Archive for December, 2012

Joy in Sabadell

December 29, 2012

I may be one of the last denizens of Planet Internet to find out about the viral video known as Som Sabadell flashmob, which was posted last May by the big Spanish bank called Banco (de) Sabadell. It shows a seemingly spontaneous gathering of orchestral musicians, starting with a double-bass player in white tie and tails. He is soon joined by other, more casually dressed musicians and eventually choristers, performing an abbreviated version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (from his 9th Symphony) in the busy main square (Plaça Sant Roc) of Sabadell, the city (north-northwest of Barcelona) where the bank is headquartered. In fact, the bank’s original building (with the lettering BANC DE SABADELL clearly visible) appears as a backdrop for the performance, along with the city hall and the church of Saint Felix.

It appears that the crowd joins in the singing of the Ode, though it’s fairly clear that the soundtrack was professionally recorded and added to the video. Anyway, what they sing is the first three quatrains, in a Catalan translation by the poet Joan Maragall (grandfather of Pasqual Maragall, former President of Catalonia); translating German poetry was a specialty of his. From my point of view as an experienced song translator, it is a superb translation: it maintains the rhyme scheme and meter, as well as the essential meaning, of the original. The only objection might be that the language is the literary Catalan of over a century ago (Maragall died in 1911), quite different from the present-day language. For example, the word joia (joy) is old-fashioned; the modern word would be alegria.

For those who want to sing along with the video, I am enclosing Maragall’s verses, along with a phrase-by-phrase English translation, below. I have marked up the Catalan text as a pronunciation guide, which I explain further down.

Joia, qu(e) ets dels déus guspira

Generada dal(t) del cel:

Ven(t) de foc el pit respira

Sota (e)ls plecs del teu san(t) vel.

Si ajuntar-se’ls cors demanen

Que un mal ven(t) va separan(t),

Tots els homes s’agermanen

On tes ales van tocan(t).

Si fortuna generosa

Ens (h)a dat un bon company

Oh companya graciosa,

Cantarem am(b) més afany.

Joy, spark of the gods,

Engendered above heaven:

The breast breathes wind of fire

Under the folds of your holy veil.

If hearts ask to be joined,

Those that an ill wind separates,

All men become brothers

Where your wings touch.

If generous fortune

Has given us a good companion,

Oh gracious companion,

We will sing with more zeal.


Stressed vowels (marked bold) are as in Italian. In particular, e and o can be either open or closed. The open values are as in pet and pot as pronounced in most of Britain (not North America). The closed values (marked bold italic) are as in mate and mote as pronounced in Scotland, Ireland or the West Indies, not diphthongs as in North America or most of England.

As regards unstressed vowels (unmarked), a (at least in the Barcelona region, as heard in the recording), i and u are essentially the same as stressed. Unstressed e and o are the same as a and u, respectively. In this text there are four instances of the latter (tocant, fortuna, company, companya); in each case the o is read as though written (like the vowel of push). There are almost two dozen unstressed e‘s, all to be pronounced as though written a, that is, like the vowel of cut as spoken in North America or southern England.

Consonants: c, g, j and s are as in French; b, v, and r are as in Spanish;  l is as in English; and ny is like Spanish ñ. Silent letters are in parentheses.

Sing with joy!