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Re: "Songs to the Invisible God" review...


First things first:  I want to clarify that I make no overtures to say that
Christian monophonic chant is NOT derived from Jewish chant.  Rather, I
assert that there is not enough evidence to prove anything definitive in
either direction.

I've been through much of Lachmann and Avenary's work.  Here's what I've

Lachmann did not produce much: he died at a very young age (41), and his
only major monograph is his 1934(?) Jewish Cantillation and Song of the Isle
of Djerba.  He's also responsible for helping establish the fabulous archive
of Jewish music at the Hebrew University.  While his forte was what he
called "Oriental" music, he did little to feed into the "Jewish from
Christian Chant" issue.

Hanoch Avenary is to me one of the most careful and thoughtful Jewish
musicologists of his age--I think his Encyclopedia Judaica article is
generally about as good a summary of the subject as was known then.  While
he focused primarily on source studies and observations of diverse Jewish
groups in Israel, he did occasionally take a stab at some issues of earlier
derivation (such as the use music in biblical times, etc.).  I recall from
reading many of his essays (especially his 1979 "Encounters of East and West
in Music") that he is careful about making Werner's assumptions, being very
clear to cite the limits of the materials available to him.

Having a good amount of Gregorian chant study under my belt as well, and
having explored the very issue of its relation to Jewish chant for quite a
bit of time, I've come to just the opposite conclusion.  My reasoning:
Jewish chant as we know it (which is primarily from the Masoretes c. the
10th century) consists of symbols representing melodic formulae, often with
little correlation between the symbol itself and the contour of the melody
it represents.  Every form of neumatic chant I've seen (and I've studied and
transcribed several) contains neumes that *look* like they could be trop
symbols, but actually conform almost exactly to the melodic contours they
represent (this, after all, is how Western musical notation eventually
developed in the first place).   This to me became one disjuncture that
threw a big wrench into what seemed initially to be an elegant theory of

Upon further searching, the comparisons between the two systems fell apart
for me.  Whatever "melodic" motifs there are in Gregorian chant are not
nearly as consistently placed as they are in Jewish biblical chant, and need
to be ripped irregularly out of the neumes themselves in order to be
identified for comparison.  Even then, the comparison is messy at best, with
a number of extraneous notes to be dealt with in between motifs.  It just
didn't work for me.

Moreover, Christian and Jewish chant are used for two almost exclusive
purposes:  Jewish chant is used to chant from biblical texts *ONLY* (though
a simplified system appears to exist for reading psalms).  Conversely, I
have NEVER seen an entire, continuous book of the bible set to Gregorian
chant.  Rather, I've seen Christian monodic chant set prayer rituals.  On
this comparison alone, Gregorian chant is much closer to the Jewish system
of nusach and "modes" than to the Biblical Chant system [though I honestly
believe this too is impossible to ascertain]; it makes it seem to me that a
comparison to Jewish cantillation symbols exists more because they are
*THERE* rather than because they make a convincing comparison.

The big kicker for me, though, is that *we actually don't know what Jewish
Biblical chant sounded like.*  At the absolute earliest, manuscripts with
any Western notation of Jewish chant whatsoever appear in the 15th century
(and I may be erring on the early side).  The vast majority of what we know
in terms of melodic "motifs" of the trop markings comes from observations
made in Israel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (as spearheaded by
the research of Abraham Z. Idelsohn).  And as I mentioned before, any
definitive source of organization of melodic motifs dates from the 10th
century with the Masoretic codex.  How, then, is it even possible to create
a source for comparison without assuming that oral traditions remained
absolutely static for over two thousand and one thousand years respectively?
Even if you take wholesale Idelsohn's theory that the melodic formulae of
the trop system all came from a single source (i.e., the Temple; Avenary
among others has placed this theory in doubt), the wide variation documented
among the numerous musical traditions, even in a single trop marking, makes
any comparison to Gregorian chant motifs a nearly impossible task.

If you're still skeptical, you may wish to check out Peter Jeffery's review
of "The Sacred Bridge, Volume 2" in the Jewish Quarterly Review 77: 283-298
(1987).  Jeffery takes a less critical, but highly effective approach toward
unravelling Werner's theoretical underpinnings.

Of course, I'm interested to see your evidence to the contrary.  Perhaps
there is something I'm overlooking, in which case I'd be quite interested to
know about it.

Be well.
>From: eliott kahn <elkahn (at) JTSA(dot)EDU>
>To: World music from a Jewish slant <jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org>
>Subject: Re: "Songs to the Invisible God" review...
>Date: Mon, Mar 20, 2000, 4:14 PM

> Judah:
> I am not a specialist in ancient music, but I believe excellent Israeli
> musicologists such as Hannoch Avernary and Robert Lachman have done much
> substantiative research proving Werner's point.
> I will also tell you, as someone who has analyzed Gregorian chant, that the
> method of motivic organization to create melodies is IDENTICAL to "trop" or
> Biblical cantillation.
> Please offer proof otherwise, if you believe Christian monophonic chant is
> not derived from Jewish cantillation.
> Sincerely,
> Eliott Kahn
> At 03:44 PM 3/20/00 -0500, you wrote:

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