Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jeffrey Burns' Model of the Psalmodic Accents: Part 01

Some days ago I was notified about the following review in the REVIEW OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE, published by the Society of Biblical Literature:

Jeffrey Burns; David Bers and Stephen Tree, eds.
The Music of Psalms, Proverbs and Job in the Hebrew Bible: A Revised Theory of Musical Accents in the Hebrew Bible
Reviewed by Rebecca A. Mitchell and Matthew W. Mitchell

The description on follows (the book costs $102.00):

Description: The Music of Psalms, Proverbs and Job in the Hebrew Bible explores the musical organization of the original temple cantilation contained in the three "poetical books" of the bible, 'Psalms', 'Proverbs' and 'Job', whose Hebrew cantilation signs have been conserved but not understood. The American musician and pianist Jeffrey Burns, 1950-2004, who as an artist dealt with radically new, unusual musical systems all his life, has analyzed the "poetical books" with the help of a computer program which he himself developed that can chant the original Hebrew text. His work, written in English, consists of two parts: a 160-pages introduction printed out in black and white, and a DVD with the complete text and color schemes, including a second part that analyzes the musical structure of each chapter and verse and links it to its sound file - astute, illuminating insights into the original musical structure of texts which belong to the foundation of occidental culture, and are an acoustical window into what was thought to be a lost musical world.

Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, Wisdom Literature, Job, Proverbs, Writings, Literature, Psalms

The review itself (PDF) is here. I have not yet read it as I have other things to do today. I do plan on getting the book as soon as my finances allow it. I've been informed that the late author referred to Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's work although to what extent I don't yet know.

Suzanne herself threw down the challenge: anyone who questioned her results need only to show that hers was not the only possible explanation, consistent with all the features of the notation. This explanation seems, like others such as that of Dennis McCorkle, to ignore the prosodic accents entirely. Since the prosodic and psalmodic accents are so intimately related, I hardly think a claimed decipherment would be complete without taking both into account. Only Suzanne's does, of those attempts I have seen to date. Everyone else's examines either prosody or psalmody, but not both.

(יוחונן רכב הסופר)


Bob MacDonald said...

Also noted here at the Genevan Psalter

John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב) said...

Thanks. I received a copy of the book thanks to the generosity of a donor and find it very disappointing despite its rigor. It is simply an extension of the epic failure that is the system of "tropes" from prosodia into psalmodia - it doesn't explain anything of genuine importance from the musical or historical standpoint, and certainly doesn't qualify as a valid reconstruction of the music of the Psalms, Proverbs and Job.

There are layers after layers of confusion on the topic of the accents and their meaning, how they came to take on the kinds of meanings they have, and when. This book will be interesting to review in detail should I be given the chance in an academic forum (and of course on this blog as possible), but as an example of how the problem of the meaning of the accents should NOT be addressed. And that really is a shame, having to say that about a work by a qualified musician who isn't even alive to defend his work from critique.