Mail Archive sponsored by Chazzanut Online


<-- Chronological -->
<-- Thread -->

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

This is mostly for better-versed scholars than I, but, FWIW:  1) The first 
notated piece of Jewish liturgical music dates from, I believe (I'm not near 
my books) the 10th century, not the 15th); and 2) To listen to London via 
Amsterdam via Spain via ... ?  settings of Psalms and other Biblical and 
liturgical material is to listen to what we today recognize as Gregorian 
chant--and is, probably, a pretty good idea, or as close as we can get, to 
what "we" (i.e., Jews--or the Levitical choirs, anyway) sounded like in 
Second Temple days. -- Robert Cohen

>From: " Judah Cohen" <jcohen (at) fas(dot)harvard(dot)edu>
>Reply-To: jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org
>To: World music from a Jewish slant <jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org>
>Subject: Re: "Songs to the Invisible God" review...
>Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 23:30:15 -0500
>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 
>of Djerba.  He's also responsible for helping establish the fabulous 
>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 
>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 
>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 
>to be ripped irregularly out of the neumes themselves in order to be
>identified for comparison.  Even then, the comparison is messy at best, 
>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 
>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 
>among the numerous musical traditions, even in a single trop marking, makes
>any comparison to Gregorian chant motifs a nearly impossible task.
Get Your Private, Free Email at

---------------------- jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org ---------------------+

<-- Chronological --> <-- Thread -->