THE ORIGINAL 3000 YEAR OLD MUSIC OF THE BIBLE - REVEALED?
The late French composer Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, dedicated her life to the monumental task of deciphering the original 3000 year old music of the Hebrew Bible, as once performed by the Levites in the Temple of Jerusalem in the Levitical ensemble of biblical lyres, who accompanied the singing of the Levitical choir in the Temple of Jerusalem:
THE MONUMENTAL WORK OF SUZANNE HAIK VANTOURA IN RECONSTRUCTING THE ORIGINAL 3000 YEAR OLD MUSIC OF THE HEBREW BIBLE
Following the tragic destruction of the Second Temple, the entire musical legacy of the Temple, both vocal and instrumental, seemed to be forever lost. However, the Masoretic scribes preserved (along with the biblical consonantal text itself) an ancient "reading tradition" dating back (according to themselves) to the Second Temple Era; and beginning about 1,200 years ago, they painstakingly copied that tradition out in exacting detail. The Masoretic Text is still the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible that we have.
Part of the "reading tradition" the Masoretes preserved was a series of "accents" ("Te Amim"), which occur throughout the entire Tanakh (Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim) in two systems. The Masoretes did not understand the meaning or the monumental significance of these accents, and for centuries, there have been countless theories as to what their original meaning was.
Most theories have started from the assumption that they were to emphasize precise points of grammar in the text. Leaving aside all these debates, Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura concentrated solely on finding a musical meaning of these "accents".
Through countless experiments and a laborious process of irrefutable verification (using the Hebrew verbal phrase structure itself as her "Rosetta Stone"), she finally realized that all these symbols represent musical tones: the 7 degrees of a heptatonic scale, or else ornaments of one to three notes! The accents, were, in fact transcriptions of hand gestures - which formed the ancient musical notation system of cheironomy, whereby a specific hand gesture represented a specific change in the pitch of a melody.
Cheironomy actually has its origins in ancient Egypt, as can be seen in this illustration of a cheironomist using hand gestures to notate the melody being performed by the flautist and harpist:
The genius of Haïk-Vantoura, was how she painstakingly derived exactly which specific musical mode/scale corresponded to the specific Hebrew text of the Bible. Out of all the possible combinations of 7 note heptatonic scales, the correct scale for the specific biblical text examined, will be the scale which brings the correct emphasis and meaning to the original Hebrew text - a truly monumental process of musical logic & an unbelievably laborious process of elimination!
In other words, Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura used the actual syntax of the original Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament as the deciphering key of the Biblical scales. John Wheeler, one of the leading experts on the work of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura and the editor of her book, "The Music of the Bible Revealed", recently explained this process to me in more detail:
"Occam's Razor is at the very heart of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's work. Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's deciphering key is not a scientific theory that can be refuted by a single contrary observation (as even Albert Einstein described his own powerful theories of relativity). It is rather a model, a framework of interpretation that is able to adjust to new facts as they come in. About the only thing that could really refute it is an undisputed "Rosetta Stone" from antiquity giving a simpler and more complete explanation of how the accents work. Hand me such a record and I'll be the first to welcome it.
But there is indeed an element of religious faith involved here: faith that an infallible personal God can work through fallible human beings to preserve His "oracles" despite themselves, if necessary. We should expect the authoritative received text to be as good as an original document, or very nearly, when dealing with the meaning of the accents. When one examines just how carefully the Masoretic Text was preserved, and how even the disagreements among the Masoretes give us such a valuable "paper trail" as to what the accentuation is all about, that faith becomes self-authenticating without ever becoming "blind". There are always new challenges to face in dealing with the evidence, and in so doing, knowledge grows and faith in one's model is confirmed.
Meanwhile, like a good theory, Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's model passes a very close shave with Occam's Razor. Not every combination of accents found in the manuscripts and printed editions (which arose out of the Masoretes' and grammarians' own model or framework for the accents' meaning) leads to equally felicitous musical results. Not every possible mode within Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's own model will work within a particular verse or clause. Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura herself had to adjust the modality on some texts, notably the entire Book of Ruth as the maximum test case, as a deeper understanding of the structure of the book became apparent.
On another subject, there is a needless prejudice in our society for "objective" over "subjective" thinking. Carl Jung was wiser. He understood that both are equally valid perspectives of human thought. The only difference is that objective cognitive processes are turned outward, subjective cognitive processes are turned inward - it is not a question of one kind being more reliable or more accurate than the other. The processes have to do with how we take in information and how we then decide based on that information. And we are also biased in our society toward three of the eight or nine intelligences that Howard Gardner has discussed in his model of multiple human intelligences. Again, it is not a question of any of these being superior. Each has its proper role.
To discern the modes in an ancient notation that by its very design demands that one infers the modality (and the te`amim are far from alone in this), one has to make subjective value judgments. That doesn't make such judgments less valuable or less valid than objective value judgments, let alone objective or subjective logical judgments. Value judgments take into account the effect on the person and/or other people. But there's a catch. In the case of subjective value judgments - what the Jungians call Fi or Introverted Feeling - there is a strange connection in the human mind between one's personal values and what are universal values. These two are often mistaken (one reason there is so much religious, political and philosophical confusion in the world). We can come to prefer some musical effects on ourselves, which constitutes our personal taste. But to come to terms with a decipherment like SHV's, one must be willing and able to put such personal preferences aside. One must discern what is really "hard-wired" in the human brain with regard to musical responses (an astonishing amount, as it turns out, far more than in linguistic responses). This is not easy, but it is possible.
Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura listed in her book a number of examples illustrating how modal inferences are made. One is able increasingly to make distinctions between what one prefers by nurture and what one responds to be nature as one works with the material. One might argue over the mode used in Genesis 1:1, for example, but once one comes to verse 2 one may be sure of what mode is used. As one proceeds through the chapter the mode is verified, verse after verse, one melodic-verbal linkage after another. The wrong mode will emphasise important words too little and unimportant words not enough, and thereby give an overall ill-fitting "mood" to the words, not bringing out their meaning. The right mode will emphasise the words properly and the meaning of the whole "leaps out at you". And it helps that in general, a self-contained melodic-verbal text from antiquity had the same mode throughout, with at most the use of accidentals for nuancing. The First Pythian Ode is like that".
John Wheeler kindly clarified for me, some more details about the mysterious "Te Amim" Biblical notation, and the reasons why these particular accents can be interpreted as the original accents, which preserve the lost reading tradition of the Levites - the musical notation once sung by the Levites in the Temple of Jerusalem. Before the first appearance of the meticulously preserved Tiberian "Te Amim" accents in the Hebrew Bible, other accents also appeared, known as the Babylonian & Palestinian accents:
"Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura alludes to the belief by some, when the Tiberian notation first appeared, that it and the Palestinian and Babylonian notations were three different ways of representing the same thing. But how can that be? The other two are more or less unsystematic by comparison, first of all. The Palestinian notation consists of dots, while the Babylonian notation - while more complex and sharing a few of the same signs - doesn't even put the same signs in the same places as the Tiberian notation does.
In the ENCYCLOPEDIA JUDAICA we have typical accent clauses for the Babylonian notation. It seems syntactically consistent enough so that its function in that area is understood. Most are letters and are thought to represent the names of the accents involved. As far as I've ever read, no one understands what these are supposed to represent melodically, especially given the nature of Babylonian Jewish chant. But if I can trust the charts, then their syntactic role is self-evident enough.
The evidence is most consistent with each of these three notations representing three different traditions which may have some common ground. The argument that the Tiberian notation represented the truly ancient and prophetic tradition (and not just a local and synagogal one deriving from an older and purer tradition) couldn't rest on an understanding of its meaning; there was no such thing then. The argument apparently rested ultimately on the notation's source: via the Karaites, heirs of the priestly Elders of Bathyra or Boethusians, who themselves were called "the heirs of the prophets" by the Karaites. Its syntactic clarity - even though it still took several centuries to work out its rules systematically even in that area - must've been persuasive in that direction also. Moshe ben Asher, next-to-last of the Masoretes, mentions both the source and the clarity of the notation in his various discussions of it. Maimonides ultimately accepted the Tiberian accents as authoritative, and the rest of medieval Judaism followed suit. Beyond that, one had to demonstrate what the notation actually meant, and how that it correlates with the words in a way that only something created simultaneously with the words could do. That, of course, was SHV's contribution.
To answer another part of your question: Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura didn't know when she did her work about the other synagogal notations. It wouldn't have mattered if she did. They're considered by all to represent local traditions. Judaism long since accepted the Tiberian notation as the most complete and correct, even if it also accepted it as a notation of local synagogue traditions. One might as well start with the best data base one has.
What Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura did know was the assessment (in a French encyclopedia of music, no less) that the (Tiberian) te'amim were ancient, musical and of unknown meaning. That was the opinion of musicologists specifically. I like to say that in this and several other matters, Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura was led down the right path by sheer serendipity. She didn't have to unlearn almost two millennia of false assumptions about the notation's meaning and origins, and she didn't have to go to what would've been ultimate dead ends first.
It would be interesting for its own sake to discover if the Babylonian notation, at least, presents enough information for an independent decipherment. I've thought about that for some time. But like as not it would be consistent with the structure of Babylonian synagogue chant, which isn't consistent with the structure of the Tiberian notation on a meaningful level beyond very basic syntactic coincidences. And for me or anyone else to attempt an independent decipherment, one would have to have access to all the texts containing the Babylonian notation. No doubt they are published somewhere, or many of them, but the trouble is the Babylonian notation got mixed in with the Tiberian notation after the latter's appearance before being supplanted and the Babylonian notation may not be consistently applied. Just dealing with the complications of variant readings in the Tiberian notation is challenging enough. There again Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura had to have serendipity on her side; Gerard E. Weil directed her not to the BHS text he was editing, but to the Letteris text. And that has got to be the strangest circumstance in the whole history of this thesis"
In summary, from what I understand, the earlier occurrence of the Babylonian & Palestinian notations possibly represent respective local traditions of singing (whose original meaning and interpretation is now lost, compounded by the fact that it got mixed up with the later Tiberian notation). This Tiberian "Te Amim" notation (from the Hebrew "ta`am"- "to taste") later added by the Masorites, has its credentials to Levitical antiquity, thanks to it being preserved & handed down by the Karaites: heirs of the priestly Elders of Bathyra or Boethusians.
Thus, according to the claims of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, the entire Bible was revealed as one immense musical score - the musical legacy once thought forever lost, after the destruction of the Temple, had been rediscovered!
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE "TE AMIM" ACCENTS - EVIDENCE OF A BIBLICAL LINK BETWEEN THE ANCIENT HEBREWS AND THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS?
If the "Te Amim" accents attached to the entire text of the earliest surviving examples of the Hebrew Bible really do represent Egyptian-style cheironomy musical notation, then there is another amazing implication - this could be tantalising evidence of the link between ancient Egyptian culture, and the ancient Hebrews, as so vividly described throughout the Hebrew Bible!
There are, however, essential differences between ancient Egyptian cheironomy, and the cheironomy used by the ancient Hebrews, as John Wheeler recently explained to me:
"Egyptian cheironomy and the cheironomy behind biblical Hebrew chant are based on different scale systems, different hand-gestures, and the presence or absence of the use of fingers and of one or two hands. Egyptian cheironomy could use both hands, but rarely is shown to do so. Hebrew cheironomy required both hands regularly, according to my model of it. So while Egyptian cheironomy could be the technology that inspired Moses' adaptation of the technology to the Hebrew language and liturgical spirit, just as the Tabernacle has clear Egyptian forebears in architectural technology, in neither case is one technology or product thereof the slavish imitation of the other. On the other hand, cheironomy was widely known and used in the ancient world and well into the Middle Ages; some places still maintain it in liturgy"
Despite the fact that Egyptian cheironomy and Hebrew cheironomy differ in subtle details, to me, it is at least a reasonable assumption that the latter was borrowed and adapted from the former. Indeed, if Moses had the privilege of being educated in Pharaoh's Court during his youth, he certainly would have been trained in learning the ancient Egyptian art of cheironomy - the Te Amim accents depicting the Hebrew version of cheironomy musical notation could have even been put there by Moses himself!
THE PRE-EXISTING INFLUENCE OF EGYPTIAN MUSIC ON CANAANITE MUSICAL CULTURE?
An alternative explanation to account for the ancient Egyptian-based cheironomy musical notation (assuming that this is what it actually is!), found in the earliest surviving Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, may alternatively be explained by the often overlooked Egyptian cultural influence on Canaan, prior to the conquest of Canaan by the ancient Hebrews (or more likely, the gradual infiltration of the Hebrews into Canaan followed by eventual conquest - similar to the infiltration into Egypt by the Canaanite Hyksos at the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, c.1650 BCE, until their eventual conquest and rule of Lower Egypt for the next century or so).
The troubling fact is, that during the proposed traditional historical period when the Biblical Exodus took place (in 19th Dynasty during the reign of Ramses II), the land of Canaan, was, in fact, a Provence of ancient Egypt, firmly under Egyptian control - and indeed, the very reason why Ramses built is city of Pi Ramses where he did, was to maintain this control of Canaan!
This controversial matter of the actual historical era of the Exodus could be discussed in a whole website of its own, but the musical significance is what matters to me here in this discussion.
In the 18th and 19th Dynasties of ancient Egypt, Canaanite slave girls, particularly musicians and dancers, "were a highly valued commodity...The singers of the local Canaanite aristocracy, however, were even more popular" ( p.86, "Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine", Joachim Braun). This ongoing exchange of musicians, and hence an exchange of musical ideas and musical concepts, between ancient Egypt and the land of Canaan, therefore, may be an alternative eplanation of the existence of ancient Egyptian musical notation appearing in the oldest surviving Hebrew text of the Bible?
THE ORIGINAL 3000 YEAR OLD BIBLICAL SCALES?
The ancient musical modes which Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura discovered in the Biblical text are as follows:
E F# G A B C D# E
E F# G A# B C D# E
E F# G# A B C D# E
E F# G# A B C# D# E
E F G A B C D E
E F G# A B C D E
E F# G A B C D E
E F# G A# B C D E
E F# G A# B C# D E
E F# G# A B C D# E
E F# G# A B C# D E
My various deductions outlined in my other blog , "Finding Authentic Tunings For An Ancient Lyre" (based on surviving Jewish musical modes, still heard today in the both the Synagogue instrumental Jewish Klezmer, whose origins I deduced may date back to the original musical modes once sang in the Temple of Jerusalem), are also further verified, by the actual 3000 year old Biblical scales Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura claimed to have discovered during the course of her life's work.
In some of these 3000 year old Biblical melodies, one of the original Biblical scales Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura claimed to have discovered (from which the traditional Jewish Ahava Raba mode is no doubt ultimately derived from), sometimes has either a F natural or an F sharp after the tonic E - the "true" Ahava Raba mode in use today, only has an F natural after the E tonic.
When just the F is used, the resulting musical mode sounds "major" at the bottom end of the scale, yet sounds "minor" at the top end of the scale –
E F# G# A B C D E
The original "biblical" version of the Ahava Raba mode, can best be heard in Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's restitution of the original Priestly or Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6:22-27), as performed by the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble (aka SAVAE) on their truly monumental CD album "Music from the Time of Jesus & Jerusalem's Second Temple":
The "major-minor" effect of this Biblical mode I described above, can be also very clearly heard in the original melody Haik-Vantoura deciphered for Psalm 113:
Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's also claimed to identify a scale which is strikingly similar to the traditional "Misheberakh" Klezmer mode. The "Misheberakh" mode in use today is :
E F# G A# B C# D E.
The Biblical scale used in the original melodies of the Psalms (as claimed to be deciphered by the late Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura) is a very close match to the scale used in the example above - the only difference being the use of D sharp instead of D natural:
E F# G A# B C D# E
This is the original 3000 year old music she claimed to have deciphered for Psalm 27, in which the distinctive augmented 4th of this scale can clearly be heard in Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's deciphering of the original melody of Psalm 27:
Quite possibly, one of the oldest known scales, the major heptatonic scale, also features in many of the original Psalms, which Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura claimed to have deciphered:
E F# G# A B C# D# E
This can be heard in her deciphering of the original music of Psalm 96:
The Natural Minor Scale also is prominent throughout Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's painstaking reconstructions of what she claimed, was the original 3000 year old music of the Hebrew Bible:
E F# G A B C D E
In is her reconstruction of the original music of Psalm 19, in this haunting natural minor scale can be heard:
In my arrangements of traditional Egyptian folk music for solo lyre, the natural minor scale can be heard in all of these traditional Egyptian melodies; as it still does in many examples of traditional Jewish music (e.g. "Hatikvah", "Hine Ma Tov", "Yigdal", "Artza Alinu", "Havenu Shalom Aleichem", "Ose Shalom" etc). This could well be an indication that this scale has incredibly ancient roots, throughout the entire Middle East?
In Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura 's reconstruction of Psalm 148 all the 3000 year old Biblical scales she claimed to have discovered, can be heard:
THE PROCESS OF ELIMINATION REQUIRED TO INDENTIFY THE CORRECT ORIGINAL MUSIC MODES INFERRED THROUGHOUT THE BIBLICAL TEXT
Although the cheironomy notation describes the changes in pitch and ornamentation of the melody, it does not actually notate the specific musical scale/mode being used - how did Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura achieve this monumental feat?
The process of elimination she used must have been staggering in its complexity, but in short, from what I understand, with any given text in a song, the use of different musical musical scales to accompany the same specific text, will result in emphasis on different words and phrases in the text of the song. Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's genius, was to analyze every single syllable of the specific ancient Hebrew text, and by using her incredible musical intuition as a composer and musician, had the breakthrough of realizing that only certain specific musical intervals would give the Hebrew text the correct emphasis and accentuation, in order to convey the actual meaning of the words - she used the actual syntax, meaning and grammatical structure of the ancient Hebrew text of the Bible as the deciphering key to find the correct musical modes to which the chironomy notation actually referred to, 3000 years ago when the words and music of the Hebrew Bible were written!
I am not a trained musicologist, but as a musician, I too possess musical intuition - although I do not know all the enormous technical musical, syntactical and grammatical convolutions entailed in the deciphering process of the Te Amim, every time I actually hear the music which Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura claimed to decipher, I become more and more convinced of the truth of this monumental, and amazingly, almost unheard of, musical discovery of the Millennium!
Finally, here is John Wheeler's explanation to me, (one of the leading experts on the work of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura), about how this almost incomprehensible musical feat was made possible:
"The Hebrew verbal syntax was the guide to figuring out the basic musical syntax: the framework of sublinear notes and superlinear ornaments. The question of musical mode (which isn't stated by the accents) is parallel to that of verbal grammar (which is stated by the parallel words). The "wrong mode" will make grammatically unimportant words seem too important and vice versa, by putting too much pitch inflection on some words and not enough on others. The "right mode" will give a balanced interpretation; it just "falls together" to the ear and into one's mind. And when this happens, one finds that the verbal meaning is clarified as well. There are only four modes in psalmody - not some vast number of modes. The picture is complicated in some Psalms by the use of accidentals in "modes with variable degrees" and with the use of more than one mode, but in general one Psalm has one mode without accidentals. Likewise there aren't all that many modes in prosodia. I counted nine in the Song of Songs, but that's only because this page's list defines some modes with variable degrees as separate modes (which, from another point of view, they are not). I only counted six basic modes in prosodia...although I was then unaware of a seventh (common in the Prophets - it is the last mode that Suzanne inferred, late in her life, because it is so "bizarre" from our modern point of view). You can decide between whole categories of modes in one blow by figuring out how the tonic and the 3rd degree relate (is the interval major or minor?). You can further pare one's choices down by looking at the 4th and 6th degrees, relative to the tonic. Finally, you can look at the 2nd degree. Some combinations of intervals simply don't exist in either prosodia or psalmodia, so not all theoretical possibilities confront you in practice..."
DR RICHARD DUMBRILL ON SUZANNE HAIK-VANTOURA
In order to try and gain a more balanced view of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura's work, I recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Dr Richard Dumbrill on the work of Haïk-Vantoura - in many ways, it parallels his own work at deciphering the original 3400 year old music of Hurrian Hymn Text H6. This is what he had to say on her work, in a recent direct email correspondence with me on this matter:
"I have the greatest respect for Madame Haïk-Vantoura, but I think she was
mainly inspired by her Jewishness rather than by academic probity. I have
listened to a lot of Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Egyptian, Lebanese,
Syrian Jewish music, in various contexts, and I am quite certain that
Babylonian theory applied to all in the Empire irrelevant of their creed.
Ventoura cannot for certain be taken as having 'cracked' the music of the
Temple, but on the other hand, she cannot be far away from it."
PROFESSOR ARMAND D'ANGOUR ON SUZANNE HAIK-VANTOURA
In 2019, I had the unique privilege of meeting in person, the world expert on reconstructing ancient Greek music and professor of classics at the University of Oxford, Armand D'Angour. His groundbreaking work at reconstructing the gaps in fragmentary remains of the notated ancient Greek music which form the Orestes fragment (using the actual original pronunciation of the text to deduce the rise and fall in pitch of the lost sections of the music which once accompanied it) is almost parallel in its scale, to that of Suzanne Haik Vantoura, in how she attempted to deduce the original modes of the melodies of the Hebrew bible indicated by the Te Amim accents, by using the grammatical structure and emphasis of the original Hebrew pronunciation of the text itself as the deciphering key!
When I asked him what he thought about the work of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, he told me:
"I am convinced by H-V’s reconstruction of the basic meaning of the nigunot, [Hebrew songs] because I think it makes sense melodically. But it will only ever be a plausible speculation."
MY OWN OPINION?
As I am firstly an experimental musician and composer with an academic background in philosophy, not an academically trained musicologist, I cannot comment in great specific detail on the technical intricacies on the work of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, or the general prevailing musicological opposition to the validity of her work - as the 'Te Amim' were only added at a significantly later date than second Temple times by the Masorites, even though the Masorites claimed that these accents painstakingly preserved an ancient Levite reading tradition whose original meaning was long forgotten, this claim, to a certain extent, has to be based on faith rather than hard, archaeological artifact.
However, leaving aside all academic discussion and debate, for me, speaking now as a musician and composer, it is the music which speaks for itself - every syllable of the original Hebrew biblical text is quite literally 'brought to life' in terms of accentuation in relation to the original intended meaning of the words - for me, this is the 'musical verification', that it is almost certain that both the words and these beautiful melodies, which Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura revealed to us, were composed at the same time and were once 'married' together in ancient Biblical times.
In the absence of any other simpler theory to explain the almost mystical correlation between the ancient biblical texts and these haunting melodies, by means of philosophically excercising the use of Occam's Razor to settle this issue, I think the simplest explanation, given all the facts we do know, is that in hearing the music revealed to us by Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura work, we may indeed, be hearing none other than, the music of the Bible - revealed!
The astonishing significance of Haik Vantoura's musical accomplishment , if true, is that not only does Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura reveal to us such magnificent music of such incredible spiritual worth, but in doing so, she also revealed to us the only surviving example so far known, of the world's complete art music - written maybe 1000 years earlier than the 2000 year old ancient Greek 'Skolion of Seikilos'; the only other piece of written music from antiquity to have survived completely intact, in its complete, original form.