Saturday, January 18, 2020

A new researcher of the accents in TNK

 Jeffrey Burns, The Music of Psalms, Proverbs and Job in the Hebrew Bible: With an
 Audio CD. Jüdische Musik 9. XIII + 169 pp. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 2011.

I didn't have access to this work when I was writing my book. Probably I should have. It shows me just how deep the oceans are in this area. The whole argument ultimately comes down to Occam's razor. The ultimate question re Haïk-Vantoura and Burns is this: Is a simpler set of rules to be preferred over a complex set?

So which set of rules finds the mind of the maker of the signs?

David Mitchell reviews this work of Burns with respect and gentleness. He is so gentle, you might not understand how critical he is. His review is available on JSTOR, VETUS TESTAMENTŮM 64 (2014) 334-356. Read it carefully. It is free to read online. His first point is about what a researcher needs to have clearly in view:
  • "The first is an opinion on the complex question of the origin and  authority of the Masoretic cantillation;
  • the second is a "new lead" for deciphering the  cantillation."
I confess to backing into this area of study with not much knowledge at all of cantillation or a new lead. I come to it as a student of the text, as a musician, and as a designer of systems. I have lived with it for 10 years of almost daily study. I have used Haïk-Vantoura's deciphering key to develop music that is distinct in tone and genre, both from other music in general, and individually each section from another. I would never have been able to do this with traditional cantillation. (Examples here.)

But I still look for: new leads on dealing with ornaments and new leads on how to narrow down the modes and tuning of instruments. I find SHV's ornaments usable, but I would allow freedom of interpretation there. Even her application of her own rules seems to vary with accidentals and whether an ornament should return to the current reciting note or not. And she gives no instruction on modes apart from the comment that one needs to be a musician to decide. These things may not have been specified by the ancient designers, or they may have been common knowledge of the period and therefore not required, like the rules for musica ficta in the 15th century, or like the rules and variations allowed for tuning of instruments.

It is quite possible that Burns has collected enough information that there may be hints as to alternatives for ornamentation, without giving up the essential contribution of Haïk-Vantoura of the change of reciting note implied by the accents under the text.

Mitchell then asks if Burns has the right elements in view. He concludes that Burns does not deal with the claim of Ben Asher that the system of accents was received from an earlier source.
Mosheh ben Asher claimed, in the colophon to the Codex Cairensis, that their Masoretic" te'amim had been established by the  Maccabean-period Zadokite house of Bathyra. Ben Asher's explanation accounts for the (otherwise inexplicable) sudden appearance of the Masoretic cantillation as a  complex, highly-perfected system. It accounts for the violent Rabbanite objections that the Masoretes were publishing what should be sealed. It accounts for the fact that the closest parallels to the Masoretic te'amim are found in Greek manuscripts of the second and third centuries BC. And it is supported by talmudic claims that the te'amim were written down by the authors of the Bible texts at the time of their composition.
I have italicized what I think are four important issues that a gradual development of a new 'solfege' would not account for. Also in what I have read of Burns I note the same Ptolmaic struggling with the definition of a single accent that I have found in other authors drowning in this ocean.

Burns claims to be accurate because the data is in a computer. So do I! But a computer can produce inaccurate statements faster than a human. This is not a help if your assumptions are wrong! How does one ensure that the query is correct and the assumptions about the data are correct. The statement produced by the computer is dependent on the accuracy of the data definition and on the programmer's correct writing of the query.

Burns has written a program that produces sounds. These recitations sound very much like present day cantorial traditions. They are not essentially different from those described by Jacobson (Jacobson, Joshua R. 2002. Chanting the Hebrew Bible, The Complete Guide to the Art of Cantillation, The Jewish Publication Society.). They are essentially a single tonality.

Almost every statement I have read from Burns's book raises questions I test from my own data (one for one coding from the Leningrad codex).

"Since segol is related to `ole w'yoredh in the poetical books".
This claim from Burns (page 84) comes out of left field. What is the relationship? He explains 38 pages later on page 122.
In prose, segol never appears without tsinor; in poetry, `ole w'yoredh never appears without tsinor - unless tsinor is replaced by r'vi`i.
Never followed by except is a negatively designed rule. (Note: tsinor==zarqa) To put it positively, ole veyored may be preceded either by zarqa or revia. Negative thinking easily leads to confused programming. So also is his note that 'the first part of a pair may be omitted'. Normal people don't design this way. Musicians don't have a whole set of notational exceptions in their heads when they are singing or playing. If the data definition includes the idea that the "first of accents occurring in pairs can be dropped", then the data are not being read as written in the texts that we have. He goes on - same subject:
In the poetical system, `ole w'yoredh sequences always appear before the other first-level sequences, that is, just like zarqa - segol, at or near the beginning of the verse. All this shows that the two pairs, tsinor - `ole w'yoredh and zarqa - segol, are not only visually, but also functionally, related to each other.
This claim can be tested - and may, if true, be useful in the analysis of the music on the way to the mid-verse cadence for the 21 books. First level means the highest level of disjunctive accents, there are two such: the atenach (in all 24 books), and the ole-veyored (only in the three books).

Here's what I found from my database on this subject:
  • zarqa-segol as a contiguous pair in this sequence appears 353 times in the 21 books, 
  • ole-veyored appears 407 times in the three books. 
Clearly the zarqa-segol pairing is less significant. In the 21 books, this sequence is part of the phrase leading to the atnach in about 2% of the verses. In the poetry, the sequence ole-veyored occurs in about 10% of the verses.

I also checked:
  • Segol appears without a leading zarqa 603 times in the 21 books.
  • Segol never appears alone. There is always a zarqa in the verse prior to it.
  • Between the zarqa and the segol may appear a silluq (e), or a munah (B) or two such munah, or even an atnach
    • each occurrence of a silluq must be examined to eliminate metheg
    • the combinations of an intervening munah are several: B, e B, B e, B e B, e B B
    • there are two without an atenach, both in the decalogue, Exodus 20:9, and Deuteronomy 5:13
    • there are two with two atenach(!) in the verse Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:9, the only verses in the Bible containing two atenach, the second being in each case on the final syllable with a silluq, creating a slurred descent of the fourth heard in some cantillation traditions. There is much discussion of the accents in the decalogue.
  • Zarqa appears in 417 verses without segol.
  • Zarqa-segol is never used after the atnach.
  • Segol may occur after the atenach.
Was the zarqa dropped that often, 417 times? What would lead me to think that there was an implied requirement that zarqa is simply dropped? Possibly if I knew a tradition of cantillation which drops accents because of confusing definitions.

Furthermore, zarqa-segol and ole-veyored are functionally distinct:
  1. Zarqa-segol are both ornaments and may each be used independently. Zarqa-segol is not a cadence, though there may be a pause, and the combination is never used in a verse that has no atnach. 
  2. In contrast, ole-veyored is a cadence and is often used in verses without an atnach. Ole ve Yored == Merkha, is an odd name to me. The pair is composed of an ornament (accent over the text) and a change in reciting note (accent under the text), a move to the supertonic. Ole is never used without the move to the supertonic. Yored is exactly equivalent to merkha. 
I found 1 use of ole by itself, Psalms 130:7. This at first appears to have an intervening silluq, but it is an example of the confusion between the metheg, a pronunciation aid that is not an musical sign, and the silluq. Unicode does not resolve this confusion. So this one conforms to the shape of all the others and ends with a merkha, i.e. on the supertonic.

For non-musicians, the supertonic is the note above the tonic. If you learn music, you can completely avoid the difficult language of the accents including all the multi-syllabic terms used by deaf scholars trying to describe music: disjunctive, conjunctive, postpositive, impositive, hierarchy, levels, emperors, kings, etc, etc, etc.

It is far easier to think of these things in terms of their music. We have a total of 1373 verses in which a zarqa appears:
  • 11 of them have this shape: e tar,e B rev,B zar,seg,C qad,z-q,f g# B ^A B rev,d f g# e 
  • 6 have: e B zar,B seg,C qad,B z-q,f e g# ^A d f g# e 
  • 6 have: e B zar,B seg,C qad,B z-q,f g# ^A d f g# e  
  • all the above are exclusively in Numbers
  • 3 have: e zar,d ole,f# g B ^A g B e 
  • 3 have: zar,C B B ^A g B e 
  • 23 have pairs of verses,
  • and the rest, just under 1300 have unique musical phrases
Deep ocean indeed. Very hard to work from first principles to get the most out of the information that is in the text.

I have put a list of references in a separate post.

I am pleased for Burns that his friends were able to publish his work. Mitchell grants him respect and value. And indeed, he is forcing me to justify my faith in SHV. I should be doing so. Burns has a very clear section on construction of the melodies. What I should do and intend to in a later post [and have done here] is translate his clarity to the Haïk-Vantoura  melody and show how it obviates the need for the complex terminology while the musical phrase retains the relative role of each accent (note or ornament).

Nevertheless, I think it is extremely difficult for us to remove ourselves from a Ptolmaic universe and accept that a simpler and more expressive interpretation of the accents is possible. Burns lists Haïk-Vantoura in his references but I have not yet found any significant engagement to her work.

It seems much more likely to me that in the absence of a controlled school of music after the destruction of the temple, that the oral tradition degraded and is not trustworthy as a source of original melodic interpretation after nearly 2 millennia.

Equally, it seems very likely to me that the design skills of ancient musicians were not incomprehensible, and that they thought as we think about the use of signs. I.e. they were effective designers. Otherwise why would I trust that I could hear with some understanding their written words?

This is the music of the word of God we are talking about. If we get it right, it will be of infinite depth and beauty.

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