Translation builds bridges with music

Updated: 2012-12-12 14:41

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

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Translation builds bridges with music

Xue Fan, 78, is the man behind the translation of more than 2,000 foreign songs, including the famous Russian tune Nights in Moscow's Suburbs. Zou Hong / China Daily

In 1957, Xue Fan read a newspaper report about the Sixth World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow.

Nights in Moscow's Suburbs, the prize-winning song written by Vasily Solovyov Sedoy and poet Mikhail Matusovsky in 1955, caught his attention.

The then 23-year-old was impressed by the beautiful lyrics and soft melody, and decided to translate it into Chinese.

"The song still haunts me after all these years - it keeps playing in my head," says Xue, 78, who taught himself the Russian language after high school. "I am a translator and also a listener. Like most young Chinese people then, I have a special love for the song."

He recalls spending one entire night translating the song. Every word he used matched the musical notes smoothly.

Xue didn't expect the popularity of the Chinese version of the song to sweep the country in the 1960s.

Translation builds bridges with music

Movie industry gets lost in translation 

Nights in Moscow's Suburbs was also used by many filmmakers, such as Chinese director-actor Jiang Wen in his 1994 directorial debut, In the Heat of the Sun.

According to Xue, a good translation not only means getting the accurate message of the song across, but the lyrics must also be easy to sing and go well with the melody. "It's like rewriting the lyrics," he says.

Xue is also the man behind the translation of Memory, the popular song in musical Cats. He did that 14 years ago. This year, he was invited to translate all the songs in the musical, as the Chinese version of Cats will be staged in Beijing from Dec 21 at 21st Century Theater.

He is also busy translating songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera, which is scheduled to be staged in 2013.

Xue was born in Shanghai and suffered from poliomyelitis since he was 2 years old. He says he fell in love with music at 15 after listening to The Yellow River Cantata, composed by Xian Xinghai in 1939.

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