This is the transcript of  a lecture delivered by Arthur M Friedlander A.R.C.M. at one of the meetings held in connection with the Centenery Celebrations of the Royal Asiatic Society, 19th July 1923.

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THE few remarks which it is my privilege and honour to address to you to-day will be concerned with some of the results of investigations which I have made during the course of my research work in connexion with The History of the Music of the Hebrews and the Synagogue and the Jewish source of the early music of the Roman Church.

The Talmud (Treatise Tamid VII) in its description of the “Daily Sacrifice in the Temple” employs two words “dibber beshir,” in connexion with the Levitical Song.

Taking the interpretation of these words to be “spoke, in, or with, song “, I am strongly of opinion that in this interpretation is to be found the key-note, or, perhaps I should rather say, the source of “Ancient Hebrew Song”; surely it means a musical utterance ; in other words, “cantillation.” Indeed, to the Jewish race belongs the system of a “fixed cantillation “, denoted by the means of ancient musical signs, which are termed “Ta’amim” and “Neginoth “. Now, the art of cantillation may have existed at the time of Moses (Ex. xv and Deut. xxxi, 30). It is generally held that the Jews were the first people who “read the Law” in their Divine Service. There is no earlier race or religion in the world that has used its Sacred Books for Divine Service. As bearing upon the subject of “cantillation “, it may be of interest to state that, accordingto Burney, History of Music, i, pp. 210-11, “No less than forty-two different works are attributed to the Egyptian Hermes by ancient writers (Clemens, Alex. Stromata, lib. vi). Of these, the learned and exact Fabricius has collected all the titles (Bib. Graec., tom. i). It was usual for the Egyptians, who had the highest veneration for this personage, after his apotheosis, to have his works, which they regarded as their Bible, carried about in processions with great pomp and ceremony: and the first that appeared in these solemnities was the chanter, who had two of them in his hands, while others bore symbols of the musical art. It was the business of the chanters to be particularly versed in the two first books of Mercury, one of which contained the hymns to the gods, and the other maxims of government: thirty-six of these books comprehended a complete system of Egyptian philosophy ; the rest were chiefly upon the subjects of medicine and anatomy. These books upon theology and medicine are ascribed by Marsham (Chro. Saec. i) to the second Mercury, the son of Vulcan, who according to Eusebius (in Chron.) lived a little after Moses; and this author, upon the authority of Manetho, cited by Syncellus, regarded the second Mercury as the Hermes, surnamed Trismegistus. Enough has been said, however, to prove that the Egyptian Mercuries, both as to the time when they flourished and their attributes, were widely different from the Grecian Hermes, the son of Jupiter and Maia.”

Let me now draw your attention to the sublime “Song of Deliverance “, the “Song of Moses” (Ex. xv), known as “Shirath hayyam” (the Song at the Sea).

The ancient rendering of the “Shirah” may have been originally a species of cantillation and song.

In a collection of ancient melodies of the Liturgy of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, by De Sola and Aguilar, there occurs a melody to the ” Song of Moses” which is held to be of very remote origin. “According to a very ancient Spanish work, some have affirmed that what we now sing to the ‘Song of Moses’is the same (melody) Miriam and her companions sung. This legend would not merit any serious consideration here, except that it undoubtedly proves that the origin of the melody was already long lost when this ancient Spanish book was written; and here the acute remark of Dr. Sachs is applicable, that ‘Fable soon occupies itself to speak when history is silent ‘. It is, therefore, highly probable that the melody belongs to a period anterior to the regular settlement of the Jews in Spain.” With reference to the foregoing remark concerning the origin of the melody, I should like to say that I have found a striking resemblance to it in the” Song of the water-carriers of Mecca “, which Burckhardt made note of during his travels in Arabia. In connexion with the subject of my research work already mentioned, which I have in preparation for publication, I have followed up the suggestion made to me by the late Sir Hubert Parry whilst I was a student at the Royal College of Music, and with whom I studied composition, that the Hebrews got their music from the Syrians (Aramaens). Indeed, it is necessary to point out the fact, which is a subject of great importance to the study of the history of the ancient Hebrew music, that the Hebrews were well acquainted with music, song and dance, before they were captives in Egypt. This is quite comprehensible, for we learn from Genesis xxxi, 26-7: “And Laban said to Jacob, what has thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and led away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword? Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly and steal away from me, and why didst thou not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp ?

In consideration of these facts, does it not strike one as being natural for Moses and the Children of Israel, to have been acquainted with, and to have recalled, the well-song referred to, at the sight of the sea ? Moreover, those who are familiar with the construction of the earliest forms of folk-song, will perhaps hardly doubt, that apart from the value of its topographical bearing, the limit of the melody – which by the way is very tuneful – to only three notes, is very striking evidence of its antiquity.

Furthermore, it is important to add, that in considering the claims of antiquity to this particular melody, the Jews of Northern Europe,(known as Ashkenazim) other than the Spanish and Portugese Jews  (known as sephardim)  have also a special rendering for the “Shirah,” the usual cantillation being replaced at different intervals by a distinctly melodious phrase. Indeed, there appears to be some connexion between the melodic renderings of the Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, and this is further strengthened by the fact, that though the cantillation for the Holy Law used by the former community is in the minor key, that of the Ashkenazic is in the major key, which latter tonality is adhered to, in the rendering of the Song by the Sephardim which obtains in the early portion of the morning service. But I am of opinion, that as the melody of the Sephardim is complete in form, it is the more ancient, and it is quite possible that the Jews of Northern Europe have only retained a varied portion of the original.



In the above musical illustrations, the sections marked A and B, denote the similarities in the melody of the “Song of the Water-carriers at Mecca “, and the melody of the “Shirah” ; whilst the sections marked C and D, show the similarities in the melodies of the Sephardic and Ashkenazic renderings, of portions of the “Shirah “.

Your attention will now be called to the subj ect of “the Jewish source of the early music of the Roman Church”.

In a lecture on “The Music of the Synagogue” which I gave at King’s College in May, 1919 – one of a series of four – that were held in connexion with the scheme for founding a Chair at the College for Ecclesiastical Music, in treating of this subject, I referred to the necessity of demonstrating, how very much of the Liturgy of the Synagogue had been borrowed by the Roman Church. Regarding the music, my theory is, that the converts from Judaism, handed down the traditional modes of the cantillation of the Holy Law and Prophets (not, as has been erroneously supposed, the chants for the Psalms), in a somewhat corrupted form, subsequently adopting this for the music known as Plain Chant.

In January, 1914, the Musical Times published an article from my pen, in which I not only dealt to some extent with the Jewish musical accentuation, and the similarity which I had found, between the specific signs for this accentuation and the neums (the mediaeval system of writing music), but also with the important discovery which I had made, in showing by musical illustrations, the similarity existing between the Jewish mode of cantillation of the Prophets (by the Jews of Northern Europe), and some of the oldest known music of the Catholic and Protestant Churches. I found the similarity, to which I have just alluded, existing between the mode of cantillation of the second chapter, tenth verse, of Zechariah, as rendered in the Synagogue, and the music to the Te Deum.



The description of this melody in “Grove” states :-

The antient melody – popularly known as the “Ambrosian Te Deum “- is a very beautiful one, and undoubtedly of great antiquity; though it cannot possibly be so old as the hymn itself, nor can it lay claim whatever to the title by which it is popularly designated, since it is written in the Mixed Phrygian Mode, i.e. in Modes III and IV combined; an extended scale of very much later date than that used by St. Ambrose. Numerous versions of this venerable melody are extant, all bearing more or less clear traces of derivation from a common original which appears to be hopelessly lost. Whether or not this original was in the pure Mode III it is impossible to say with certainty, but the older versions furnish internal evidence enough to lead to a strong conviction that this was the case, though we possess none that can be referred to the age of St. Ambrose, or within two centuries of it.

Having previously given sufficient grounds to prove the antiquity of the Hebrew cantillation, I venture to suggest that in considering the aforementioned remark referring to the derivation of the melody of the Te Deum “from a common original which appears to be hopelessly lost “, I have been able to show without a doubt whence it be been derived.

Since the time that I made this discovery, my attention has been drawn to the music of the “Lamentations of Jeremiah” according to the rendering of the Roman Church, by Oskar Fleischer, an account of which is contained in the 2nd volume of his Neumen Studen.
While his investigations are of value to the study of the Jewish sources of the early music of the Roman Church, perhaps I may be justified in stating, that I have pursued the subject further afield than he has, and thereby a more important result has been achieved.
Before entering into any of the details expressed by Fleischer, I should like to say that in the article on” Lamentations” in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ii, 86, 87 [1880], it states : ” It is impossible to trace to its origin the Plain Chaunt melody to which the ‘Lamentations’ were anciently adapted, the most celebrated version, though not, perhaps, the purest—is that printed by Guidetti in his Directorium Chori in 1582.

“Early in the sixteenth century the use of the Plain Chaunt ‘Lamentations’ was discontinued in the Pontifical Chapel to make room for a polyphonic setting by Elziaro Genet –  more commonly known by his Italian cognomen, Carpentrasso  – who held the appointment of Maestro di Capella from 1515 to 1526. The compositions remained in constant use till the year 1587, when Pope Sixtus V ordained that the first ‘Lamentation’ for each day should be adapted to some kind of polyphonic music better fitted to express the mournful character of the words than that of Carpentrasso; and that the Second and Third Lessons should be sung, by a single soprano, to the old Plain Chaunt melody as revised by Guidetti.

“The disuse of Carpentrasso’s time-honoured harmonies gave great offence to the choir; but, the Pope’s command being absolute, Palestrina composed some music to the First ‘Lamentation’ for Good Friday in a manner so impressive that all opposition was at once silenced; and the Pope himself, on leaving the Chapel, said that he hoped, in the following year, to hear the other two First Lessons sung in exactly the same style. The expression of this wish was, of course, a command; and so understanding it Palestrina produced, in January, 1588, a volume containing a complete set of the nine ‘ Lamentations ‘ – three for each of the three days – which were printed, the same years, by Alexander Gardanus, under the title of ‘Lamentations’ liber primus. The work was prefaced by a formal dedication to the supreme Pontiff, who, though he still adhered to his resolution of having the Second and Third Lessons sung always in Plain Chaunt, expressed great pleasure in accepting it; and in 1589 it was reprinted at Venice, in 8vo, by Girolamo Scoto.”

Now, let us deal with some observations made by Fleischer. To put the matter briefly: “Hieronymus, the author of the Vulgate, who lived for nearly forty years in Palestine, boasted of his accurate translation of the Bible which he specially founded on Hebrew manuscripts. In his introduction to his translation of the Bible, he says the Latin MSS. are more corrupt than those of the Greek, and the latter are more corrupt than the text in the Hebrew MSS. He clearly expresses, that the genuine tradition of the Christian religion must be sought for in the land of its origin, and when the Roman Church recognized his translation, in spite of its glaring defects, as the standard one, one must also take into account that principle for the musical practice.

“The Roman Church, which in all matters lays stress on authority and origin, would have its principles thrown into its face, if, with regard to music, it would not have made sure of the source of tradition, especially, as music took such a prominent place in its cult.

“Just that the ‘Lamentations of Jeremiah’ should appear in the oldest Latin neumation, is probably not an accident; there is hardly another part of the Hebrew Bible appropriate for that purpose, as these ‘Lamentations’ over the downfall of the Jewish state, and the freedom of the Jewish nation.

“After the destruction of their kingdom, the Jews, wherever they were dispersed, felt only too deeply the words of the Prophet, by means of which they could lament their misery. If there is a poem of the Holy Writ which could give expression to the feeling of this calamity, it is the ‘Lamentations of Jeremiah’; and, if in any Song, the old Temple music could have been retained, it was in them.

“These songs the Christians learnt so much the easier, as they found themselves at first in the same condition as the Jews, and have retained in the Christian liturgy many an ancient Jewish custom. Mark well, it was not merely a melody which these ‘Lamentations’ show, but a musical form, a recitative formula, a declamatory scheme. With these ‘Lamentation Songs’ the Christian Church took over a very ancient musical principle. Since the musical form of the ‘Lamentations’ is of Jewish origin, it is to be assumed that this mode of recitation would not have been entirely lost amongst the Jews of later times. The old Jewish religious songs are, in fact, chiefly distinguished by their mode of recitative, and the free repetition of a tone, i.e. the use of a ‘tonus currens’ is altogether usual. Even the rule of the various cadences, of the comma, colon, and full stop had not been lost in the practice.”

I should like to add here, that there is the possibility of the musical rendering, which would convey to the listener the feeling for discerning the phrases, whether long or short, and the cadences of each line or verse, being anterior to the invention and systemation of any graphical signs for musical and syntactical purposes. It may have been, that the vocal (musical) and verbal utterance were simultaneous. Hence, it is quite natural to think, that all the factors which serve to make up the various musical and verbal portions of inter- punctuation, were not independent of one another.

Music and poetry are sister arts. In a few words, Milton’s ode ” Blest pair of syrens ” gives expression to this idea.

In selecting from Naumbourg’s chant “Liturgiques des Grandes Fetes” (2nd part) the musical rendering of a portion of a “Piyyut “, i.e. (poem) which is rendered in some of the Synagogues on the “Day of Rejoicing in the Law “, and which was composed by Moses ben Samuel ben Absalom, who lived not later than 1150, Fleischer in marking off what he designates as comma, colon, and full stop, shows the strong similarity between the various portions of the musical rendering of the “Piyyut” and the rendering of the “Lamentations” by the Church of Rome.

Possibly Fleiseher was not aware of the date of origin of the “Piyyut” ! Moreover, Peter Wagner, in his second volume of Neumenlwnde (1912) has arrived at the conclusion from investigations which he has made, that the neums in the Godex Amiatina are of the eleventh century!

To sum up :—Even if Fleiseher had been aware of the date of the origin of the “Piyyut” why, may I ask, did he not give an illustration of how the “Lamentations of Jeremiah” are rendered in the Synagogues by the Ashkenazic Jews, i.e. the Jews of Northern Europe?

On my comparing the Hebrew melody of the “Lamentations “, which is very beautiful, pathetic, and unique, with that of the “Piyyut “, I find points of resemblance. But as the ” Lamentations of Jeremiah” are so many centuries older than the “Piyyut “, it is feasible to assume that the music for it was adopted from the more ancient cantillation of the “Lamentations “.

I should like again to draw attention to my theory, that as so much of the Liturgy of the Synagogue had been borrowed by the Roman Church, the converts from Judaism handed down some of the Jewish traditional modes of cantillation in a somewhat corrupted form, subsequently adopting this for the music known as Plain Chant.

Hence, whilst both from an archological and musical point of view, these later investigations of mine throw a fresh and more important light on the subject of the music of the “Lamentations of Jeremiah “, perhaps I may also claim to have been able to trace to its origin the Plain Chaunt melody to which the Lamentations were anciently adapted!

Musical rendering of the Telisha Gedolah, one of the – Hebrew signs for the Cantillation of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, called in Hebrew “Ekhah” and “Kinoth “.



[The sections marked 1 and 2, denote the similarities in the Hebrew melodies and the melodies of the Roman Church, whilst those marked A and B, denote the similarities in the melody of the “Ekhah “, and the me’ody of the “Piyyut “.]

In the course of my previous remarks I alluded to the similarity which I found between the ancient Hebrew musical accentuation signs and the neums.

Some time since, Mr. Elkan N. Adler showed me a Hebrew MS. which he had found amongst his extremely valuable Genizah fragments which he discovered at the old Synagogue at Fostat, near Cairo, and he consulted me as to the meaning of the signs depicted thereon. I was soon convinced that the signs in the MS. were neums. Subsequently, I consulted Mr. Hughes-Hughes at the British Museum, who kindly referred me to another authority, the late Mr. Abdy Williams, who not only gave me considerable and valuable information, but also brought the subject of my investigations to the notice of Dom. Andre Mocquereau, of the Benedictine Fathers (Solesmes), the eminent authorities on Gregorian music, from whom I also elicited many important details connected therewith.

As a result of the investigations I am able to state :- As far as I am aware, this is the only Hebrew manuscript containing neums that has been discovered.

Regarding the Hebrew text, Mr. Adler gives the following version in the Appendix to his Catalogue of MSS. printed by Cambridge University Press :-
The fragment consists of a poem, the acrostic of which points to Amr ibn Sahal as the author. Several of his compositions are to be found in the Genizah, and he lived in the beginning of the eleventh century. Following the poem is a quotation from Isaiah lx, 1. He attributes the poem for use, either for Pentecost or Sunbath Torah (Rejoicing in the Law).

The date assigned to the music is the end of the twelfth or thirteenth century.


Dom. G. Beyssac questioned me as to the form used for the clef, and with regard to the stroke which unites certain notes, which latter is unknown to the Gregorian notation.

I suggested that the numerical value of the Hebrew letter Daleth, being 4, this letter was used to denote the clef Fa, on the fourth line.

As to the stroke, it appears to me to be for the purpose of showing that a certain number of notes are to be sung on a particular syllable of the word over which it is placed.

Regarding the provenance of the music, I suggested a Lombardic influence to the late Mr. Abdy Williams. With this view he concurred. Moreover, Mr. Williams having described the neums on page 2 as being “too fragmentary for any attempt at reconstruction “, I am indeed glad to state that my solution of it – with the exception of a slight error or two in the matter of notes and rhythm – was found by him to be correct. At first, I considered this portion of the melody might be that for the cantillation of the Prophets, but further investigation induced me to reject that opinion. In all probability it is a species of “Hazzanuth “, i.e. an intonation rendered by the Cantor. Furthermore, as there seems to be something in common with the melody that precedes this latter portion, it is not unreasonable to assume, that this melodic connexion tends to denote an artistic perception on the part of the individual who set the poem to music.




Mr. Williams suggested the rhythm or style of singing, by analogy with the music of the Armenian Uniat Church. I have added time signatures, bars, triplets and pauses, so as to give readers a better impression of the melody.

The notes of interrogation underneath the music, denote what appears to be missing in the Hebrew Text, and those above it, what is doubtful as to the melody.

In regard to the conclusion of the melody on the note F, although I have not found any sign of another neum, I venture to suggest that, in consideration of the great age of the MS, and the obliteration of parts of same, as well as the consideration of the tonality of the music, and particularly the melodic outline of the greater portion of the last bar but two, the note F was followed by the note E.

By means of adding another bar and the note H as a minim, with the pause over it instead of over the note F, the phraseology of the concluding notes not only coincides, with slight variation, with the last bar but two, but the melody is greatly enhanced, and the conclusion is more satisfactory.