Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (1912-2000)

Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (Portrait)

Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (Portrait)

7:34 PM 7/26/2012

This is a portrait of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, taken many years ago. Mme. Haïk-Vantoura (née Vantoura) was a composer, organist and music theoretician. Born in Paris, France in 1912, she entered the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris (CNSM) in 1931, and was awarded First Prize in Harmony (1934), First Prize in Fugue (1938), and Honorable Mention in Composition (1939). She became the student of the great organist and composer Marcel Dupré from 1941 to 1946, then devoted herself to music composition and teaching.

World War II interrupted her studies, and she fled with her family to southern France. While in hiding from the Nazis, then-Mlle. Vantoura first approached a problem that had intrigued her since childhood: the original meaning of the te`amim (טעמים). By her account, she had learned in a French encyclopedia of music that these signs were ancient, musical and of unknown meaning. Given the lack of correlation between the melodies of the synagogue communities and the physical features of the notation itself, this appraisal was both plausible and objective — and it became the starting point in Mlle. Vantoura’s research.

After four months of intensive research (including the creation of interminable statistical tables), she became certain (as her intuition had suggested) that only the sublinear te`amim have a fixed musical meaning; the superlinear te`amim have a subordinate musical meaning. Thus she was able to reconstruct a rough draft of the “Song of the Sea” (Exodus 15); she was astonished at the results! After the war, however, the pressure of her studies and career forced her to put the time-consuming project aside.

During and after the war, Haïk-Vantoura composed a number of works which expressed her independent personality. Those listed on her own Web site include Quatuor florentin (played for the first time in 1942), Un beau dimanche (written in 1957), Destin d’Israël (written in 1964), Versets de psaumes pour 12 voix a capella (a work commissioned by the French Government in 1968) and Offrande (written in 1970). Other works in her curriculum vitae include Visages d’Adam, Rhapsodie Israelienne, Un trio instrumental, Jeu (for piano and violin), Poemes de la Pleiade (suite for piano), Temionage, Hymn liturgique pour voix de soprano et quartuor, and Sept motets for 12 mixed voices (another work commissioned by the French Government). Another notable accomplishment: a recording produced by André Charlin, featuring a text written by Haïk-Vantoura, spoken by Linette Lemercier, and set to music by Menuhin et al., entitled Magie des Instruments (Helios MA301). In addition to all this, Haïk-Vantoura became an organist at the Synagogue de l’Union liberale Israelite de Paris (1946-53) and the Eglise Saint-Helene de Paris (1966-79); an honorary professor of music education (1937-61); a published composer (Un beau dimanche for instrumental trio, 1970; and Adagio for saxophone and organ, 1976); and the wife of Mr. Maurice Haïk, who passed away in 1976. (The couple had no children.)

Over the years, Haïk-Vantoura would approach the problem of the biblical notation now and again, but never had the time to devote herself to solving it. Finally, her old teacher Marcel Dupré and others urged her to complete her work. After her “retirement” in 1970, she devoted herself to the task and (by her own testimony) was overwhelmed at times by the sheer scale of it. It took her four years to complete her decipherment, and another two years to prepare the first edition of her French book La musique de la Bible révélée (Robert Dumas, 1976) and the Harmonia Mundi LP of the same name (also in 1976). The second edition of her French book (Dessain et Tolra, 1978) won the Prix Bernier of the Institute des Beaux Arts de France, its highest award.

Since that time, Haïk-Vantoura produced or supervised the production of no less than six new recordings (two by Esther Lamandier and one by Mira Zakai); four scores with accompaniment corresponding to four recordings (Volumes 1-3 and Cantique des cantiques); three scores without accompaniment (Les 150 Psaumes dans leurs mélodies antiques, Quatre Meghilot and Message biblique intégrale); several articles in academic journals; and a supplement to her original book. (Since Haïk-Vantoura’s death, two more recordings, an a capella version of Cantique des cantiques and Le livre d’Isaïe, have been published by Esther Lamandier to date.) Though Haïk-Vantoura was long nearly invalid, she had her own Web site, which remained up and running for some time after her death: Regrettably, this site seems to be down permanently.

On October 22, 2000, on the day called Simhat Torah (“Rejoicing of the Law”) in Judaism — the very day when the liturgical cycle for one year ends and another begins in the Rabbinic synagogues — Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura passed away in Switzerland after complications resulting from influenza. She was 88 years old. As of October 24, legalities permitting, she was scheduled to be buried in France on October 30. This information (transmitted to me by Dennis Weber) came from Haïk-Vantoura’s grand-nephew Philippe.

The following obituary in French is taken from the Musica et Memoria site (Obituares 08/2000 – 11/2000), and is used with permission.

“La musicologue, organiste et compositeur Suzanne Haïk-VANTOURA est décédée en Suisse, à Lausanne, le 22 octobre 2000. Née en 1912 à Paris, Mlle Vantoura avait rejoint le CNSM où elle obtenait plusieurs prix d’écriture. Mariée à Maurice Haïk, elle commença par se consacrer à l’enseignement et à la composition. C’est ainsi qu’on lui doit notamment un Quatuor à cordes, sept Motets, un Poème pour piano et orchestre et un poème liturgique, Judas le pieux. Egalement organiste, elle avait rejoint en 1969 les rangs de l’Union des Maîtres de Chapelle et Organistes, alors présidée par Henri Busser. Peu de temps après elle se passionnait pour le mystère du sens des signes musicaux contenus dans la Bible hébraïque et réussissait à en retrouver le sens puis à en établir une grille de lecture. Elle put ainsi faire éditer cinq mille versets dans leur mélodie originelle et a publié en 1976 le résultat de ses travaux dans son livre La musique de la Bible révélée. Une notation millénaire décryptée (Ed. Robert Dumas, 503 pages, fort in-8). Ses recherches sont actuellement poursuivies par Gilles Tiar dans un institut créé en Israël, portant le nom de «Shir Hashirim». Elle résida longtemps dans un appartement de la rue d’Artois (Paris, IXe), non loin de la maison où mourut, en 1863, le poète et romancier Alfred de Vigny.” – Denis HAVARD DE LA MONTAGNE

This information comes from a page on The Music of the Bible Revealed Web site.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Categories: Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


2014-08-25 @ 19:38 CDT

Here is the text which accompanies the above video on YouTube:

This is a rough draft of an interview I had over Skype with Roy Alan Manchee, who lives and works in Spain. According to my calendar, this is the result of two attempts to have interviews with me on February 5 and 26, 2014 – this set likely was recorded on the 26th.

Roy took me through a wide range of questions regarding Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s work and related issues in ancient and early music. Only one thing is rather out of order: he introduces Psalm 148 but fails to insert it afterward, saving a live recording by Chanticleer for the very end. I’m sorry my attempts to play harp and lyre turned out so hard to hear – and of course my singing voice is little better than the proverbial braying of an ass compared to what this music really deserves.

It would be far too time-consuming for me to set appropriate slides to this long video. Instead I opted to put in the entire set of photos I have from a set called Aerials of Israel, so that you may have something attractive and historical and/or modern to look at while you listen.

Those interested in Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s work are welcome to go to my dedicated blog and YouTube channel on the subject:

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Ancient Music, Hebrew Bible, Letteris Edition, Medieval Music, Musicology, Prosodia, Psalmodia, Recordings, Roy Alan Manchee, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


Psalms 46 (Page Curl and Other Effects by Paint Shop Pro)

Psalms 46 (Page Curl and Other Effects by Paint Shop Pro)

2014-08-03 @ 12:30 CDT

A question which often comes up is what temperament is implied by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s reconstructions of biblical Hebrew cantillation. The modern instruments she used in her recordings all use “modern” equal temperament: specifically, the kind used in Western classical music (such as on a piano). Her arrangements (evocations, not reconstructions, though they are) work within the framework of this kind of equal temperament. This means that some intervals in her accompaniments and vocal harmonies which some ancient musicians would consider “dissonant” are mitigated in their “dissonance” as much as is the strong “consonance” of certain other intervals – blunting tonal effects which should be examined by the historically interested musician.

SHV addressed much later the question of ancient temperament (especially in her final opus, MESSAGE BIBLIQUE INTEGRAL), but I wonder if she was biased in the end by her lifelong background as an organist. Certainly she underestimated just how precisely ancient musicians could tune at least their plucked stringed instruments. But then, probably her source materials did as well. Only recently have I learned myself how precise even simple tuning methods, such as were used on ancient lyres and still are on some traditional lyres, can be. I had long suspected it, but hearing and seeing the proofs is another thing.

Once I learned myself what the difference is between our modern equal temperament, Pythagorean tuning and just intonation (specifically that used in “scientific tuning” today), and once I mastered the Finale and Scala programs enough to create the files required, I compared several Psalms as MIDI files in these tuning styles. One of the best comparisons may be made using my transcription of SHV’s choral score of Psalms 122 into equal-temperament MIDI via Finale, then via Scala into MIDI files using the other two temperaments. But for this demonstration, I decided to use an arrangement I wrote myself: Psalms 46, using my research into the relative pitch ranges of men’s and boys’ choirs, trumpet (actually the trumpet should be pitched an octave higher than it is, I now realize), kinnorot `al ha-Sheminit and nevalim `al `alamot, and cymbals. The choral and solo alternation and of course the melodic line is based on SHV’s own work.

My files have limitations which I should make known before I begin. First, at least the equal-tempered files seem to stop a beat earlier than they should (at least on QuickTime), truncating the performance and even the last note of the melody. Second, the files are of different ages and therefore have different “voicings” for the same MIDI instruments as they were created using different editions of Finale and perhaps with different “SF2 sound files” as well. Third, one cannot possibly get the flavor of the chant in full without acoustic instruments and expressive singing, to say nothing of understanding the Hebrew language which the melodies and accompaniments support. Finally, some intervals in my instrumental arrangements still need some tweaking in order to take into account what just intonation can and cannot support properly in harmonic accompaniment.

That said, consider the following:

Psalms 46 – Equal temperament

Like MIDI files of this simplicity in general, expressively this file “lies dead“. One gets the skeleton of the work but no more. But even if sung expressively, there is a certain “life” missing in this temperament because the ancient sensibility lying in ancient tuning systems is missing. I sensed this myself as a Celtic harper and started experimenting with ancient tunings accordingly. It was the following research which really gave me the key to how to proceed on the Celtic harp and eventually on the lyre.

Psalms 46 – Pythagorean (cyclical) tuning

Also called cyclical tuning (viz. Curt Sachs), this tuning might be called a quasi-equal temperament in that at least it allowed the player to change modes (if not “keys”) easily. Citing the CD booklet which accompanies the recording Music of the Ancient Greeks:

Pseudo-Plutarch, in his description of the Spondeiazon tropos (De Musica 1137b-d), list three additional pitches that were played in accompaniment to certain notes of the six scale degrees of the melody. The resulting intervals were: perfect 5th (which he considered consonant), major third, major sixth, minor third, and major second (all of which he considered dissonant).

Offhand this sounds to me as if Pythagorean tuning, not just intonation, is implied (although this should be checked). As a general rule all these intervals are consonant in just intonation and this carries over to the sensibility even of equal-tempered Western music.

Psalms 46 – Just intonation (divisive tuning) of a specific sort

For my part, before I understood the difference between cyclical and divisive tuning (that bit of education I owe to Sachs), I tried to tune my harp cyclically in order to give what SHV’s melodies really deserved in accompaniment and always found myself having to adjust some of the intervals for purity. Something wasn’t “working out”. Once I understood the difference, I tuned my harp to just intonation and performed Psalms 24 on it. The sheer resonance of the melody and accompaniment in my body, compared to what it had been heretofore, was astonishing, and so was the effect of the melody and words combined on my ear. It was reminiscent of the first time I heard baroque music played in baroque tuning on period baroque instruments and in a historically informed baroque style. Everything was transformed for me.

In cyclical tuning Psalms 46 sounds “fuzzy“, often simply if rather subtly dissonant – and exactly where Pseudo-Plutarch indicated dissonances existed in the music he discussed (plus one or two other intervals as well). The fifths sound consonant (again, as Pseudo-Plutarch indicated). But in just intonation…! Despite the limitation of the file and the lack of words, verbal comprehension, and anything beyond terraced dynamics, the purity and “harmonicity” of the results is incredible. One is faced with a breath of the transcendent.

I can only hope the reader and the listener can hear the same, when he or she compares these three technically poor MIDI examples.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Ancient Music, Cymbals, De Organographia, Dropbox, Internet, Lyres, Musicology, Psalmodia, Scores, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, Temple Instruments, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Trumpets, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments


2014-07-27 @ 08:42 CDT

The following video was recorded by Ray Rottman on his portable camera. Between that and the sound system of the hall, the sound on this video is rather strongly biased – I hope something of the real beauty of my instrument comes through. Here is the explanatory text I put on YouTube:

The lyre I’m playing – which I call Aletheia (“Truth”), as it’s a Greek-style lyre – was built by Carlos Paniagua, a famous luthier in Spain who specializes in early musical instruments. The melody is my “take” on “La Rosa Enflorece”, a Sephardic Jewish “romance” with lyrics in Ladino (it has also been adapted to the synagogue liturgy). I performed this for Special Music at the Houston, TX. Living Church of God on Sabbath, July 26, 2014.

Aletheia is tuned to a referent of A = 432 Hz and in just intonation against an E tonic. It has twelve fluorocarbon strings, goatskin soundboard, walnut crossbar, Atlas cedar arms and bowl, and modern tuning pegs. It is meant to be an evocation – not a reconstruction – of the biblical nevel in its normal pitch range, insofar as I can infer it from the information available.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Categories: Bowl Lyre, Carlos Paniagua, Luthiers, Lyres, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Temple Instruments, Two Lyres and a Pipe, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments


2014-07-13 @ 10:50 CDT

This video features the newest instrument I’ve purchased this year and the one I play the least well: Carbo (as I call it), a carbon fiber low pennywhistle made on special order by Carbony Celtic Winds. It can play concert pitch (A = 440Hz) but can also be adjusted to classical pitch (“Verdi’s A”, 432Hz). On this video the latter referent is used.

It is unlikely, given the size of the whistle (almost too big for my hands), that I’ll ever play it the way a pennywhistle is meant to be played. No, I’ll be using my fingertips, and also with my left hand rather than my right hand on the bottom, to do slow melody and harmony lines.

This instrument is meant to evoke the “flutes” mentioned in the header of Psalm 5 and related instruments mentioned in the Bible and Talmudic literature. It is not a reconstruction of any of them. However, it does have a pitch based on what I can infer about the pitch of the silver trumpets of Numbers 10 under ideal conditions and also about the temperament of the instruments used in biblical chant.

A playlist featuring all three videos in this series is found here.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Categories: Carbony Celtic Winds, Flutes and Pipes, Luthiers, Temple Instruments, Two Lyres and a Pipe, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments


2014-07-13 @ 10:30 CDT

Here is the first of two videos I made this morning. At last I can feature Aletheia (as “she” has been rechristened), the long-suffering “bass nevel” created for me by Carlos Paniagua (for some more details on its repairs, see here). Even given the way I must hold the lyre (so far), the Canon camera I use to record the video has no trouble at all picking up the sound! Nor does it have any problem picking up what passes for a singing voice (mine, although given my work with the local church choir of late my voice certainly sounds better on this video than it often has on videos).

A playlist presently containing all three videos I’ve made featuring these three instruments is found here.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Categories: Bowl Lyre, Carlos Paniagua, Luthiers, Lyres, Prosodia, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, Temple Instruments, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Two Lyres and a Pipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Music of Sparta

John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav):

The scandal of the extra strings!

Originally posted on Reason in the Light of Faith:

Or The Scandal of the Strings

Here is your completely random and amusing historical tidbit for today. The topic is that warrior haven of Sparta and its take on music during the 7th century before Christ. From Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization, Vol. 2: The Life of Greece (Simon & Schuster 1966):

In that dim past before Lycurgus came, Sparta was a Greek city like the rest, and blossomed out in song and art as it would never do after him. Music above all was popular there, and rivaled man’s antiquity; for as far back as we can delve we find the Greeks singing. In Sparta, so frequently at war, music took a martial turn – the strong and simple “Doric mode”; and not only were other styles discouraged, but any deviation from this Doric style was punishable by law. Even Terpander, though he had quelled a sedition by…

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Categories: So Nice I Blogged It Twice | Tags: | Leave a comment


2014-07-11 @ 11:46 CDT

This is the first of three exceedingly primitive home videos I plan to make using my Canon PowerShot SD750 camera and a tripod. My first effort cut off much of the lyre; this effort cuts off most of my head! But as I must have the camera close to ensure the lyre’s sound is picked up properly, I opted to have my head cut off most of the time.

El Zurdo (The Southpaw)”, as I call this evocation of “the Lyre of the Moon”, was made by JRV Luthier of Spain. I call it El Zurdo because the consistent trend in lyre iconography (at least in the Ancient Near East) is to have the bass strings on the left for right-handed players and on the right for left-handed players. I didn’t know this before I ordered the lyre, and I am a right-handed player. But El Zurdo and I have become “best buds” despite this and I’ve performed with it in public several times now. The mode and tuning I chose seems to fit El Zurdo’s construction ideally and it holds its tuning well.

The rest of the video is self-explanatory.

EDIT 2014-07-13: A playlist presently containing all three videos I’ve made featuring these three instruments is found here.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Categories: JRV Luthier, Luthiers, Lyre of the Moon, Lyres, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Temple Instruments, Two Lyres and a Pipe, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


2014-07-10 @ 2030 CDT

Here at last is Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura’s first recording, La musique de la Bible révélée (technically, Volume 1, although not called that in the title), which was released originally in 1976 on LP and later on cassette and DVD. This is the first complete set of videos of SHV’s work I’ve made which includes the consonants, vowels, and musical accents of the Hebrew Masoretic Text (Letteris Edition). I have created individual videos before as “test cases” with the complete pointing, but not an entire album’s worth.

Producing the PowerPoint slides was an incredibly time-consuming job. The only font I have on my computer that could handle all the necessary details is proprietary and probably would cause PowerPoint to balk. The Symbols font in Times New Roman does a pretty good job, but one has to insert the characters laboriously one click at a time into PowerPoint. It is all too easy to make mistakes in so doing and the wonder is that I didn’t have to go back and make more corrections to the slides and even the videos than I did.

In the future, I really need to use a video production program with better control of the timing of slides than my legacy copy of Windows Movie Maker can give me. Also I need to use my newer laptop, which for this sort of work does better than this legacy Windows XP (for me at least, Windows 7 is generally a pleasure to use even if like all Micro$oft ;) products it has its quirks). Also I need to figure out how to use the Nero and LightScribe software more effectively in producing labels. It’s wonderful to have DVD (and CD) labels which don’t peel off but are burned right into the surface of the discs, but if one can’t create a label worth reading artistically what good is it? As it is I’ve had to use some pretty quirky approaches of my own to label the DVDs I’ve made from the above playlist and other projects I’ve been doing using my LightScribe drive.

But let not my tiredness and relative crankiness at the end of a very long day detract from the joy of finishing this first essay in the craft of making “fully pointed” videos in Hebrew, transliterated Hebrew and English. All things considered and with all grace blessing me, I “done good” and I will strive as always to do better next time.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Categories: Hebrew Bible, Letteris Edition, Prosodia, Psalmodia, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav):

As Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s work features in this discovery, it is worth reposting the blog here.

Originally posted on The Chronicles of Johanan Rakkav:

Yehawweh (Pi`el stem)

Yehawweh (Pi`el stem)

2014-06-28 @ 06:43 CDT

(N.B.: This is a rewrite and expansion of a post I had on another, now-deleted blog.)

It may surprise those outside of Judaism (as I am, for the record) to learn how much both the Hebrew Bible and Judaic tradition emphasize the Bible as a recited text. Just as the holy book of Muslims is called the Quran, so the holy book of the Jews is called (among other things) the Miqra. The Semitic word root is the same, having to do in this context with reciting a written text.

The word with the definite article, ha-Miqra (המקרא), has a specific contextual meaning in Judaism. A Judaic scholar whose name I do not recall recently published an important work on the concept of ha-Miqra. In the publisher’s blurb this author points out (this is a paraphrase) that in the…

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Categories: So Nice I Blogged It Twice | Tags: | 2 Comments


Gran Lira ("Aletheia") 2014-06-24

Gran Lira (“Aletheia”) 2014-06-24

2014-06-24 @ 10:30 CDT

Over the space of the past two weeks, and on my request, a woodworker I know (hereafter WM) has repaired the lyre I bought from Carlos Paniagua of Spain. Yes, the lyre worked well and sounded beautiful as I’d “repaired” it but I still heartily disliked the severe (if stable) torquing of the crossbar in the yoke. I showed WM the lyre with its strings removed, told him what I tried to do and asked if he could undo the damage (mine and that originally suffered in transit from Spain). He said he probably could.

First, WM took off the rawhide bindings I’d put on the joints. Then, he planed the joints, removing the old glue. Then, using Titebond wood glue and two finishing screws in each joint (one inserted back to front, one inserted tangentially through the joint), he made a construct which would be highly resistant to the torque of the strings. I got the repaired lyre on Sunday (to my immense gratitude) and started my own finishing work on Monday.

As the glue had yet to fully set I contented myself with soaking rawhide overnight (Sunday). From the soaked pieces (Monday morning) I cut two long strips and wrapped and tied them around the joints, then let the strips dry. They were plenty hard by this morning (Tuesday). While they don’t exactly grace Carlos’ original superb craftsmanship or WM’s repairs (which ought to be perfectly stable as they are), I wanted that little bit of extra insurance and it adds a sort of rustic charm to the whole.

As of this morning I’ve been putting a new set of strings on. I must admit that even given how hard fluorocarbon strings are to knot, I must be the world’s worst knot tier. Even with the diagram right before me, I can’t get either my mind or my fingers to wrap themselves around the required topology consistently. I had to remove one string entirely and replace it with a new one (and with a better knot).

BUT…if all goes well the lyre – rechristened “Aletheia” (which is Greek for “Truth”) – will be fully in tune and ready to play in a day or two. Perhaps by Friday I’ll be able to record my first primitive video featuring El Zurdo (my other lyre), Aletheia and the carbon fiber pennywhistle I bought recently.

Meanwhile, here is a Photobucket slideshow of my (all too frequently mis-)adventures in broken lyre repair.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Categories: Bowl Lyre, Carlos Paniagua, JRV Luthier, Luthiers, Lyre of the Moon, Lyres, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Temple Instruments | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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