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


(Psalms 130:7 NKJV) O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption.

(Psalms 130:7 NKJV) O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption.

2015-02-10 @ 13:30 CST

This WordPress blog post by Wallace G. Smith – one of the presenters on the Tomorrow’s World telecast sponsored by the Living Church of God – got me to thinking about one of the greatest things God provides for His own: mercy, or in a broader sense, grace (unmerited favor, covenant love, steadfast love, and all else translators have tried to bring out about the Hebrew hesed and the Greek charis). As the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread approach, hesed is very much on my mind – and when it is, Psalm 130 is one of those passages which I remember and focus on.

Psalms 51, which is Mr. Smith’s focus, was never recorded by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura or her associates in the original Hebrew with its original melody (technically speaking, as the Letteris Edition closely preserves it – the extant textual variants are of academic and musical interest). It was, however, put down in musical score form along with the rest of the Psalter, and it has been arranged for Celtic harp accompaniment. I only have the melody-only score, a page of which follows (retouched first to aged newspaper tan, then to negative image blue):

Psalms 051 (Suzanne Haik-Vantoura), Retouched

Psalms 051 (Suzanne Haik-Vantoura), Retouched

I had the unique privilege of accompanying Gilles Tiar, Suzanne’s closest associate, in his home in Yavne, Israel, when I visited that country a few years ago. He said he didn’t do as well when trying to accompany himself on his small Celtic harp, so I filled in for him there. Mr. Tiar sings this music better than anyone else I know, and what he brought out of the most self-abasing of the Psalms of David is an experience I will never forget.

But for me, Psalms 130 has always been more meaningful as a Psalm of repentance, because it is more poetic (from my point of view, anyway) and because it is also more “musical for its own sake” in the original Hebrew. While David’s name isn’t attached, its style is consistent with his own – few indeed of the Psalmists (i.e., certain anonymous Sons of Korah) surpass him in melodic expression within the limits of the archaic musical system. The blending of words and melody, so characteristic of David – and unmatched by any other Psalmist, frankly – is perfect. Thankfully, SHV put this Psalm at the end of her Volume 2 recording, and here is the penultimate video version I made of it (the opening photo is take from the basic slides being used for the final version):

In his latest post – one of a series – Mr. Smith writes of “things too wonderful for me”. I suspect he got that phrase from the following verse…

(Psalms 139:6 NKJV) Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.

…but I think first of a similar verse in Psalm 131, which was recorded as Psalms 139 was not:

(Psalms 131:1 NKJV) A Song of Ascents. Of David. LORD, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me.
(Psalms 131:1 RSV) A Song of Ascents. Of David. O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

And so in tribute to “things too wonderful for me”, I end with this video of Psalms 131:

Blessed be the name of the Eternal forever and ever!

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Churches of God, Gilles Tiar, Hebrew Bible, Internet, Letteris Edition, Recordings, Scores, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos, WordPress, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments


2015-01-21 @ 12:30 CST

This extremely amateurish YouTube video is the first part of a series of short lectures I hope to give on the Semitic lyre, and especially those types called nevel and kinnor in the Bible. This is about the kinnor, which consistently was played with the bass strings nearest the player. If you were right-handed, the bass strings were on the left; if you were left-handed, the bass strings were on the right. Why was all this so? Because 1) the lyre player wanted to feel the resonance of the bass strings and 2) playing the lyre in this fashion allowed the body to be an additional resonator and thus make the lyre sound louder. You can actually hear the difference on the video.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Ancient Music, JRV Luthier, Luthiers, Lyre of the Moon, Lyres, Musicology, Nevel and Kinnor, Temple Instruments, Two Lyres and a Pipe, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


The Overtone Series (MBR English Book, p. 506)

The Overtone Series (MBR English Book, p. 506)

The Undertone Series (MBR English Book, p. 507)

The Undertone Series (MBR English Book, p. 507)

2015-01-06 @ 15:30 CST

This post is a “stub”, mostly to give Michael Levy of the UK something to chew on while I compile more information on the subject. These illustrations come from Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s English book (they are not part of the original French editions). Their relevance has to do with the nature of “just intonation” and which style lies behind the biblical Hebrew chant she rediscovered – indeed, with the whole question of which tuning is most “natural” in principle, and why. I will say more when I have more to say. :D [NOTE: The creator of the second diagram – not SHV or myself – put in G flat rather than A flat on the staff, and it slipped by everybody into the book. Alas.]

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Books, Michael Levy, Musical Systems, Science, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Tuning and Temperament | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment


Psalms 29:1 (Accents Only)

Psalms 29:1 (Accents Only)

2014-12-22 @ 12:00 CST

In my promotion of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s (SHV’s) awe-inspiring discovery – the “canonically inspired” music to which Hebrew Scripture was sung in antiquity – I inadvertently, and all too frequently, create a misunderstanding in my hearer’s minds. Here I’ll try to set the matter straight once and for all. Then, when the misunderstanding arises again, I can point them to this essay.

My title focuses on the Psalms, but what I discuss in fact covers the entirety of Hebrew-Christian Scripture. All of it – in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek – was meant to be read aloud in public or in private study, and all of it may be sung aloud (e.g., Psalms 119:54; Revelation 1:3, original Greek and some versions). There are two special notations which make this possible, and together, they comprise the most important part of the “canonically inspired reading tradition” of the original-language texts.

In Hebrew Scripture, there are twenty-four melodic accents by my count, as based on SHV’s own tables. (It is a bit misleading to say there are nineteen or twenty graphemes as she sometimes did, as some have more than one melodic meaning – as she herself brought out in due course.) In Greek Scripture, there are three vocal accents: the famous acute, grave, and circumflex accents (é, è, and ê). The same three vocal accents are found in printed editions of the Greek Septuagint version of the “Old Testament”, and also in Greek and Latin poems outside the biblical canon.

The Roman poet Cicero called the recitation of Greek and Latin texts according to the three vocal accents “obscure song” or “obscure chant” (translations vary). There are other examples of this sort of chant, notably the most ancient form of Vedic chant in India, which likewise uses three accents. Such music is the simplest form of “melogenic” music extant (see this essay by me for the definition).

But such music is hardly “art song”. Biblical Hebrew chant, by contrast, is “art song” – the most basic form we know of. All of the fundamental principles of “good music”, applied to a specific language for a specific purpose, are present in it. The more one studies the matter, directly and by comparison to music history and theory, the more one discovers the truth of this assertion.

What is the purpose, then? Biblical Hebrew chant is meant to lead us, not to our subjective understanding (definition 1) of what the words mean, but to the biblical authors’ objective understanding (definition 6) of what their words mean. It also conveys not only their personalities, but their circumstances, putting us “right there with them” in a way even modern filmmakers and actors can only dream of. That is why the music is “canonically inspired”, as no music we can create and attach to the Scriptures – however expressive, sophisticated, and valid in its own right – can be. And nowhere is all this more true than in the Psalms, which is why I focus on the Psalter here.

(For further clarity: I use “objective” and “subjective” the way psychologist Carl Jung did, and if I had my wish, the way everybody would use these words. An objective mental viewpoint directs its energy outward, toward the object; a subjective mental viewpoint directs its energy inward, toward the subject. This definition and distinction removes biases in discussion, as neither direction of mental energy is innately superior to the other and neither is any more or less apt to be misled than the other.)

But after we gain that objective understanding of Hebrew Scripture, then we can derive whatever subjective application suits us at the time, according to our own personalities and circumstances. That is what “art song” of whatever kind is for.

But this leads us to another question. As SHV underlined, this music cannot be transferred to other languages without destroying its original inspiration. That is why she forbade any such attempt during her lifetime. So are we all asked to take up biblical Hebrew in our musical worship and our daily Bible study – no easy task for most of us who, unlike religious Jews, have no experience with Hebrew at all?

Not at all. But to answer this question properly, some history must be put forward.

Because the Psalter speaks so much of people singing and performing on instruments (usually the Psalmist, but sometimes the whole earth), and because we are used to singing the Psalms as a “hymnal”, we naturally assume that the common people in Israel sang the Psalms. As far as the worship of the Temple went, no, they did not. The priests and Levites acted as intermediaries between God and the people – and that role went in both directions. In formal worship, at least as Chronicles and Ezra describe it, never do the people sing the Psalms or any other sacred text. Yes, they do respond with “Amen” and “Halleluyah”, and so far as we can see, melodically so – but the performance of the text as a whole was not given to them.

Now in the Song of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1ff) we find Moses and the Israelites singing, but in all likelihood the Israelites, once again, merely responded with short, powerful, easily learned verses (specifically verses 3 and 18). The rest was too sophisticated and too complex, surely, to be learned by 600,000 men and their families as quickly as the situation demanded. But a little later, we see Miriam modify Moses’ opening words and melody to a metrical “jig” and lead the women of Israel with timbrels and dances in its performance (verses 20-21). So we see a pattern set: formal worship in formal services, popular worship outside of formal contexts. This pattern continued through Israel’s and Judah’s history and still survives in some synagogue communities. No doubt portions of the Psalms and other texts were modified to fit the popular worship forms, and we see hints here and there of this being done in the biblical text itself (one possibility being the first several verses of Psalms 47).

It seems all the same that only in the Second Temple period, and that after the close of the Hebrew canon, did the Psalms really become the property of the people.  They would have been sung to very simple folk tunes – we may surmise – again just as in the oldest synagogues. This genre of music is what the early Jewish Christians would have heard by far the most frequently. Their visits to the Second Temple, as with the rest of the Jews, was occasional: at the appointed times of the Eternal in Leviticus 23, mostly. The folk music heard locally was, perforce, a wholly local and highly subjective phenomenon. It expressed the personal encounters with the text of those who created them, if in an emotive yet artless way (if the far-too-numerous, technically poor examples preserved by the oldest synagogues are any indication). This is the musical background out of which the original Jewish Christians were called.

Certainly the many priests who came into the early Church (Acts 6:7) brought with them knowledge of the ancestral melodic recitation of Hebrew Scripture. This may well account for the parallels between SHV’s discovery and certain features of Gregorian chant (even to melodic motifs and “tones”), which as an art form emerged much later in our written sources. But not everybody in the growing early Church spoke Hebrew, not even in the Land of Israel. The vernacular of the common people was Aramaic. Greek was also widely spoken. Outside Judea, Greek was the predominant language. The apostles wrote their epistles in Greek, and mostly to Greek-speaking audiences. Even in the synagogues where Jewish and Gentile Christians attended Sabbath services (cf. Acts 15:21), if and when texts were recited in biblical Hebrew, they were recited to “folk liturgies”, which had only aural memories of what was done in the Temple as brought home by pilgrims and perhaps Pharisaic teachers – all without direct access to the priestly “reading tradition”. Remnants of such folk liturgies still exist in the oldest Jewish communities.

Paul’s admonitions in the following verses draw upon three technical terms found in the Greek Septuagint Psalter, all referring to the Psalms properly speaking. Without categorically denying the singing of other biblical texts or the creation of new kinds of music – this would be unreasonable to assume (cf. the later, and quite singable, “true sayings worthy of acceptance” such as 2 Timothy 2:11-13)  – Paul basically advised, “Sing the Psalter”. How then were Greek-speaking Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile – and especially Gentile – to do it, or to sing any other biblical text for that matter?

(Ephesians 5:19 RSV) addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,
(Colossians 3:16 RSV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

This is where the Greek vocal accents come in. The original method gave a range of three notes, for example the equivalent of D#-E-F#. Unaccented syllables would be sung on E. The acute would raise the tune one degree on the accented syllable: to F#. The grave would lower the tune by one note on the accented syllable: to D#. The circumflex would combine both on the accented syllable: first F#, then D#, perhaps resolving in certain cases to E at the end. Not much of a tune, after all.

But the benefit of such “obscure song” in Greek is that it filled in what was missing in the intended meaning as given by the words alone, and that with high precision. Greek needs only three accents as opposed to twenty-four because Greek spells out what Hebrew and Aramaic only imply in context. So if one sung the Psalms in Greek this way, or anything from the whole Greek Septuagint or some other Greek version for that matter, one would have a decent objective understanding of what the words were about. And one could go further – as the evidence shows people did over time – and embellish the vocal accents with a more sophisticated melody, one which would focus on one’s own subjective experience of the text being sung.

Such a subjective experience is what most of us have been used to these past two millennia. We have had no concept that there might be an objective experience in sacred music, let alone considered what that might mean for us. It’s not that subjective experience is inferior to objective experience – that is a modern bias. And of course the bias can work the other way – as in fact it does in some religions, professing-Christian and otherwise. Sound theories of the human psyche see through such biases as through clear glass. So does the Bible itself, for that matter.

But when I was growing up, by age eight I was a poet-composer, and somewhere between eight and eleven I asked my Sunday school teacher(s) what the original music of the Psalms sounded like. No one could tell me. There are reasons I asked this. As a poet-composer, I knew full well that anything I attached to the Scriptures, in either Testament, would be my wholly subjective idea about what the words were about. I had no interest in my subjective ideas – or anyone else’s – about the Bible’s words. I wanted to know how the biblical authors considered their own words: “how they said what they said” under God’s direct inspiration. Only with the New Testament, generally, did I dare write a little original sacred music, for there much more of the inspired meaning is conveyed – even in English translation – by the words alone than in the Old Testament.

It has taken me many years to come to terms with what the New Testament era demands perforce of Christian musicians. God values the objective experience and the subjective experience alike – He designed both in our minds, after all. In Hebrew Scripture, He focuses on the objective experience. In Greek Scripture, perforce, He focuses on the subjective experience. He has His reasons for doing this; sacred music is just one more means of testing everyone’s hearts and spirits at different times in different ways.

The trouble comes mostly because we humans so easily confuse our personal values with God’s universal values (see this LCG Commentary by me for a discussion of this flaw in human thinking). The decision-making part of our minds which is so vulnerable to this confusion – our moral conscience, our “Jungian Introverted Feeling” – is the very same part which is responsible for the most basic part of our “music appreciation”. And therein lies the problem I have with much of what calls itself “contemporary Christian music (CCM)”, and most of historical Jewish and Christian liturgy too.

I often get the impression that when people describe their subjective experiences of the Psalms, and especially when they write and perform CCM, they have the attitude, “This is my subjective impression – my way of valuing the Psalms – and therefore it must be the ‘right’ way, or at least ‘the best’ way, of valuing them.” There are times, undoubtedly, when that is a false impression on my part, and to anyone I misjudge in that area, I apologize in advance. I also say to such people this: When I bring out what the objective meanings of the Psalms and other biblical Hebrew texts are, by presenting SHV’s music on video, it’s not to deny anybody‘s right to have a valid subjective experience either in hearing or in composition, with regard to other forms of sacred music. If they don’t confuse their personal values with God’s universal values, or deny God’s universal principles of “good music” for that matter, in the process – then more power to them. It’s what Paul’s admonitions would lead them to carry out. I’m not about to argue with Paul!

But the biggest plague on both Jewish and Christian sacred music, after the close of the Second Temple period, and especially since the Protestant Reformation, has always been that very attitude: “my subjective viewpoint is the only ‘right’ one, or at least is ‘the best’ one.” That’s why we need objective, God-inspired standards of comparison – and why I’m so profoundly grateful that after 1900 years to the year (70-1970 AD), we finally have such standards again. Not everybody can focus on them professionally as I do. We all have different gifts. But we can all learn something from the biblical examples. I wish that everyone were so willing, even among those who know that the biblical examples have been rediscovered. They are not – and modern musical worship, however well-meaning, however skillfully done, suffers to a greater or lesser degree because of that.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Churches of God, Ethos, Greek Scripture, Hebrew Bible, Melogenic, Melos, Metaphysics, Musicology, Religion, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Vocal Accents, Vocal Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Why Christians and “Worship” Teams Should Tune all Instruments to 432 hz and Abandon 440 hz

John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav):

I can neither affirm nor deny the accuracy of much that is said here; much leaves me in doubt (to say no more) without further cross-checking. [EDIT: I deliberately understated what I put here in the way I did so as to let readers make up their own minds. Having done some cross-checking, already I find a great deal of nonsense refuted in a very short space by two valuable essays.] But because the validity of A = 432Hz as a pitch standard is a topic closely related to my own research, and because a musician friend asked me to evaluate this blog, I repost it here for future reference.

Originally posted on The Story Behind The Story:

Why Christians and “Worship” Teams Should Tune to 432 hz and Abandon 440 hz

by A. True Ott, PhD

First of all, allow me to explain the current situation by exploring historical truths.  From the earliest history of instrumental music and “symphony”, we learn from archeological evidence uncovered primarily in the “fertile crescent” of ancient Ur of the Chaldees that the contemporaries of Father Abraham created specific musical instruments and tuned them to a “keynote” pitch of 432 hz.  A number of metallic “tuning triangles” have in fact been unearthed in modern-day Iraq, that were used to “tune” various stringed instruments to a keynote pitch of 432 hz – known today as “Concert A” pitch.

Early Chaldean "Tuning" Triangle - emitting 432 hz tone. Early Chaldean “Tuning” Triangle the original form of today’s “Tuning Forks” – emitting 432 hz tone.

Why did the early Chaldeans tune their various stringed instruments to 432 hz??   The biblical record explains the…

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Categories: Musicology | Tags: | 10 Comments


"I Am" (Exodus 20:2, With "Double Accentuation")

“I Am” (Exodus 20:2, With “Double Accentuation”)

2014-12-10 @ 10:15 CST

It’s taken so long to post a new video on my dedicated YouTube channel because I’m redoing all my old videos to include consonants, accents, vowels and other relevant markings from the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Also, in distinction from the above test video of Psalm 23 (which has a slight error or two in the pointing anyway), every slide will have one and only one Hebrew word on it, just as the graphic on top illustrates.

It is worth taking this time and care because these videos are meant to be teaching tools as well as for public demonstration. It is much easier for an audience which doesn’t know Hebrew or is learning it to follow word for word like this. Those who are musicians may be able to infer how the accents’ underlying musical system works from the progression of the accents, if they know what those signs are.

There are times when I wish I could do nothing else but devote myself to this music and its background – and never more than when I create the slideshows necessary to produce the new video series. It is an intense form of Bible study, all by itself. One sees something of why this command was given to kings in Israel in a day when there were no printing presses and when writing a complete text such as this was as much a form of self-teaching as of communication to others:

(Deuteronomy 17:18 RSV) “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in charge of the Levitical priests;
(Deuteronomy 17:19 RSV) and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them;
(Deuteronomy 17:20 RSV) that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left; so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Hebrew Bible, Letteris Edition, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos, YouTube | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments


What constituted a "melos" (SHV)

What constituted a “melos” (SHV)

2014-11-29 @ 11:00 CST

In an earlier post, “Was Ancient Greek Music ‘Melogenic’?”, I defined and discussed the concepts of logogenic, pathogenic and melogenic music. In the course of my discussion I cited Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (SHV), who cited a comment by a French author on ancient music regarding what Aristides Quintilianus had to say on the subejct of melos: a particular blending of melody, words, and rhythm, such as SHV documented so thoroughly for the biblical Hebrew chant she reconstructed.

Yesterday I stumbled across more information on the subject, which includes a fuller and usually a more exact translation of Aristides’ comments than was cited second-hand by SHV. In its article “Mode (music)”, Wikipedia has this subsection on the Greek concept of melos:

Some treatises also describe “melic” composition (μελοποιΐα), “the employment of the materials subject to harmonic practice with due regard to the requirements of each of the subjects under consideration” (Cleonides 1965, 35)—which, together with the scales, tonoi, and harmoniai resemble elements found in medieval modal theory (Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)). According to Aristides Quintilianus (On Music, i.12), melic composition is subdivided into three classes: dithyrambic, nomic, and tragic. These parallel his three classes of rhythmic composition: systaltic, diastaltic and hesychastic. Each of these broad classes of melic composition may contain various subclasses, such as erotic, comic and panegyric, and any composition might be elevating (diastaltic), depressing (systaltic), or soothing (hesychastic) (Mathiesen 2001a, 4).

According to Mathiesen, music as a performing art was called melos, which in its perfect form (μέλος τέλειον) comprised not only the melody and the text (including its elements of rhythm and diction) but also stylized dance movement. Melic and rhythmic composition (respectively, μελοποιΐα and ῥυθμοποιΐα) were the processes of selecting and applying the various components of melos and rhythm to create a complete work. Aristides Quintilianus:

And we might fairly speak of perfect melos, for it is necessary that melody, rhythm and diction [lexis] be considered so that the perfection of the song may be produced: in the case of melody, simply a certain sound; in the case of rhythm, a motion of sound; and in the case of diction, the meter. The things contingent to perfect melos are motion-both of sound and body-and also chronoi and the rhythms based on these. (Mathiesen 1983, 75).

But did Aristides really speak of dance movements alone, including stylized hand gestures involving dance alone, or did these gestures also involve chironomy of the sort which represented the melody, such as we find in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Etrusca, and thanks to long transmission down to medieval times, among the Hebrews as well? One comment from the ancient Greek literature (cited – somewhere! – by SHV) illustrates: the author didn’t know how to dance, but he did know how to “chironomize”. Again, this is often thought to have been in imitation of dance—but what if it were extracted by this author as a part of the dance, and as something which represented the melody to be sung or performed?

I am a total neophyte in ancient Greek music, asking these questions. “Run and find out” was Rikki-tikki-tavi’s motto, and it is also mine. Research is in progress…!

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Ancient Music, Melogenic, Melos, Metaphysics, Musicology, Vocal Music, Wikipedia | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments


2014-11-27 @ 11:15 CST

In the first post of this series, I discussed the coincidence – I say again, the coincidence – between what may be known of the “tonic pitch” used by ancient Israel and the referent called “Verdi’s A”: A = 432Hz. So far as I’m aware, Verdi recommended this pitch for vocalists for purely pragmatic reasons and used it himself for the same reasons. It is the arbitrary attachment of that pitch to conspiracy-theorist ideology on the one hand and to New Age philosophy on the other which may rightly be challenged.

A = 432Hz happens to be a Pythagorean major sixth above the referent for the “scientific just tuning” used by physicists, C = 256Hz. Somehow this is supposed to have some universal cosmic significance, even if in modern Western music – thanks to our “equal-tempered” scale – we can’t take advantage of the full power of that relationship. But then, why would we? Pythagorean tuning is optimized for plainchant and accompaniment by drone or organum, not for ancient heterophony, later polyphony or modern triadic harmony. It is the intense diatonic octave of Ptolemy, the “natural” tuning which has an objective physical basis in the overtone and undertone series, the “just tuning” of modern science and the tuning behind Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s discovery, which should have a relationship with A = 432Hz if there is any Great, Mathematical and Universal Cosmic Significance behind that referent pitch. :D

As it happens, the “default pitch” of the silver trumpets of Numbers 10 – bearing in mind all the margins for error, “fudge factors”, assumptions about Josephus’ testimony and variations in results due to temperament, altitude and so forth –  is a diatonic perfect fifth (E = 648Hz) above A = 432Hz to three significant digits. That last bit of precision naturally is specious if taken too far, precisely because of the variables involved. But I believe the coincidence illustrates something which – so far as I know – was also true of Verdi: the referent pitch in ancient Israel was chosen due to wholly pragmatic reasons which have to do with how vocalists sing most naturally.

Leaving aside whatever historical fancy and ideology John Sigerson may state in the beginning of the above video, it is his pragmatic demonstration of how referent pitch affects performance which is instructive. “Verdi’s A” does seem to be optimized for the bel canto style which Verdi promoted, as A = 440Hz is not. This is why such a long list of vocalists have backed the movement for A = 432Hz: not because they support the ideology necessarily, but because singing at this lower “classical pitch” makes practical sense. It isn’t difficult to find on YouTube videos giving testimony by vocalists on this matter, if one knows what questions to ask of the search engine.

But consider the possible corollary: does the use of a particular referent pitch in connection with bel canto singing mean that, contrary to much of what we see hinted at in the Ancient Near East and surviving today in the same region, biblical Hebrew chant was meant to be sung in something like the bel canto style, with a wholly “natural” but warm vocal tone color and with brilliance only as it “came naturally” to support the words at just the right times?

I believe so. And I suspect that Suzanne Haik-Vantoura believed so as well, even if she recommended eventually – on the basis of the following testimony as she had it in French – a vocal style which was “vibrant, yet without vibrato“.

(Sirach 50:18 KJV-1611) The singers also sang praises with their voices, with great variety of sounds was there made sweete melodie.
(Sirach 50:18 RSVA) And the singers praised him with their voices in sweet and full-toned melody.
(Sirach 50:18 Brenton) The singers also sang praises with their voices, with great variety of sounds was there made sweet melody.
(Sirach 50:18 LXX) καὶ ᾔνεσαν οἱ ψαλτῳδοὶ ἐν φωναῖς αὐτῶν, ἐν πλείστῳ ἤχῳ ἐγλυκάνθη μέλος·

The last word in the Greek is melos. According to Aristides as cited by SHV, in Greek vocal music the melody, the words and the rhythm had to be perfect so that the melos would be perfect – so it was not merely a matter of what we call “melody” today being involved.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Ancient Music, Historically Informed Performance, Internet, Melogenic, Melos, Metaphysics, Musical Systems, Musicology, Philosophy, Referent Pitch, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, Vocal Music, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Codex Calixtinus (12th Century)

John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav):

Some background on early music… as Suzanne Haik-Vantoura observed, both chironomy and written notation became much less efficient than their ancient counterparts were, and so new solutions had to be found in time (namely the stages to our modern staff notation).

Originally posted on Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting:

Also known as the Book of St. James (Liber sancti Jacobi)

The Codex Calixtinus is dedicated to the apostle James the Greater and contains a huge assortment of music from the 12th century. It was commissioned by Pope Calistis II (also Calixtus II, 1065-1124), who was pope from 1119-1124. The collection was completed around 1137 or soon after 1139. You can still see it without going to Spain because a complete edition in three volumes was published by Walter Muir Whitehill and Dom Germain Prado in 1931. This modern edition includes facsimiles, notes, and transcriptions of all the musical parts of the manuscript. (I want this. Please take up a collection and buy this for me. I didn’t find it on Amazon.) In 1922, the music alone was transcribed and published by Peter Wagner. (I would also be very happy to have this. Also not listed on…

View original 2,122 more words

Categories: So Nice I Blogged It Twice | 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 (see this YouTube video) 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 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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