Friday, January 9, 2015

Surface contradictions and similarities

Here are some notes (and pictures of notes). 

Traditional cantillation and that proposed by Suzanne Haik Vantoua are incompatible in some respects and yet have similar results and objectives in others.

On the surface
  1. SHV associates a single musical meaning with each sign. The traditional varies the meaning for various reasons, by day of the year, between prose and poetry books, between Torah and Haftarah, and so on. But some association with notes is evident. It will take me about 6 months to get sufficient data to explore the differences in more detail with examples.
  2. SHV recognizes the possibility that the 8 sublinear signs are a scale. This concept leads to the idea of a current reciting note. The traditional does not recognize a distinction between sublinear and supra-linear and does not have the idea of a reciting note. Both systems have melismatic interpretations of some signs. 
  3. SHV uses the resulting music to parse the text. The traditional uses the signs as conjunctive or disjunctive punctuation to parse the text. Both agree on the major disjunctions. SHV shows them to be cadences. My bias is this: "describing a musical line as a series of conjunctive and disjunctive points in a phrase is a very complex way of describing something one should hear." I am also biased in terms of a design paradigm based on Occam's razor - less is more.
  4. Both systems recognize that the signs are old, but the SHV theorists note that there is no knowledge of when the signs originated. Jacobson (page 13) assumes without evidence that both sets of signs were 'introduced' by the Ben Asher school. Yet he also notes that chironomy was known as early as 350 CE: R. Akiba says, "because one points with [the right hand] to the accents in the scroll" (b. Ber 62a.) So - the signs cannot have been introduced by the Ben Asher school.
  5. Both systems recognize the beauty and adornment of music.
  6. Traditional chanting passed on by oral means has preserved Tonus Peregrinus. Jacobson illustrates this with an image of Sephardic chant and Gregorian chant (Figure 1.7 below). 

The blind application of SHV's rules by my computer program produces a surprisingly similar tune (see this post for a full pdf) but with more variation than the Anglican chant in the Canadian Psalter of 1963 which is of course the same tune. Does that seem a coincidence? That such a tune - itself so singable - might have been reproduced through the generations by oral tradition in both Jewish and Christian communities and then turn up as a consequence of applying a set of rules derived by induction from these ancient marks - though how ancient we do not know.
It raises an important question that is a weakness in SHV's rules: Point 2 above is strong for the sublinear accents, but the ornaments (as she calls them), the supra-linear accents seem somewhat arbitrary in her scheme. Perhaps there are hints yet to come from the base data of the text and from traditional tunes.

Various opinions and scholars I have found on the subject online.

Mitchell in his still to be published work on the Songs of Ascent refers to 19th and 20th century theory re te'amim. William Wickes, Franz Delitzsch, A.Z. Idelsohn (1882–1938), Robert Lachmann (1892–1939), R. Flender (1992).

Jacobson - (The Complete Guide to the Art of Cantillation, 2002) references medieval Christian scholars who published theory on the te'amim. Johannes Reuchlin, Caspar Ammam, Sebastian Munster (who appears to have translated Genesis to Kings from Hebrew into Latin), and Johannes Vallensis. The source for the notation (image above) was Johannes Boeschenstein (1472-1540).

Jacobson says "Jews continued to transmit the melodies orally" until the 19th century. Then he mentions Isaac Nathan (London 1823) Samuel Naumbourg (Paris 1847) Salomon Sulzer (Vienna 1865) Abraham Baer (Goteborg, Sweden 1877) and Israel M. Japhet (Frankfurt am Main 1896.) He also notes the 20th century scholars overlapping with Mitchell: Solomon Rosowsky, The Cantillation of the Bible,  Abraham Z. Idelson, Thesaurus of Oriental Hebrew Melodies, and Jewish Music in Its Historical Development, (good introduction to accents here beginning on page 68 or so), Hanoch Avenary, The Ashkenazi Tradition of Biblical Chant between 1500 and 1900, Eric Werner, The Sacred Bridge. From which this quote:
"The reader chanted the pericope of the day in a manner determined by the rigid tradition prescribed by the ecphonetic accents of the Masoretic text of the Bible. This cantilktion is called trop (Greek: tropos, mode, fashion) or ngina (melody). The ecphonetic signs are called taamim in Hebrew. Theirs is a threefold purpose: (1) To provide the scriptural text with a most elaborate punctuation, both syntactic and logical. Practically every word bears one of these punctuating signs. (2) They indicate the cantilktion, according to specific rules which determine the mode of the musical setting. (3) They point out the syllable to be accentuated in accordance with the rules of Hebrew grammar as they were known to the Masoretes and grammarians from the fifth to the tenth century A.D."
Accents is the generic name for the te'amim. Idelson associates three common signs with the acute, grave, and circumflex of Greek usage. These signs have almost completely lost their musical meaning in languages like French, if indeed they should even be connected. They are, in French, pronunciation guides or indicate a lacking 's'. (At least that is what I was taught many years ago). Idelson also assumes that Ben Asher invented the system of signs. That seems highly unlikely. Alternatives include that he inherited them from the oral tradition, or he was given a manuscript that included the signs from another source.

Werner is careful with his origins to say that the accents received "the final codification about A.D. 850" (p 105).
"Many nations and languages knew of the 'Ur-accents* (acute, circumflex, grave) and their function to indicate the inflexion of the voice: inirium, colon, period. Fleischer has shown that these primitive accents were known to Greeks, Romans, Hindus, Armenians, Syrians, Jews, etc. Whether they are derivatives from a common root is all but impossible to determine, in spite of Fleischer's insistence on such a hypothesis."
Werner's text is full of suggestive history reaching back to the first century and beyond with one ninth century Rabbi saying "the scriptural accents with the melodies of cantillation were given to us on Mount Sinai". That places preparation and reading of these accents in an important place - so that we might not simply be reading חֻקִּים לֹא טֹובִים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים לֹא יִֽחְיוּ בָּהֶֽם " statutes that are not good and judgments we should not live by" Ezekiel 20:25 cited in b. Meg. 32a.

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