Chinese poetry and translation considerations in the songs of Pavel Haas
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In the Western art song repertoire, very few songs are set to translations of Chinese poetry. Pavel Haas, an early twentieth-century Czech composer, wrote two sets of such works: Chinese Songs Op. 4 and Four Songs on Chinese Poetry for Bass/Baritone and Piano. The later song cycle is quite significant from a historical point of view. This paper explores the linguistic differences between Chinese and Western languages, and examines the translation and retranslation issues surrounding ancient Chinese poetry in Europe before and during WWII. The personal views of the Czech translators are explored in the context of early twentieth century Czechoslovakia; both poetic and musical symbolisms are discussed through Haas’ musical setting. During the World Wars, when many Czechs were deprived of education, the translations of ancient Chinese poetry became hugely popular. For Pavel Haas and many others who were sent to the camp Terezín, the cycle Four Songs on Chinese Poetry became a spiritual refuge as well as a symbol of victory.