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: http://www.institutionroidavid.com. 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)

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