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: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


Aletheia with Strap 01

Aletheia with Strap 01

2014-11-19 @ 09:00 CST

Ever since I got my magnificent Greek lyre, Aletheia, into playable condition, I’ve been limited to holding it with the left hand while playing with the right hand. This has served me well, but most lyre players of the first rank that I know use both hands to play their instruments. The problem is that Aletheia 1) is top-heavy and 2) has a round and very slippery cedar soundbox. Even when resting vertically on my left thigh (with a pad underneath it), it tends to fall backwards. No strap made of cloth which I tried to attach to the lyre could solve the problem. No matter where I attached it or how I attached it, the strap only made the problem of keeping the lyre upright and stable worse.

Not many days ago, I finally went to a store called Rockin’ Robin Guitars & Music, not far from where I live in Houston, Texas, in hopes of finding a guitar strap which could be adapted to my needs. Sure enough, there was a wide array to choose from. Several slender leather straps were available, all hung on plastic hangers with knobs on which one of the two eyeholes at the ends of the straps could be attached. For some reason I still don’t understand, each of these hangars also had a little tube through which a black shoelace was inserted (presumably to help attach the strap to the guitar, somehow). There were hangers with such laces which had no straps hung on them at all, and that gave me an idea…

The salesman at the desk was glad to let me have an extra hanger gratis, once I explained what I was up to. But the final test at home was yet to be made.

After many a frustrating attempt to get the strap to hold Aletheia upright – none of which worked – I finally saw what had to be done. I had to wrap the strap around the arm of the yoke nearest to me and then attach the strap to the tailpiece and to the top of the soundbox. The overall result is shown in the photograph above. (I’m gratified that Luis Paniagua, who played this lyre before it was shipped to me, thought this a good solution to the problem I faced.)

Aletheia with Strap 02

Aletheia with Strap 02

Those knobs, tubes and laces on the hangers – once I cut off the hooks on the hangers – proved to be exactly what I needed for the idea to work. First, I tied one knob to the tailpiece as shown above and put one end of the strap over the knob. Then I held the lyre vertically on my left leg and tested how far the strap would have to reach in order to help it hold the lyre stable. Noting where that position was…

Aletheia with Strap 03

Aletheia with Strap 03

…I tied the other knob to the cords holding the skin soundboard in place. The result still required me to strain my neck by pulling backwards, but the configuration worked and I had no trouble playing with both hands. I realized that I could adjust the second knob’s position so that I wouldn’t strain my neck – something I have yet to do for lack of time, but which will be done soon.

One thing I found was that I had to unlearn my training as a Celtic harper in order to play with both hands on Aletheia. On The Lyre Group of Facebook, Peter Pringle proposed that I simply restring the lyre so that the treble strings are nearest me, as on a harp, rather than the bass strings. His certainly well-meaning idea was to make the instrument fit me and my needs. After all, most musicians today would do exactly that, all else being equal.

Well, first, I commissioned Aletheia to have the bass strings nearest me. Second, I did so for a valid historical reason. Without exception, where the evidence is unambiguous – in dozens if not scores of illustrations cited by Prof. Richard Dumbrill in his book on the archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East (ANE) – the ancient asymmetrical lyre player always had the bass strings nearest to him. If he was a right-handed player, the bass strings were on the left of the lyre from the front. If he was a left-handed player, the bass strings were on the right of the lyre. Presumably the trend continued in symmetrical lyres (old habits die hard).

So what was a multi-instrumentalist of the ANE to do? Is there the slightest evidence that any of them ever said, “Oh, dear, I’m playing a lyre now rather than a harp – I have to string the lyre so that it matches harp stringing?” No, indeed! There was a reason why the lyre player kept the bass strings nearest to him: the resonance of the instrument, which is something he could feel and which was reinforced by contact with his body (and vice versa). Harps followed a different path of development and projected their sound in a different way. For the resonance to affect the harpist’s body and vice versa, different points of contact had to be made (notoriously, in a well-wrought statue from Ancient Egypt, by a woman who put the pointy business end of her harp in her loins for erotic stimulation).

Even when held in repose, the asymmetrical lyre of the ANE – once it developed from a bull-shaped instrument to an instrument which merely evoked the shape of a bull’s head – was held with its bass strings upward, as in the famous ivory plaque illustrating the equally famous Lyre of Megiddo (the woman nevertheless is playing it in that position):

Megiddo Lyre 01 (c/o Google Images)

Megiddo Lyre 01 (c/o Google Images)

When King David played such an asymmetrical lyre (his famous kinnor) on his lap while holding it near his body, he would’ve done so like this (note that this lyre has ten strings after Josephus’ testimony about the kinnor of the Temple, not nine as the Lyre of Megiddo actually had):

King David with Megiddo Lyre (c/o Peter Pringle)

King David with Megiddo Lyre (c/o Peter Pringle)

Peter, in the name of fitting the lyre to him rather than vice versa, plays his evocation of the Lyre of Megiddo as if it were a harp:

Megiddo Lyre 02 (c/o Google Images)

Megiddo Lyre 02 (c/o Google Images)

Of course Peter can do what he likes. But it’s not Historically Informed Performance (HIP), and while I’m no snob about such things – while I’m not what I like to call “HIP-per Than Thou” ;) – my evocation of the biblical nevel is as “HIP” as I can reasonably make it. The tuning, the inferred scale, the referent pitch, the number of strings (twelve, not ten), the order of strings, the fact it is a skin-lyre and not a wood-lyre like the kinnor – all these things are meant to help teach me what ancient musicians actually did, not what I’d personally prefer to do. That means I must adjust to the instrument and not, any more than is truly needful, the other way around.

Peter does the same thing when he tries to reconstruct and then play the older form of the articulated lyre (the archaic kithara) of Ancient Greece. Why suggest anything else in principle when it comes to the lyres of the ANE? It makes no sense to me.

(יוחנן רכב)



Categories: Ancient Music, Bowl Lyre, Historically Informed Performance, Luis Paniagua, Lyre of Megiddo, Lyres, Musicology, Peter Pringle, Richard J. Dumbrill, Temple Instruments, Two Lyres and a Pipe | 4 Comments


1 Chronicles 16:8-10 (SHV)

1 Chronicles 16:8-10 (SHV)

2014-11-18 @ 17:15 CST

Was the music of Ancient Greece always as “melogenic” as some students (and some “fans”) of that music seem to assume? If not, why not?

In an off-the-cuff presentation I did at the Feast of Tabernacles as kept by the Living Church of God in Boerne, TX., 2014, I noted how “melogenic” the music of King David was, giving an example (1 Chronicles 16:8-10, the beginning of the Song of the Ark, as shown above). I then noted that despite the Greeks having lyres and scales much like what I’d just illustrated for Israel, “their melodies wandered all over the place” by comparison. Not until “the Classical period” of ancient Greece, I claimed, did this change, as evidenced by the Epitaph of Seikilos—which happens to be the one complete song text we have from antiquity from any archaeological source. (The “music of the Bible” is in the Hebrew Masoretic Text, which was copied from older sources no longer extant.)

Let me say first—as you will learn anyway from my YouTube video linked above (see below as well)—that I didn’t use the term “melogenic” in my presentation, since it was far too technical for my audience. I’ll explain what I mean by that term in a moment.

On The Lyre Group of Facebook, my comments were not exactly well-received by one of the chief posters—Peter Pringle, a first-rate musician in my opinion, who I have mentioned before in this blog. There are points he raised there which deserve an answer. Until now, I simply haven’t had time to write one. Writing blogs as long as this one, and debating on Facebook, doesn’t pay the bills or accomplish needful tasks.

So first, what do I mean by “melogenic” vocal music—for only vocal music, strictly speaking, can be “melogenic”?

One of the “fathers” of ethnomusicology, Curt Sachs, who flourished in the middle of the last century, gave a very useful classification of vocal music in his The Rise of Music in the Ancient World: East and West. (The edition I own is by W.W. Norton, 1943, and is apparently the first edition.) I could quote quite a bit of useful material from this book, and I hope to do so in one or more future posts, but here I will limit myself to Sachs’ summary on pp. 52-53:

Despite such achievements [as summarized in the third and fourth paragraphs below], primitive music [Sachs simply means—one would hope—the earliest strata of musical development] depends on routing and instinct rather than on knowledge. This is its weakness that nothing can overcome—not even the erroneous claim that from lack of intellectual rules primitive singers will express themselves with greater emotional intensity than educated musicians who filter their inspiration through the tightly knitted cloth of rules and technique. The claim is unfounded, because in primitive society the inertia of tradition, more inexorable than any well-devised system could be, dooms every spontaneous gesture.
Notwithstanding this narrowness, one fact has safeguarded development and perfection: the primordial dualism of two different, indeed opposed, singing styles.
One of these, derived from cantillation, was logogenic or ‘word-born.’ Its melodies started with only two notes—which imposed a level course—and were spun out in the continual repetition of a tiny motif. Evolution was additive; more and more notes at certain distances crystallized around the nucleus of two notes. But even before this evolution set in, primitives on the lowest level of civilization developed endless repetition to the symmetry of answering phrases, anticipated the tonic, invented the sequence, and progressed to part singing and even to strictly canonic imitation.
The other style, derived from passion and motor impulse, was pathogenic [passion-born]. Its melodies started from orderless cataracts, which imposed a downward trend. Evolution was divisive: octaves were marked out, and after them, fifths and fourths, which, instead of a nucleus, formed a solid skeleton.
All higher, melogenic, forms arose from mingling and mixing the two basic styles; and this process, again, was inevitable, since intermarriage, trade and warfare counteracted tribal seclusion and omnipotent tradition. It stimulated comparison and, with comparison, discrimination of features common and divergent, acceptable and inacceptable [sic]. In this continual readjustment, insight, knowledge, and scientific method had to counterbalance the evil powers of inertia and imitation.
But the mental process necessary to pass from imitative reproduction was beyond the capacity of primitive men. It eventually developed when the conflux of tribes, somewhere in Asia, had produced the phenomenon we call ‘high civilization.’ Due to science, which was the essential achievement of high civilization, music progressed to an art. It needed mathematicians to express in numbers what seemed to exist in an imaginary, unimaginable space of its own. And since analysis and synthesis were functions of logic, it needed philosophy to disintegrate melody into single notes and intervals and to rearrange the elements in ever new configurations.

Of course Sachs does not consider that so-called “primitive” man, at least as we know of him today, might have degenerated from higher beginnings (cf. Job 30:1-8)—his evolutionary worldview does not let him do so. He may also underestimate the importance of value judgment—so vital in music composition, theory and appreciation—when compared to logical judgment, as people of his temperament typically do, unless they are made aware of the fallacy of doing so. At least he writes of “features common and divergent, acceptable and inacceptable”, which shows an awareness of value judgment. But let us stick to the point at hand…

Melogenic music—“melos-born” music—in the simplest possible terms, comes from the integration of melodic and verbal phrase structures (syntaxes) into organic wholes. Logogenic music and pathogenic music have no such integration, even though of necessity both have melodic and verbal phrases. We see what melos was to the ancient Greek mind when we consider the remark of one Aristides (apparently Aristides Quintilianus, fl. 3rd century AD, who cited every ancient Greek authority on music then known save Aristoxenes), cited by Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura in the analytical notes of her score, Message biblique intégral (p. T-28): “It is necessary to consider (according to Aristides) the melody, the rhythm and the lexis (the speech) alike so that the melos will be perfect.”

What constituted a "melos" (SHV)

What constituted a “melos” (SHV)

Melos, then, was a blend of melody and words, and for the Greeks (as Sachs also noted in one of his publications), the chief binding tie was rhythm. Moreover (again according to Aristides), “the music was but a ‘spice’ for the poetry” (Haïk-Vantoura, in Les 150 Psaumes, p. T-24).

In Message biblique intégral (pp. T-31 to T-40), Haïk-Vantoura (hereafter SHV) documents four (by another count, and in my opinion a better one, five) factors in the melody which integrate with the Hebrew words in the Bible’s particular brand of melos. Something approaching that degree of integration—a point which ought to be analyzed—is found in the oldest complete surviving Greek song, the famous Epitaph of Seikilos. Both SHV’s biblical Hebrew chant and the Epitaph sound like they could have been “composed yesterday”. It is the integration of melody and words into melos which is responsible for this, more than anything else save the common foundation in so-called “Ptolemaic” tuning. Not for nothing did Clement of Alexandria liken the biblical Hebrew Psalms—memories of which apparently were still extant in the Christian world of the time—to the skolion or Greek drinking song of his day, of which the Epitaph is cited at times as an example.

Epitaph of Seikilos 01 (Wikipedia Commons)

Epitaph of Seikilos 01 (Wikipedia Commons)

One might therefore expect—as I did—that since Ancient Greece, even in Homeric times—estimated by the ancient Greeks themselves as anywhere from 1102-850 BC, more or less—was a “high civilization” as its epic poetry suggests, its vocal music—such as we know of it—would be “melogenic” in a meaningful way. In other words, the melodies as we know of them ought to have blended with the words in an organic whole—a melos, reasonably to a depth such as we find in the Epitaph of Seikilos, right from the beginning of our surviving records.

Epitaph of Seikilos 02 (Wikipedia Commons)

Epitaph of Seikilos 02 (Wikipedia Commons)

If the biblical authors from the Law of Moses onward could do it as SHV documents—if what little we know of music in Ancient Egypt implies that the ancient Egyptians could do it to a similar depth—then surely the surviving music of Ancient Greece would be comparable on that level. A reasonable assumption, right?

This is not what we find. And if Peter Pringle isn’t as shocked by that as I am, he should be.

Martin L. West, in his Documents of Ancient Greek Music (hereafter DAGM: pp. 3-4), lists the extant melodies and fragments we have from Ancient Greece and its heirs: from the Classical period (texts 1-4), from the Late Classical to the early Hellenistic periods (5-19), from the Late Hellenistic period as found in sanctuaries (20-22), and from the Roman period (23-61). Given what West discusses in his book, period by period, I gave the ancient Greeks too much credit in my little spiel, as we shall see.

The oldest sung text—one which yet has no musical notation—which we have from Ancient Greece is from the Classical period, and is a citation of Orestes by Euripides (5th c. BC: DAGM, pp. 10-11). A more famous citation dates from the 3rd-2nd c. BC (DAGM, pp. 12-17) and includes written musical notation. The Epitaph of Seikilos dates from the Roman period (2nd c. AD: DAGM, pp. 88ff). For comparison, the two extant Delphic Paeans (pp. 62ff, 74ff), both inscribed on stone, date to 128/7 BC: the Late Hellenistic period.

So much of interest could be taken from West’s discussion of various extant works. To limit ourselves to Euripides’ Orestes, we cite West’s comments on page 17 of his book:

For this stasimon, at least, it must be concluded that the strophe was set to music without regard to the word accents, and that the melody was then repeated for the antistrophe.
This is in accord with the findings of Dionysius of Halicarnassus quoted under no. 2, that [hē organikē te kai oidikē mousa] subordinated words to melody and not vice versa [but notably, do not blend the two into melos—Rakkav]. He illustrates the point from the parados of the Orestes, but says that it was clear from much other evidence besides. Nearly all the musical fragments so far know which antedate the Delphic Paeans point the same way: so far as they are legible, they show no greater correspondence of accent and melody than might be expected by chance. [Footnote 2, p. 17: In the Berlin Ajax fragment [no. 17], which probably comes from a tragedy, the melody contradicts the accents almost constantly.—West.] Only a few of the fragments collected under nos. 5 and 6 look as if they may be exceptions [viz. pp. 25, 39].

The Greeks were far from “primitive” by anyone’s scientific definition even in Homeric times, let alone by the Classical period onward. Their music-instrumental technology, again from at least Classical times onward, was “state of the art” for their day. From the beginning of Classical times onward, with Aristoxenus (fl. 335 BC), Pythagoras (c. 570—c. 495 BC), and Claudius Ptolemy (c. AD 90—c. 168) leading the list of famous names, the Greeks conducted scientific and theoretical investigation of the relationship of numbers and music. And I say this as someone who is not a classical scholar, and who therefore may be overlooking some very important people (leaving aside some obvious choices, such as Plato and Aristotle)!

So why is there no truly “melogenic” vocal music, except perhaps for some very few fragments, extant from Ancient Greece until the Delphic Paeans, which were composed well after the Classical period?

There can be only one answer. This world’s self-described skeptics may find the following idea distasteful, but it is one Pythagoras would have appreciated: What tuning system one uses, how one designs and performs on musical instruments, and how one links melody to words, all shapes and is shaped by what one believes about the fundamental nature of reality. More generally, for most people and most cultures, one’s metaphysics overrules one’s physics, given a choice between one and the other. Few indeed of the learned in Ancient Greece were willing to follow the physical evidence where it really leads metaphysically, as the apostle Paul documented in Romans 1:18-32. (Considering what Socrates faced for doing so publicly, perhaps it is not surprising that his pupil Plato did so privately, and for his initiates alone.)

If there is one thing which Ancient Israel—and Ancient Egypt too after a fashion, idolatrous though it was—had which Ancient Greece apparently did not until the time of the Delphic Paeans, it was an essentially harmonic view of the Cosmos and of the Metacosmos, and also of man’s place within both. One place such a harmonic view appears, famously and strikingly, is in Psalm 19. When considering the words alone, this perspective can hardly be escaped. In its original melos, even when performed in modern “equal temperament” rather than in the original, ancient “just intonation”, the effect is multiplied. Should it be any surprise that this work, like the rest of the “music of the Bible”, is based on a tonal hierarchy which we can understand today?

Compare that to the Ancient Greek worldview, before people like Socrates (470/469—399 BC, during the Classical period, 5th-4th c. BC) came along to challenge it: a kosmos ruled over by deities with all the faults of their worshipers (if not more), opposing one another and backing one or another demigod, mortal hero or nation for often seemingly arbitrary reasons, without having anything like the kind of “covenant love” (hesed) for the Greeks which the God of Israel demonstrated for His people. Compare King David’s radiant faith in that covenant love, even while in deep affliction, to the profound fatalism and pessimism which the ancient Greeks so often expressed about man’s place in the world and about the afterlife. At the risk of special pleading—although in the light of Homeric poetry and Greek mythology in general, it is not so much of a stretch—let’s consider the Orestes Stasimo discussed above, as translated in the liner notes of Musique de la Grece antique (Harmonia Mundi, 1979). It is preceded by a deliberate anakrousis, a figurative shattering of a rich musical past leading to silence afterwards. The gaps in the melody of the text as we have it are filled in carefully but creatively:

I groan, I groan, thinking of the blood of your mother, the blood that drives you mad.
Good fortune has no stability among mortals; like the sail of a speeding boat, a god rocks in and engulfs it in horrible misfortune, fatal, voracious as the waves of the sea.

Certainly here is an example of a melody leading words, but not of a melos such as the later Greeks described it. One must admit that the mood of the melody fits that of the words, which illustrates our point from another direction!

Even as bitterly sorrowful a biblical work as the Lamentations of Jeremiah, or even as the Book of Job, never denies all hope. Can the same be said about the tragedies of Ancient Greece?

Truthfully and by far, most of the extant fragments are not from Greek tragedies! But neither do the more “positive” musical works extant, which are mostly praises of various deities, evoke the same personal love that the God of Israel and His people express for each other in Hebrew Scripture. The same may be said when one goes further afield, in the literature of Israel’s proper contemporaries and forebears in the Middle East. The praise of the various Middle Eastern deities, like that for the Greek deities, is often effusive to be sure, but whether it expresses the same degree and kind of love as one finds in the Hebrew Bible is debatable. What little written music we have from Israel’s neighbors—not to overlook the truly severe limitations of that evidence—is less than encouraging in that respect.

What drives Hebrew Scripture to its unique place in vocal religious music, “from Moses to Malachi (or Chronicles)”, is all but absent in the religious music of ancient Greece as we have it from any period. Virtuosity expressed to the Divine from the Delphic Paeans onward—yes. Humility expressed in the face of the Divine—no! And this is nothing new to classical scholars:

To the ancient Greeks the deity was something to be regarded with awe, but not with love. At times he was not even treated with respect. There is an extraordinary comedy of Aristophanes, called the Frogs, in which the god Dionysus himself is represented as a vulgar, drunken buffoon whose ineptitude and cowardice form the chief humour of the play. Needless to say, the Greeks’ taste was not always as outrageous as that. But they would never have understood the feelings of the Hebrew who beat his breast with contrition and humbled himself abjectly before [Yehawweh’s] presence. When they prayed they stood erect, raising both hands skyward and speaking in a loud, clear voice. [Footnote: It is true that in certain cults the worshipper adopted a different attitude; but this was surely a relic of an old belief dating from far-away times and connected, like human sacrifice, with the horrible demons of the Underworld of which we spoke above (see p. 29). Such superstitions lingered on, but they were not truly characteristic of the Greek theological outlook.] They disliked the oriental custom of groveling to the deity [and certainly would not have understood what drove the humble prostration among the Hebrews if no one else—Rakkav]. A dignified spirit of self-reliance lurked behind this attitude. ‘Man’, said one of their philosophers, ‘is the measure of all things.’ Human life was to them a magnificent, even if a tragic, adventure; and they had little real thought of any spiritual life beyond. Death was an unmitigated evil, to be met, indeed, with calm courage, but without hope of future happiness. They believed, it is true, in an existence beyond the grave, but Hades or the Underworld was at best a shadowy, unsatisfying place. It had no joys to offer which could compare with the rich, vivid life of this world. The tragedies of Greek poets [remember, all of these were sung—Rakkav] are full of pathetic speeches in which the dying say a sad farewell to the warm, friendly light of the sun. (…) The one pleasure of the dead is to remember the joys of earth. (C.E. Robinson, Everyday Life in Ancient Greece, Oxford, 1933, American reprint, 1977, pp. 134, 136.)

Is this what the skeptics of the world wish to defend? Look where “man is the measure of all things”, an idea that such people today would embrace, led the ancient Greeks: exactly nowhere. It can lead nowhere else in the end. Humanism of itself has neither reason nor ability to make sense of anything. Apart from a personal Creator God and His judgment, including the promise of a hereafter for good or ill which makes sense, man himself makes no sense–as King Solomon the author of Ecclesiastes saw!

The scientific method as the Greeks exercised it can make sense of the physical Universe as such, fair enough; and as the Greeks overcame their own superstition bit by bit through their scientific method, their musical theory and practice improved as well. But the philosophy of scientism as the handmaiden of humanism is just as self-refuting as humanism itself. Both end up begging the most important questions of life as unanswered and unanswerable, even though the very existence of a Universe which scientifically had a beginning in the finite past demands concrete answers to those questions. To ignore that fact leaves man willingly ignorant and with no hope in the end.

No wonder most of the extant music from Ancient Greece leads exactly nowhere, in terms of any in-depth linkage between melody and words. One must believe that the Universe makes sense before one can make sense of the Universe! And this reality carries over to how one develops music, possibly more than with any other art outside of creative writing.

The following modern improvisation on the Greek lyre if anything is far more organized than most of the music of ancient Greece which survives, yet in my opinion it conveys the overall spirit of that music well:

So as it turns out, the only correction I have to make to my off-the-cuff statement is that I gave the ancient Greeks too much credit. Limiting ourselves to the available evidence, the Greeks only caught up with King David (or with Moses, for that matter) after, not during, the Classical period, when it came to blending melody and words into a melos worthy of the name!

Of course, that inference could be disproved by a single find of truly melogenic music from the Classical period. Its existence would have to be explained, given the trends of the time as we know of them. But then, that is how science progresses. If it progresses toward metaphysical questions which we might loathe to face, as it inevitably does, then we need to gain some spiritual courage and move past our loathing.

When the facts change, I change my mind. How about you?—attributed to Lord Kelvin

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, YouTube, Psalmodia, Prosodia, Musicology, Hebrew Bible, Ancient Music, Internet, Facebook, Scores, Peter Pringle, Videos, Atrium Musicae de Madrid, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Clement of Alexandria, Curt Sachs, Vocal Music, Logogenic, Pathogenic, Melogenic, Metaphysics, Melos, Ethos, Philosophy, Religion, Science | 6 Comments


2014-11-09 @ 13:44

This performance was recorded by Ray Rottmann (a close relative of Mel Blanc, the voice actor behind so many animated characters in Classic Warner Bros. cartoons) at the Feast of Tabernacles as observed by the Living Church of God in Boerne, Texas, in 2014. The performance isn’t perfect, but it certainly turned out far better than I hoped – especially vocally! :D My thanks to Regina Rottmann for putting this up on her YouTube channel. [EDIT: Here is the same video on my YouTube channel, again thanks to Regina.]

The lyre featured, of course, is my beloved Aletheia, built by Carlos Paniagua of Spain. The performance features the opening of the Song of the Ark (1 Chronicles 15) according to Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s decipherment, the famous Epitaph of Seikilos, and “Be It Ever So Crumbly” by Mellus Blancus ;), all on my just-tuned lyre with A = 432Hz as the referent.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Ancient Music, Bowl Lyre, Carlos Paniagua, Internet, Luthiers, Lyres, Musicology, Popular Music, Scores, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, Temple Instruments, The Music of the Bible Revealed, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments


King David with Megiddo Lyre (c/o Peter Pringle)

King David with Megiddo Lyre (c/o Peter Pringle)

2014-11-02 @ 08:00 CST

We are finally off of Daylight Savings Time! :D

Some time ago, Canadian musician and singer Peter Pringle created a playable version of the Lyre of Megiddo and then recorded a splendid video of his performance on it. For the benefit of someone new to lyre-making, he posted on Facebook’s The Lyre Group a page I haven’t seen before, one placed on his own Web site, all about the Lyre of Megiddo and its relationship to the kinnor that King David played.

I thought you might be interested in my answer to a claim Peter makes at the bottom of his page. First, the claim:

What did the music of the time of King David sound like? Were quarter tones used in the tuning of the instruments as they are in the modal system known as “maqam” used throughout the Near and Middle East today? It seems logical to assume the answer to this is YES, but we cannot know for sure.

Part of my reply on Facebook today (in The Lyre Group) follows:

…there is no logic in assuming (at the bottom of your very interesting page, which link I will save) that David would’ve used quarter tones or maqamat. That is exactly what it is: an assumption, and not a well-founded one at that. What actually predominated at the time were the two basic tunings, cyclical and divisive, based on just ratios (in essence, diatonicism, and also pentatonicism and chromaticism, depending on where you were, with enharmonicism being a Johnny-come-lately by comparison even in Greece). What evidence we have outside the Bible itself (the evidence is best in Egypt and in Mesopotamia, in archaeology) is that notes and intervals in a precise heterophony, not maqamat as the Islamic world developed them much, much later, predominated. Of course such constructions had to come from somewhere and there was another genre of music, one not based on the need to respect a precise form of gesticulation representing notes and ornaments, which is consistent with maqam-like patterns being used. And, there are a relatively few and relatively late surviving instruments I know of which do fit the use of enharmonicism of some type.

I do need a deeper and broader review of what material we have. Lutes especially are something I’d like to understand better and you did us a great service by reconstructing a playable one.

I will leave aside deep discussion of something you admit yourself you don’t know, and that I after due diligence do know: we do have David’s melodies and everybody else’s “from Moses to Malachi (or Chronicles)” and they are based on diatonic-chromatic tuning and, although also on syntactic patterns of notes and ornaments, on nothing like maqamat. That thesis which you state at the end of your page is now not only obsolete, but refuted.

Acceptance of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s work as what it is – real, and revolutionary – by the various interested parties in the musical and academic worlds is long, long overdue, humanly speaking. Unfortunately, human beings in general – and as a Christian and a human being I have spent my entire life seeking to overcome this tendency in myself – have a really hard time taking all the relevant facts into account and then giving them the closest possible shave with Occam’s Razor. In order to appreciate what SHV did, one has to be willing to do exactly that, without fail and without flaw.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Ancient Music, Lyre of Megiddo, Lyres, Musicology, SAVAE, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, Temple Instruments, The Music of the Bible Revealed, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


The Scale of Prosodia (JHW - after SHV)

The Scale of Prosodia (JHW – after SHV)

The Scale of Psalmodia (JHW - after SHV)

The Scale of Psalmodia (JHW – after SHV)

2014-10-27 @ 12:00 CDT

These past several days I’ve been working on a background paper for the senior ministry and the Personal Correspondence Dept. of the Living Church of God. The paper is called “Tuning, Temperament and Biblical Chant”. In the process, I confirmed my hunch (and Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s own inference, more so than I realized while she was alive) that the biblical Hebrew chant which SHV revived is founded in what we call today “scientific just intonation” (to tweak the description of The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics just a tad). But I also learned that this scale is the same as the chromatic extension (extended to just the possible “sharp notes”, leaving out the possible “flat notes”) of “Ptolemy’s intense diatonic octave”, which was described mathematically by Claudius Ptolemy (fl. ca. 90-168 AD).

Rather than restate everything I wrote in my paper (now complete), I’ll give you my public Dropbox link to it.

In the two charts I created and posted above, the “just intonation” of biblical chant doesn’t begin on C, where one might expect. Rather, it begins on E, so as to optimize the tuning of various modes – beyond the two fundamental modes given above – by raising the pitch of one or more strings on a fixed-pitch instrument, such as a lyre.

Greatly encouraged by these results, I returned to experiments I’ve been doing for many years with my favorite original song, “Hey, Christopher Alain”. Whenever I learn something fundamentally new about music, I go back and test it on this platform, using the Finale program and, for retuning to “just” scales, the Scala program.

It makes a considerable difference where your start tuning in just intonation. For example, previously I had the original version of HCA in A major but started tuning on E, not A as would be most natural to do. I hoped thereby to minimize the inevitable diatonic dissonance in just intonation (i.e., there is always one triad “off” in the diatonic major scale – the question is where you put it in the melody you create). When I “did the math” in detail, I found I was working against myself – creating more problems in chromatic dissonance than I was solving. So I redid all the musical files, tuning from E in the E major version, from A in the A major version, and from C in the C major version – yet all with reference to A = 432Hz, which I’ve discussed here before when dealing with the tuning of the biblical silver trumpets and therefore of ancient Israel’s default “tonic pitch”.

Thanks to this adjustment, the sound files I created of HCA sound much, much smoother than before. You’re invited to hear them (MIDI or WMV) on the Earthlight Orchestra page.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Musical Systems, Prosodia, Psalmodia, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Tuning and Temperament | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments


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

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