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Re: Influence of Jewish on Christian chant
- From: Eliott Kahn <Elkahn...>
- Subject: Re: Influence of Jewish on Christian chant
- Date: Tue 28 Mar 2000 01.24 (GMT)
Thank you for your thoughtful, intelligent response. I wanted to check a
few of these sources before responding. Comments below.
At 11:30 PM 3/20/00 -0500, you wrote:
>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
There will never be evidence, because the sources are oral and not written
in readable notation. But there are certainly many related truths that
would strongly suggest an influence.
>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.
He cites the limits, but also infers some relationship. On p.78 of
"Encounters of East and West in Music" (1979), he refers to a Credo,
"generally assigned to the older layer of Gregorian chant ... [which]
resembles a psalmodic tune enriched by three prolific motives. 'Developed
Psalmodies' of this kind are frequent in the Eastern styles, Syrian, as
well as the Jewish." Edith Gerson-Kiwi in "Migrations and Mutations of the
Music in East and West" (1980) gives a musical example on p.55 with
enormous similarities between a Gregorian "Dixit Dominus" (Ps.109) and a
Yemenite version of Psalm 122. As Idelsohn had, Gerson-Kiwi finds
similarities in the modal and narrow melodic contours of Eastern Jewish
melodies and Gregorian chant. The Yemenite tradition was supposed to
be particular free of foreign influences, because the Jewish people
remained in Southern Arabia for 2,000 years before emigrating to Israel.
>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
I was under the impression that the Ta'amim (Biblical accents) were derived
from cheironomic (hand) signals that came from the Egyptians and were taken
out of Egypt to the First Temple by the Israelites. (This is from Peter
Gradenwitz--no great scholar--paraphrasing the work of Curt Sachs, who was
the great expert on music of the ancient world.) If this is a "bubbameise,"
please be so kind as to tell me. If it is grounded in truth, then the
Jewish cantillation synbols should not resemble their own melodic contours.
>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.
Avenary addresses this in "Encounters." First, he credits Eric Werner as
being "the first to produce such a formula model as a demonstration of the
"shtejger" (p.87), then he makes a clear distinction between the Christian
concept of "mode" and the Jewish concept of "shteyger." The Jewish steyger
(I paraphrase) possesses not just a modal scalar character, but the more
Eastern "stock of standard motives," not unlike the Arabic maquam or the
Indian raga: "Thus shtejger tunes may be compared to a mosaic work
tesselated from the given material. They reveal by their intrinsic
character a strong similarity with the combination of 'migrating motives,'
the 'Cento structure,' the 'mosaic style' observed in certain archaic
portions of plainsong" (p.92).
>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
I don't know the very early Christian liturgy, but in my knowledge of the
mass, I don't believe Catholics ever recite long passages of the Bible as
we do. The central part of the mass is the communion; the central part of
our liturgy is taking out and reading from the Torah and Haftorah. The
Catholic exception might be the Offices, where the monks must chant all of
the Psalms in a 24 hour period. And they have psalm tones for this,
although these don't resemble our biblical chant, except in concept.
> 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];
I would tend to agree with you on this. Werner makes an important
distinction in vol. 2 of "The Sacred Bridge" between psalmody and
cantillation. Cantillation is "logogenic": i.e. music created for the sole
purpose of conveying a text, whereas "nowhere does Psalmody imitate speech"
(p. 61). He goes on to say, "psalmody is originally of poetic character
and can be recited by the entire community" (p.62). Perhaps Gregorian chant
is more related to Jewish songs originally derived from cantillation, but I
have done no research on this matter.
>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.
And also because Jewish liturgical tradition had an enormous influence on
the early Christian liturgy. Edith Gerson-Kiwi cites the influence of the
Jewish psalm texts on the Medieval Christian Psalm-Antiphon, on the
Halleluia calls and responses, and on the jubilus, an important part of the
Alleluija and other melismatic chants (p.54-60). Eric Werner recognizes the
annual cycle of Christian psalm chanting as derived from the Jewish (p.56);
the three-fold "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus" from the "Kedusha" (Chpt.5);
and--among other prayers--the obvious Jewish influence on "Te Deum"
(p.201-202) i.e. "the theological concept of 'rex gloriae,' alluding to
Psalm 24 ' Melekh ha-kabod,' " among others.
>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?
This is a good point. But, conversely, how do you account for the enormous
similarities between melodies from completely different cultures, locales,
and time periods.
>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.
I was under the impression that Idelsohn saw enough similarities between
Eastern and WEstern cantillation motives--cut off since the fall of the
SEcond Temple--to believe they had a common ancestry. I'm a little rusty;
please correct me if I'm wrong.
>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.
Yes, I'd like to look at this article. Werner made an enormous mistake if
he falsified some material. Still, I must tell you I'm very familiar with
his "A Voice Still Heard" and find it a brilliant, thorough work on
Ashkenazy synagogue music. Although he did not use primary recorded
sources, he did extensive work with the Birnbaum Collection at HUC in
Cincinnatti, and these are the oldest ms. sources for Ashkenazi Jewry.
Dr. Eliott Kahn
Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary
>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.
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