores

Books of translation/transcriptions

Most translation resources are classed in the range ML47-ML54.8. The most popular resources are kept in the 3rd-floor Reference section; the rest are located on the 5th floor.

Other useful resources may appear under the following subject headings:

Song and vocal chamber music texts

Songs -- Texts

Songs, German -- Texts
(Substitute another language for "German")

The texts of major poets may appear in published translations such as The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine and Last Love Poems of Paul Eluard: A Bilingual Edition. These may be found in the Library catalogue:

Click to view larger image.

      1. In the Advanced Search screen of the Library catalogue, enter the poet's name and select "Keywords in Author" and
      2. Select English (or another desired language) as the "Language" limit.

Opera Libretti

All opera libretti in the Music Library collection should have the following subject heading:

Operas -- Librettos

To find the libretto of a specific opera, use the Advanced search in the Library catalogue

Click to view larger image.

      1. Enter the composer's name and words from the original name of the opera (e.g., use nozze, not marriage)
      2. Write librettos as a "Keyword in Subject."

The French periodical Avant-Scène Opéra publishes French translations of opera libretti paired with the original text as well as historical commentary on the work, a list of significant productions, and a discography.

Translations in Scores

Several scores include translations, either singable ones printed with the music or poetic ones printed separately. To locate these scores use the Library catalogue:

Click to view larger image.

      1. In the Advanced Search screen, enter composer and work/genre keywords in the "Keywords in all fields" field.
      2. Type translation*. The * is a truncation symbol and will retrieve records with either translation or translations.
      3. Select Score from the drop-down "All types of materials" field.

It will be necessary to sift through catalogue records of scores with other translations (e.g., of the prefatory material or critical commentary).


3. Check the liner notes of audio recordings

Most audio recordings produced for an Anglo-American audience provide English translations of the recorded texts. European labels such as Harmonia Mundi or Deutsche Grammophon will often provide French translations as well.

Follow these steps to find translations in liner notes:

Click to view larger image.

      1. In the Advanced Search screen of the Library catalogue, enter composer and work keywords in the "Keywords in all fields" field.
      2. Type translation*. The * is a truncation symbol and will retrieve records with either translation or translations.
      3. Select Recorded music from the drop-down "All types of materials" field.

Not all sound recordings are listed in the Library catalogue. For more information on locating audio/video recordings in the McGill Library, visit the How to find recordings page.


Internet Resources

The Aria Database

The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive

The Diction Domain

IPA Source - International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions and literal translations of songs and arias

Mozart Opera Libretti
This database, produced by the Mozarteum Salzburg Foundation and the Packard Center for the Humanities, provides the complete original texts of Mozart's operas. Two features in particular are useful for diction guidance. Under Options, select "Word accents" to see the character (open / closed) of the stressed syllable in each word or "Merging/Separation of the Vowels" to clarify how Mozart words / syllables are separated or elided while singing.


Dictionaries

Print dictionaries are found on the shelves facing the windows in the 3rd-floor reference section. Many include phonetic transcriptions.

Online language dictionaries are accessible from any McGill computer or remotely via EZproxy or VPN. The most commonly consulted online reference tools are listed on McGill Library's Dictionaries page.

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