Monday, May 10, 2010

The Syntax of Prosodia and Psalmodia - Part One

(N.B.: The first time I posted on this blog was December 19, 2007, when I had a custom domain name for it. After posting to it only three times, I decided to delete the blog and let the paid domain name lapse. But Blogspot allows deleted blogs to be restored within a certain period of time, and after switching over to the free domain name offered by Blogspot, I was able to do so. I deleted all the prior posts and am starting over today with this post - which is needful lest knowledge which I had gained and which I had rediscovered only today be lost again.)



Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura (July 13, 1912 - October 22, 2000) was the author of the work whose English title is The Music of the Bible Revealed. Since 1982 I have had the opportunity to be closely involved with her work and its implications. After a number of years of little activity, I hope this article will be a first step toward reviving not only my part in her work, but of public and academic interest in it.

Haïk-Vantoura (hereafter SHV) studied "the accents of Scripture" or, in Hebrew, ta`amê miqra (טעמי מקרא). "Scripture" might be more aptly translated "Reading Tradition", as it refers to the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic Text) as read aloud rather than as written. The Hebrew name for the accents as such is te`amim (טעמים). On my Web site (see also this Web site), on my YouTube channels rakkav and especially teamim, and above all in SHV's own publications (a book, musical scores and recordings), one may learn how SHV deciphered the original musical meaning of the te`amim, showing how they use tonal relationships to clarify the verbal syntax even as they express the verbal meaning.

But the te`amim themselves have a syntax - a phrase structure - which closely relates to that of the words, and it is this relationship that is the subject of the relatively brief essay. If all goes well, further essays here and elsewhere will make that syntax clear to the student.

The te`amim or musical accents fall into two systems: one for the so-called Twenty-One Books (the "prose" books plus the prologue and epilogue of Job) and one for the so-called Three Books (the "poetic" books, Psalms, Proverbs and the body of Job). In her French book and its English translation, SHV tried to focus on the musical aspect by calling the musical expression of these systems "prosodie/prosody" and "psalmodie/psalmody". The problem is that these terms have changed their meaning over time. 'Prosody" in particular means something quite different in modern English than it did in SHV's vocabulary. But SHV was drawing upon the ancient Greek roots of these words. Going a step further in hopes of clarifying rather than muddying the issue, I have come to call the two accent systems the prosodic and psalmodic systems, as she originally did, and the melodic-verbal expressions involving the two systems, prosodia and psalmodia.

There are some 19-20 accents in the prosodic system, somewhat less in the psalmodic system; and the psalmodic system has simpler relationships among the accents and between the accents and the words. But if clarifying the verbal syntax were the only function of the accents, only six accents in the prosodic system and five accents in the psalmodic system would be required. Upon becoming intimately familiar with how SHV's reconstructed melodies parse the verbal text, I inferred that the typical "complete" four-clause verse in psalmodia has the following syntactic structure:

text | text /
text | text //
text | text ///
text | text ////

| = minor cadence
/ = preparatory cadence
// = suspending cadence
/// = half cadence
//// = full cadence

A "complete" verse in prosodia has a minimum of five two-phrase clauses, but not more than six kinds of cadences:

text | text /
text | text //
text | text ///
text | text ////
text | text /////

| = minor cadence
/ = preparatory cadence
// = suspending cadence
/// = half cadence
//// = parallel cadence
///// = full cadence

What the terms mean, and as much as possible how I derived them, will be covered (God willing) in a future post.

Best wishes (שלום),
John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

3 comments:

Leafygreens said...

A very nice blog, John. Good clean appearance, nice graphic and interesting material. A good start. Good luck with it!

Trish Sheehan said...

This blog was set up very pleasing to the eye. It was not so long as to lose the reader, but long enough to bless the heart, mind and spirit with a wealth of information. I am so happy that you introduced me to "Music of the Bible" CD last year. It has been like the harp strings of peace to my spirit. I so admired SHV and her years of dedication in searching and researching this beautiful gift to the world of Biblical Chant style music as it was in ancient times. And her legacy did not die with her, but is being carried out with grace, perfection and passion by her student. Thank you so much for this and for how it has impacted my life.

Bob MacDonald said...

Bravo for the blog and the book which I hope to find. I am just in the midst of reporting on the Oxford Psalms Conference where the music of SHV was well presented. My family is heavily involved with music and the church and I have been reading the psalms in Hebrew and translating for 4 years now - how delightful to see this work emerging.