Psalms 114 (Melody-Only Score)


Psalms 114 (Letteris Edition)

Psalms 114 (Letteris Edition)

11:11 PM 8/9/2012

Recently I was contacted by the author of this blog post, who’s been asking me for help in learning the method Suzanne Haik-Vantoura inferred as the “deciphering key” (her words, and good ones) for the te`amim (טעמים). As he posted his first effort to write Psalms 114 into score form, I thought it would be easiest just to convert my PDF copy of SHV’s own score into JPG files and post the pages for comparison here.

First, I give here the original Hebrew base text: Psalms 114 as found in the Letteris Edition. (I have PDFs of all the Psalms as photocopied from an all-Hebrew printing made somewhere in Europe. I used one of the photocopies, which splits the Psalm into two parts across two pages, as the source of the above graphic. Not all of the photocopying flaws could be removed.)

Psalm 114 (Bob MacDonald)

Psalm 114 (Bob MacDonald)

Above we have Bob MacDonald’s first attempt at writing a score based on Mme. Haik-Vantoura’s key. Below we have Mme. Haik-Vantoura’s own score:

Psalms 114 - Page 1

Psalms 114 – Page 1

Psalms 114 - Page 2

Psalms 114 – Page 2

SHV inferred that this Psalm (given its structure) was sung throughout by alternating small choirs. There is an arrangement I can infer that could bring out the sense of the words even better: alternating small choirs for the first six verses, then the full chorus on the last two verses (first loud, then comparatively soft). This is the arrangement that SAVAE (San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble) used in their arrangement of one of the old synagogue melodies used for this very Psalm (as found on this recording).

In my opinion this Psalm could have been sung by boys’ voices such as we know were used in at least Second Temple times to “sweeten the tone”, most likely joined by the regular men’s chorus on the last two verses. Also in my opinion, this Psalm is too subtle to be composed by a child as Mr. MacDonald thinks (more than youthful genius is required, so is spiritual maturity – nothing less could balance both the innocence and the depth in the faith expressed!), but to be presented largely by and for children is quite another matter.

SHV’s transcription technique, fully developed by the time the scores of the Psalms were published, is worth discussing.

  • First, the Hebrew is transcribed into French characters and with a simplified pronunciation with regard to some of the vowels (particularly the diverse sorts of “e” vowels).
  • In the French transcription, with the sole exception of certain Divine names, only letters which receive double force in their pronunciation are capitalized.
  • Next, she gives the te`amim in their printed positions above and below the words and syllables (in some Psalms, even to the point of being over-scrupulous where the original typesetting was flawed with regard to position or even kind of sign used).
  • Next, every note demanded by the te`amim, no more and no less according to her inferred rules of interaction, is transcribed onto the modern staff, with E taken as the conventional tonic.
  • Finally, those notes that are explicitly accented by the te`amim are transcribed with white heads and are sung with an explicit accent, in addition to the “arched dynamics” that rises and falls with the pitch of the notes within each verse.

This score, along with all the other texts transcribed by SHV (some 5,000 verses or about 1/4th of Hebrew Scripture), is available along with much else on THE BIBLICAL CHANT LIBRARY DVD-ROM. For further information, please contact this author.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)


Categories: Hebrew Bible, Letteris Edition, Psalmodia, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Psalms 114 (Melody-Only Score)

  1. When I see some of the things that you do it amazes me. My brain would not know where to begin. I do however appreciate the efforts that you put forth in this music of the bible. I do enjoy listening to them. Thank you

  2. The questions that occur to me are several – and I can live with them while I study many more psalms.
    1. rhythm. I am very used to plainsong and Anglican chant and their differences, and I can now hear word rhythm and pulse in the Hebrew.
    2. Where an appogiatura or melisma begins and ends will become easier to see as I get more practice.
    3. the differences in texts are critical. E.g. here the missing silluq on Yaacov in verse 1 puts my transcription off by a tone. in online resources, Mechon-mamre has the correct silluq. Blue-Letter Bible is missing it. My Tanakh’s (Kittel 1937) and Snaith (? British and Foreign Bible Society, no date) are both missing the silluq as is Kohlenberger’s Comparative Psalter (2007 Oxford),

    Re the ‘child’ in Psalm 114 – my comment was not meant to be too lighthearted. This psalm is not childish but continues the focus on Judah begun in Psalm 48 and emphasized in Psalm 78. Yet the psalm has a childlike quality in the application of the technique of recurring sounds. This is evident from the table of recurring words in my post. I have taught Hebrew letters to children as young as 5 using the acrostics. These letter-games are another element of play, even though the Psalter is more like a grand opera than a child’s song.

    John – your interaction on this subject has been like an intensive University course. Thank you again.

    • John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

      You ain’t seen NUTHIN’ yet. :D

      • Thanks so much for providing the notation for this beautiful music, John! I have just recorded a version of it on my lovely Marini Made evocation of the Biblical Kinnor, in the just intonation tuning you so kindly gave me – & for the 1st time ever, with vocal accompaniment! Enjoy:

      • John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

        Next time, try it in the written scale: E-F#-G#-A-B-C#! :D As it is, you have it in the default minor mode, with G and C natural. But it’s nice to hear your singing voice accompanying something at last!

      • John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

        If I had the recording capacity, I’d produce a version of my own using my own Marini lyre… if I figure out a means, I will. Meanwhile, I could come up with a MIDI or MP3 file…

  3. I have posted a revised transcription here.

  4. John – I have a Letteris Edition – and the differences in Psalm 150 illustrate how much of a problem the text is.

    • John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

      Yes, most editions to a greater or lesser extent revise the accentuation according to the grammatical rules that were inferred after the notation first appeared, in order to make the tradition more like one or another scribe thought it “should be”. Psalms 150 is a striking example of what happens under these conditions. The Letteris Text, the least “conservative” according to these rules, is actually by far the most melodically sound under SHV’s key in that Psalm.

      This is why it’s important to establish where the Letteris Text came from – and why the hasty conclusions even of Masoretic scholars on that subject have proven so counterproductive.

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