Barbara and Brel – in English

Barbara and Brel – in English


norman lebrecht

July 24, 2020

Jessica Walker was meant to be artist in residence for Lichfield Festival this summer. With the festival cancelled, she had made a video of some Brel and Barbara songs that felt timely for Covid, and some of her own.


  • Barbara ? says:

    Hannigan or Streisand ? both really awful singers ..

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Brel in English? No thanks.
    Previous endeavours have been pretty grim (Terry Jacks, David Bowie, a dreadful musical…)

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    « D’essayé. De raté. N’importe. Essayer encore. Rater encore. Rater MIEUX. »

    Thus Édith Fournier’s version of the bilingual Samuel Beckett’s original:
    “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
    (Worstward Ho/Cap au pire, 1983)

    Making a video recital in these days of plague is a noble endeavour.
    Making — and singing — translations of Barbara an Jacques Brel is a doomed one.
    Hopelessly doomed.
    You cannot translate Brel, you can only transpose him. Barbara you cannot even transpose. Even her very own self barely got away with her German version of “Göttingen”, and I know of no one else who could.

    There is also the matter of Barbara’s voice, diction, and cadenza : laser-like surgical precision. French is a language of razor-blades and stilettos, not of cantabile. You’d have to reproduce that in another tongue. I don’t know that it can be done. I know that here, it was not done.

    No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail BETTER.
    Or, take a word of wisdom, let it be.

  • V. Lind says:

    The only singer worth hearing singing Brel In English is Elly Stone.

    With, perhaps, the exception of Judy Collins’ version of Marieke.