Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sequences of accents in the Hebrew Bible

It has come to my attention from both Jacobson and other writers that there is a pairing of accents in their theory of how they work. Possibly this is true, but it is better I think to ask another question. In how many ways can one approach a cadence? (For them, to be fair, they speak in terms of relative length of pause, a concept similar to a cadence.)

I read for example, the claim here by Raymond de Hoop who seems to have written extensively on the accents, this sentence: So, for example, an atnach is preceded by tifcha; zaqef is preceded by pashta, etc. And he presents Exodus 15:3 as his text:
יְהוָ֖ה אִ֣ישׁ מִלְחָמָ֑ה
יְהוָ֖ה שְׁמֽוֹ
In this case the atnach ^ is preceded by the munah and that is preceded by tifcha, there is neither zaqef nor pashta in this example. I assume he is not then talking about immediate precedence. He goes on to present Exodus 15:12:
נָטִ֙יתָ֙ יְמִ֣ינְךָ֔ תִּבְלָעֵ֖מוֹ אָֽרֶץ
Here there are a pair of pashta preceding a zaqef.

He is to make an important point and ask a specific question as he puts the parallelism in the Song of the Sea in line with the use of the accents. His third example is verse 8, logically a tricolon, but from a cadential point of view, a bicolon.

His fourth example is verse 16, showing equivalence of accents through mutual subordination (what a strange way to describe music.) Here is how he puts it:
In this case atnach marks the end of a bicolon and is of similar strength as silluq and zaqef is thus subordinated to silluq and atnach. In the previous examples atnach was subordinated to silluq and thus not of similar strength to silluq and consequently did not belong to the same grade...
Now this, Edward Bear would say, is Hard-to-Follow for a layperson in Hebrew. In fact most of you have given up on that paragraph.

So now to my question: how many ways can you approach a rest, i.e., in these cases, the major rest point in the prose books (even though this chapter is poetry, it is not using the accentuation of the Psalms).

The music is below. If you can read music, you will see how many differing ways that the mid-point of the verse is approached. I have seen many: E-F-G#-A, D-F-G#-A, E-G#-B-A, E-B-A, E-B-G#-A, E-A!, and several other variations.

So it is not that "an atnach is preceded by tifcha", but that the rest on A (effectively the subdominant) is preceded, often immediately by or a note or two, by a G#, because this note is musically its leading tone. tifcha is then no longer a mystery, it leads somewhere harmonically and a musician setting the words to music would be able to use it as the sense of the words required.

Now come to the 4-colon verse 16. This verse is not by any means a simple parallelism. It is a progressive parallel, a bicolon, each of which can be subdivided and is, by the appoggiatura. leading first to the dread (word 4) that makes them to be mute as stones (words 7-8), and then to the cadence that sings of the purchase or acquisition (word 17).
תִּפֹּ֨ל עֲלֵיהֶ֤ם אֵימָ֙תָה֙ וָפַ֔חַד בִּגְדֹ֥ל זְרוֹעֲךָ֖ יִדְּמ֣וּ כָּאָ֑בֶן

עַד־יַעֲבֹ֤ר עַמְּךָ֙ יְהוָ֔ה עַֽד־יַעֲבֹ֖ר עַם־ז֥וּ קָנִֽיתָ
Horror and dread will fall on them by the greatness of your arm. They will be mute as a stone, //
till your people is over, Yahweh, till is over, this people that you purchased.

The music snippet illustrates the accents in what turns out to be a common (if complex) phrase structure.
In this chapter on the Song of  the Sea, this form of phrase occurs several times: verses 1a and b, 2 and b, 8a, 11a, 15a, 16a and b, 21b, 22a, 25a, 26a. Each of these verse segments reaches the high C with ornaments and takes many syllables to reach the rest (atnach) or the final tonic note (silluq) of the verse. Different complexities occur after verse 16 with several verses using the low C: 17a, 19a and b, 20a, 22b.

I suspect that these musical forms capture the essence of the understanding of the text as it would have been perceived by the one who first coded the hand signals. And I think the music of Haik-Vantoura accomplishes this revelation of ancient understanding far better than words about accents or even the complex melismas of tradition (per Jacobson).

The song itself ends with verse 18, the only verse in the chapter to have no atnach (mid-verse rest). In verse 21b, the opening line of the Song of the Sea is re-sung as a refrain. And the music is identical.

In the remaining prose section, the imitative climax of the music in verses 25 and 26 continues (25) the reflection on the song, and highlights (26) the consequence to be learned from the experience. Verse 27 is a simpler tune moving the company from one experience to the next.


de Hoop has many more examples in which he is explaining the music in words. What we need to do now is explore how the simple rules of Haik-Vantoura reveal both the beauty of the music as well as the understanding of the text.

The first step to translation must now be: open the score of the chapter and sing the text. All the chapters of the Hebrew Bible are now available in musical score from this blog site. See the instructions on the music page.

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