Translating track titles, part 2

In my last post, I dissected the construction of a classical music piece title, and laid out the foundation of an automatic translation. I ended that post talking about some exceptions and difficulties. One of them is about the concertos:

Concertos makes sense only when attached to an instrument. Concerto No. 1 could be for piano or for violin as the solo instrument, in one composer’s given catalogue. They will both have No. 1 in common, and will be distinguishable by an instrument indication (Piano Concerto No. 1 vs Violin Concerto No. 1). This leads to more syntax and translation effort (but seems still possible).

This is why a concerto is always expressed with one instrument. In its classical and general form, a concerto is a musical form where a soloist is accompanied by an orchestra. The soloist (playing the violin, the piano or any other instrument) is put in front of the orchestra, close to the audience, and even behind the conductor. I like to see the soloist as the “hero” of a concerto. In the old times, the soloist also directed the orchestra, as well as playing his/her soloist part.

Frederick the Great playing a flute concerto in Sanssouci, with C. P. E. Bach at the piano and Johann Joachim Quantz leaning on the wall to the right. Pubic Domain.

Formal title in English

In English, the most obvious way to say it is: “Piano Concerto”, obeying to the pattern <Instrument Name> Concerto. Then follow the other usual specifics, like the numbering, the key and the opus number, like: “Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat major, Op. 19”

Another way to express it is by saying “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra”. As I said, there is always an orchestra in a concerto, so saying “Piano Concerto” implies that there is also an orchestra in it. However, this form, which is more explicit, is still valid and widely used.

  • Short form: Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat major, Op. 19
  • Detailed form: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.2 in B-flat major, Op. 19
The full English title, short form, for Beethoven’s second concerto.

In French and Italian

In French, the same title would be:

Some remarks:

  • The instrument name is placed after the word Concerto, and separated with the word “pour” (for), which will always be there, whatever the instrument is
  • The first letter of the instrument is not capitalized
  • I detailed the other fields in my previous post
  • It is also possible to opt for the detailed form, with “Concerto pour piano et orchestre n°2 en si bémol majeur, Op. 19″

In Italian, the syntax is the same. Only the vocabulary and the punctuation differs:

In Italian, pour becomes per, and piano is pianoforte

In German

For the Concerto case, German is a bit trickier. The instrument and the word Konzert (Concerto) are concatenated such as: Klavierkonzert (Piano Concerto) Violoncellokonzert (Cello Concerto). However, in some cases, it is more than just a concatenation, like in Flötenkonzert (Flöte + konzert) or Trumpetenkonzert (Trumpete + konzert) or Klarinettenkonzert (Klarinette + Konzert). This could lead to a simple rule such as : when the instrument is a feminine word ending with e, an n is added between the instrument name and konzert. However, this rule won’t work for Violine, which leads to Violinkonzert and not Violinenkonzert. Maybe just an exception could be added to this one…

As my German abilities are limited, I prefer opting for the detailed title, avoiding these grammar rules and exceptions. In our Beethoven example, this will lead to:

Extending it to other forms

Not only Concertos are associated with one instrument. Some other forms such as Concertinos (Horn Concertino), Sonatas/Sonatinas (Piano Sonata, Violin Sonata, Trumpet Sonatina), Suites (Cello Suite) or event more complex forms such as Quintets (Piano Quintet) are also commonly associated with an instrument in their title. The same rules could thus be extended to such forms.

Auto-translations for the piece Cello Suite No.2 in D minor, BWV 1008

Further considerations

Of course, automatic translation based on grammar rules are not the best. I don’t pretend to use such tools to solve all cases of classical music title translation. However, this formal titling in classical music can be leveraged in some cases to display or parse a title in another language, when no human translation has been provided.

Further considerations naturally lead us to multi instrumental forms. Usually a Concerto is for one soloist instrument and an orchestra. However, several examples tells us differently. The most famous case might be Mozart’s Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra in C major, K. 299. Other forms are composed for several instruments, such as this Martinů’s Scherzo for Flute and Piano, H 174a. In fact, violin or flute sonatas are usually accompanied by a piano, which make them two-instrument pieces. Multiple-instrument works might follow a pattern and lead to title auto-translation. That’s a good idea for another post on this topic.


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