Friday 31 August 2012

A review on translation - Saadia Gaon

Biblical Translation in the Making: The Evolution and Impact of Saadia Gaon's Tafsr
Steiner, Richard C.

This one is a great review to read - even if you only read the review. Debate over translation is not new to our time. You might recall this blog post on Genesis 1:1 among others - here is a perspective on it from 1200 years ago
For example, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen 1:1) becomes: “The first of what God created was heaven and earth…” in the Tafsīr, which reflects Hunayn b. Ishạ̄q’s choice of translation.Steiner argues that the classic understanding of “In the beginning…” supports the Aristotelian view that time was uncreated, which was untenable to Saadia, and with this one bold stroke  he  irrevocably  broke  with  prior  traditional literal translations.
Cool! I doubt that "In the beginning" supports Aristotle's uncreated time. But for me, it's the brief insight into polemics from a distant time that is intriguing.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Project milestone

Friends, I have delivered my manuscript Seeing the Psalter to the publisher. After 6 months of proofing, and 4 months of critical input from my wife, Diana, we have a manuscript. Based on my last post on this in June - it took three months to edit the last four books of the Psalter, Psalms 42-150. The book is 10 pages shorter and has several thousand minor improvements in brush strokes. Less is often more. I eliminated the Greek and Latin from the text. Hebrew and English are an adequate complexity. I have added a 2 page excursus on Music in the Psalms based on the te'amim of the Hebrew text. The te'amim are a compact musical score according to the theory of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. Note Jonathan Wheeler's post on the problems with the te'amim in the manuscripts.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Psalm 150 - the music of the te'amim

I developed this score from deciphering the te'amim in an edition of the TNK from my friend and choir director, dated 1946 and belonging to her husband.The signs are different from the other editions I have. This one is by Max Me`ir Halevi Letteris. Yea - I found one. It is difficult to deal with the signs electronically. I wonder if I can get a keyboard that will do it...  I reverted to extended decimal html to get these right. I also obeyed as best I could the instruction to use syllable rhythm. So don't interpret the time signatures woodenly. I think for our choir, I would use an antiphonal approach as noted. Maybe also have some cymbals and a trumpeter.

Why E minor - what about E major?  It works both ways. I then checked my transcription against this performance.

Sunday 12 August 2012

The textual problem

I have compared the leteris edition (for get the spelling) with other editions of the Hebrew text that I have - and with respect to the music, it is different.

Psalm 150:2 Letteris: הַ֭לְלוּהוּ בִגְבֽוּרֹתָ֑יו    הַ֝לְל֗וּהוּ כְּרֹ֣ב גֻּדְלֽוֹ
Psalm 150:2 others: הַֽלְל֥וּהוּ בִגְבֽוּרֹתָ֑יו    הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ כְּרֹ֣ב גֻּדְלֽוֹ׃

How then can one tell which markings to use? The punctuation and melodic inferences in the markings are a highly compact system with little or no redundancy. That makes them highly subject to being miscopied. That will give me something to do over the next 7 years.

What should a volume on music contain - text, cd, examples of musical reception history, various forms of chanting over the last 20 centuries???

For now - my usual random research methods...

My easy cheat-sheet for the te-amim

This is a really quick summary of the basic scales and ornamentation of the te'amim as far as I understand it so far. What remains subject to non-specific textual elements are things like rhythm and mode - i.e. which notes might or might not have accidentals.  

You can see at a glance that the prose ornamentation is more elaborate than the poetic, even for the same sign. This morning, after reading the lesson in English, I sang the last verse of 2 Samuel 18. David's lament over Absalom is prose. Yesterday's version used the poetic ornaments. In performance I corrected them to prose ornaments.

Prose applies to all Biblical books except Psalms, Proverbs, and the speeches of Job, all of which use the poetic markings.  I think the names are troublesome for there is much more poetry in the Bible than in these three books.  Perhaps the names should be the elaborate and the sparse

update: I added the numbers above to enable typing these symbols in extended html - so e.g. the Beth with a squiggle on it is this ampersand, #, 1489, ; ampersand, #, 1454, (or 1432) and it looks like this: ב֮ or ב֘ depending where you want the squiggle. Note 1450 is missing - discovered in the last stages of testing a program to draft the music automatically (unicode to xml translation).
update: I added the shortest names I could find so these can be referred to in text. Note that the tifha provides a cadence after an oleh - called oleh ve-yered, rising and falling.

Pashta is the prose version of qadma. They have differing placement. ב֙ ב֨ I will replace this eventually with a table reconciling the coding and the text of Wickes (1881, 87).


Friday 10 August 2012

Sunday's reading

I am reading 2 Samuel - a few verses from chapter 18 containing the lament of David over the death of Absalom - a verse set to favorite musical settings by Tomkins and Weelkes.
 Here is my reading of the te'amin for this verse.

David's Lament on the Death of Absalom, his son
 from 2 Samuel 19:1[E 18:33] sung here

Thursday 9 August 2012

Learning the te'amim

John Wheeler has posted a response to my exercise of writing a score based on Mme. Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's method of interpreting the te'amim, the cantillation signs in the Hebrew Bible.  My initial request to John was to discover the information needed to learn to sight-read these very condensed signs as if they were a readable musical score. I am reasonably confident that this is possible.

Although I set the prior work in a triple meter, I expect the music is more like traditional plainsong than a chant of fixed rhythm.

I will study and compare what John has posted. I see that Mechon-Mamre also has a full text with cantillation online here.

Music from the te-amim

A week ago, I determined to learn something of the te-amim. I cannot name them yet - too many people to meet at once, but I can begin to read the music they describe.The full score of my transcription is above.  It does not completely agree with that of David Mitchell. It could be that some of the signs are missing in my Tanakh due to textual variations. Also I decided to write in a triple rhythm, especially since I think this psalm may have been written by a child (for the utter simplicity of its recurrence structure).

Word and gloss * first usage1234567891012345VsRoot
ישׂראל Israel
יעקב Jacob
ישׂראל Israel
הים the sea
* וינס and withdrew
* הירדן the Jordan
יסב was surrounded
לאחור from behind
ההרים the hills
* רקדו skipped
כאילים like rams
* גבעות hillocks
כבני like -kin
צאן lamb-
הים sea
* תנוס you withdrew
* הירדן Jordan
תסב that you were surrounded
לאחור from behind
ההרים hills
* תרקדו that you skipped
כאילים like rams
* גבעות hillocks
כבני like -kin
צאן lamb-
מלפני from the presence of
מלפני from the presence of
יעקב Jacob
מים waters
מים waters

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Psalm tunes?

It has been suggested that the inscriptions in the Psalms may bear the names of tunes or modes. As a test, I wondered how many there are and if they would map to the 7 modes inherent in the theory of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura.  Maybe each named psalm provides a type to be chosen for the psalms that have no such inscription?  Possibly there are only 7 'tunes' in the list below. Thoughts?

Psalms 4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76, בנגינות on strings
Psalm 5, אֶל הַנְּחִילוֹת, on the flutes
the above may be related to real instruments - i.e. not the name of a tune

Psalms 6, 12, עַל הַשְּׁמִינִית over octaves
possibly referring to a drone

1 Psalms 8, 81, 84, עַל הַגִּתִּית on musing
2 Psalm 9, עַל מוּת לַבֵּן on death of the son
3 Psalm 22, עַל אַיֶּלֶת הַשַּׁחַר to the hart of the dawn

Psalm (39, 62,) 77, עַל יְדוּתוּן (for) on Jeduthun
maybe always a person

4 Psalms 45, 60 (singular), 69, 80, עַל שֹׁשַׁנִּים on lilies
5 Psalms 53, 88, עַל מָחֲלַת in illness
6 Psalm 56, עַל יוֹנַת אֵלֶם רְחֹקִים on the dove dumbed by distance
7 Psalms 57, 58, 59, 75, אַל תַּשְׁחֵת do not destroy

After completion of a detailed study of the reconstructed music of all the psalms, perhaps this will be an answerable question.

Interpreting the chironomy of Psalm 13

I found a font that displays the te'amim.  This is a long-winded exercise.  There are probably some slips of the finger...

Without using a staff, here's my first interpretation of the signs. I assumed E minor (always start on the tonic, in this case the second note). SHV has an occasional A# in her interpretation and also additional 'ornaments' based on signs that are not in my Tanakh. 

The absolute scale is D#, E, F#, G, A(#), B, c - seven notes only. In my transcription, x=ch, c=ts. Try the English words to the Hebrew notes. Stay on the note indicated by the sign under the word (see prior post) until the note changes. 

The signs over the words, interpreted in my adhoc notation below as smaller letters, are relative to the current note. I likely should not think of them as 'ornaments' but more like a flexus relative to the current note. Consider the whole in a plainsong pulse (not swallowing any syllables) - but as David Mitchell notes, there is no reason not to impose a rhythm. 

Psalm 13
לַמְנַצֵּ֗חַ מִזְמֹ֥ור לְדָוִֽד׃
For the leader A psalm of David 
lamna-ce-ax mizmor leDavid

עַד־אָ֣נָה יְ֭הוָה תִּשְׁכָּחֵ֣נִי נֶ֑צַח
How long please יהוה will you forget me? Perpetually?
ad-anah Adonai tishkaxeni ? necax?

עַד־אָ֓נָה תַּסְתִּ֖יר אֶת־פָּנֶ֣יךָ מִמֶּֽנִּי׃
How long please will you hide your face from me?
ad-anah tastyr et-paneyka mimeni?
SHV interprets the ornament as a rising semitone scale to A natural

עַד־אָ֨נָה אָשִׁ֪ית עֵצֹ֡ות בְּנַפְשִׁ֗י
How long please must I impose advice on myself
ad-anah a-shyt e-cot bnaf-shi

יָגֹ֣ון בִּלְבָבִ֣י יֹומָ֑ם
sadness in my heart by day?
ya-gun bilvavi yomam
I asked John Wheeler about the second munach. Here is his explanation: "It's very common for munach to repeat itself, everywhere in Hebrew Scripture (in some few verses of prosodia, quite a few times in one verse), just as silluq can repeat itself up to three times on a word (cf. the end of Psalms 96 for one example). It's important not to confuse the presence of munach with a focus on munach. Remember, there's a hierarchy of functions in these signs: 
1) Indicates the melodic line 
2) Indicates the syntax (the same sign accordingly, like munach, can take on a disjunctive or conjunctive role in some cases) 
3) Indicates the verbal rhythm (directly or indirectly) 

So first the sustained note is indicated by the first munach. But that one is conjunctive (it joins words syntactically). The second is disjunctive (it divides words) and also marks the accented syllable. This notation is highly abbreviated - unlike the Greek alphabetical notation, not every syllable has to be marked. And unlike some other notations, there is no need for special rhythmic or stress signs either. Its basis in chironomy (hand-gestures) explains these features and others very well."

עַד־אָ֓נָה יָר֖וּם אֹיְבִ֣י עָלָֽי׃
How long please will my enemy be exalted over me?
ad-anah yarum oi-vi a-lai?

הַבִּ֣יטָֽה עֲ֭נֵנִי יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֑י
Take note - answer me יהוה my God
habitah anneni Adonai elohi

הָאִ֥ירָה עֵ֝ינַ֗י פֶּן־אִישַׁ֥ן הַמָּֽוֶת׃
Light my eyes lest I be dead asleep
ha-ir-ah einai pen ishan hamavet
SHV has two additional zarqa (turns) on the opening ha and on ishan (asleep).  

פֶּן־יֹאמַ֣ר אֹיְבִ֣י יְכָלְתִּ֑יו
lest my enemy say, I have overpowered him
pen-yo-mar oi-vi yekal-tiv

צָרַ֥י יָ֝גִ֗ילוּ כִּ֣י אֶמֹּֽוט׃
My foes will re-joice for I will be moved

וַאֲנִ֤י בְּחַסְדְּךָ֣ בָטַחְתִּי֮ 
But I in your kindness I have trusted
There is a vertical bar (legarmeh) after ve-ani in my Tanakh, and a disjunction right at the turn of the zarqa.

יָ֤גֵ֥ל לִבִּ֗י בִּֽישׁוּעָ֫תֶ֥ךָ
My heart will rejoice in your salvation
missing the ole from my earlier chart

אָשִׁ֥ירָה לַיהוָ֑ה כִּ֖י גָמַ֣ל עָלָֽי׃
I will sing to יהוה for he has matured me

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Initial thoughts on the te'amim

Wikipedia is surely as confusing as possible on this subject.  I have printed but not yet read an essay by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. Here is my initial summary of the signs, the names, their supposed role in the text, the role of the signs under the words in the music and the role of the signs above the words. There may be some differences in the poetry and prose that I am ignoring in SHV's thesis at the moment.  Just learning at this stage.  Hit ctrl+ to enlarge. Con = con junctive, dis = dis junctive, I=Independent disjunctive - whatever that means. At the moment I don't see much help in these terms, apart from the obvious verse and half-verse markers.  (Something does not support the Unicode for this, so I have had to use an image). More official interpretive chart here.

Ornamentation is relative to the current note that the singer is on - I have shown it with B as example.

Monday 6 August 2012

Next project

If one can write a book on Seeing the Psalter, would it not be necessary then to write one on Hearing the Psalter? Perhaps I will be able to. I have begun reading about the te'amim, those symbols in the text of the Bible that have been taken as ultra punctuation and as chironomic signs indicating the music to be performed. I won't try and say much in my first notes except to point to some confirmation of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's method of deciphering the music in the signs. Here is David Mitchell's brief confirming article - a quick read and to my mind answering many of my early questions.

My initial impression is that the regular signs such as are in Genesis, define an 8-note harmonic minor scale designated by the cantillation marks below the words, with additional ornamentation around the current note of the scale indicated by the cantillation marks above the words. The signs that are in the speeches of Job, the Psalms and the Proverbs indicate a 7-note modal scale (below the words) with variations, possibly indicated by the inscriptions, and also ornamentation for the marks above the words.

This month I will review the psalms to check my own subjective assessments of phrasing against these markings.

You will find pointers to performances here on John Wheeler's new blog.

Earlier posts on this will be found from my Oxford conference page.