Friday, May 23, 2014

Pondering the music in the Decalogue

The use of the te'amim in Exodus 20, the 10 commandments, is quite different from every other section of Scripture that I have looked at so far. There is a great density of ornamentation, a frequent use of two reciting notes on one syllable, and equally frequent use of an ornament on a change of reciting note, creating an accented appoggiatura that gives unexpected character to the passage.

There are a number of questions that Suzanne Haik-Vantoura treats differently. If one has both a change of reciting note and an ornament on a syllable, which one takes precedence? She sounds the change of reciting note before the ornament. This may smooth things out, but it is not necessarily the only possible decision.

[programming troubles]
My program does some things now that I cannot easily explain! That is because I am dealing with the vaguaries of Hebrew transcription and syllabification into Latin characters concurrently with deciding the reciting note and the ornaments. Also I have to deal with the limits of my ability to hack out the computer programming in Oracle PL/SQL and the limits of the language of Music XML and the ways in which it interferes with itself in a particular XML reader. For instance the tag replaces a prior tag rather than interpreting both. And in Musescore this causes a confusion of tuples and slurs! So I have had to number these without going too high or the program crashes. Because Musescore does not adjust breath-marks correctly when copying, I have decided to replace the breath mark with a rest. That corrected the conflict, but upset my syllable counter! and also I noted that some recitations exceed my maximum bar length of 24 beats so giving a false reading of the maximum recitation length (sometimes). 24 beats is the width of two horses drawing a chariot - so I don't dare make the bar risk exceeding the page width.

If you ever use my XML transcriptions, be prepared to fix a few things manually. For instance yom is one syllable but if you add a change in reciting note and an ornament, I will interpret it as two syllables. [I do hope to fix this.] Sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish a mater from a vav as consonant. Especially when the character string is 28 characters long instead of the expected 14 (operating in extended html).
[end programming troubles]

I am impressed actually with the way the program handled this complexity. It only took 2 days to figure out which language processor (transcription, XML, Musescore, or me) was the trouble maker.

Now for the musical issues - there are so many. Here's the picture: the down arrows show where there are accented ornaments on a change in reciting note - highly unusual anywhere else in the 250 sections of Scripture I have looked in so far. The ovals show where I need to change the program to allow longer melismas on a single syllable. At present I have truncated melismas longer than a triplet (except for the qarne-talsha combination which has length of 6 notes). The pentagons show where two reciting notes are marked on a single syllable. Very rare in those 250 sections of music that I have seen so far. Verse 11 is like other passages. You can see I have included no special markings in the image.

Tell me what you think of these differences. If unique, this would surely represent a musical comment on the text. Full PDF with English underlay here. Another post on this subject is here.