THE ASHKENAZI PRAYER-MODES
A COMMENTARY ON THEIR DEVELOPMENT AND PRACTICE
Part II contains three sections: IV: Preamble to the Analyses; V: The Hashem Moloch Modes; and VI: TheMogen Ovos Modes.IV: Preamble to the Analyses:Much confusion has been wrought by the widely differing classification systems in current use, as graphically evidenced in Cantor Max Wohlberg’s illuminating article onThe History of the Musical Modes of the Ashkenazic Synagogue and their Usage. (See Bibliography). I have chosen to concentrate upon the investigations of Cantor Baruch Joseph Cohon, illustrious pupil of the ‘father of Jewish musicology’: Abraham Zvi Idelsohn, who entrusted to him the fragmentary beginnings of an all-embracing motif analysis. In his article entitled The Structure of the Synagogue Prayer-Chant (see Bibliography), Cantor Cohon has distilled the vast majority of the motifs (phrases) that are contained in the main Ashkenazi Prayer-Modes; Cantor Wohlberg has, in his above-mentioned article, provided the comparatively few that Cantor Cohon omitted. Taken together, these compilations provide a fascinating and useful point of departure for practical and academic study alike.In addition to commentary, Cantor Cohon presents four Charts of musical examples:
1) Modes in the Hashem Moloch scale;
2) Modes in the Ahavoh Rabboh scale;
3) Modes in the Mogen Ovos scale; and
4) Modes in the Psalm-mode scale.Each chart begins with a ‘synthetic’ scale, and continues with a table of Beginning phrases, Intermediate phrases (incorporating Pausal, Modulatory, and Pre-Concluding phrases) and Concluding phrases for each individual mode, to all but two of which the text ascribes – by means of letter and number symbols – a ‘succession of phrases’ that Cantor Cohon regards as ‘typical’. These have been written out in full, for ready reference, in my Examples 2, 3, 4, and 5. (I have, in addition, taken the liberty of providing the missing ‘typical successions’ for Ex. 4c: Sabbath and Festival morning K’rovoh, and Ex.4e: Yomim Noroim morningP’sukey D’zimroh (both from the S’lichoh/Psalm mode family).The following notes may prove useful in interpreting the resulting recitatives:
(i) Bar-lines signify divisions between motifs, not the placing of accents as in Western music; accent is denoted by the customary musical symbol.
(ii) Each motif carries a capital letter at the beginning of the bar, above or below the stave (according to convenience): B (Beginning phrase) introduces a musical sentence or paragraph; P (Pausal) functions as a musical comma or semi-colon; M (Modulation) reflects a temporary, and often subtle, change of tonal centre; P-C (Pre-Concluding) demands resolution by C (Concluding phrase) which ends a musical sentence or paragraph.
(iii) Time values are relative and approximate.
(iv) The first and/or last note of a phrase may be lengthened to accommodate as many syllables as necessary.
(v) ‘Key’ signatures have been omitted and accidentals applied to every appropriate note, in the interest of clarity. However, the following Tonics (first degree of the scale) apply in these illustrations Ex.2 (Hashem Moloch): C; Ex.3 (Mogen Ovos): D; Ex.4 (S’lichoh/Psalm): A; and Ex.5 (Ahavoh Rabboh): E. NB The choice of E as tonic for all five scales in Ex. 1 was dictated by the interests of easy comparability and convenient tessitura.
A number of general observations on these modes can be made at the outset:
1) Although each individual mode will project its special character through motifs peculiar to itself, many will share a common scale. Therefore, it is more correct to speak of Prayer-Mode Groups.
2) Jewish modal scales are not limited to the octave, as are their Western counterparts: most contain extra notes either below the tonic or above the upper tonic, or both, (see ‘black notes’ in Ex. 1) to illustrate the important differences that occur at specific points in the scale. Most scholars now agree that Jewish scales normally contain the same intervals descending as ascending.
3) The ‘key’ chosen here for each mode is arbitrary; they may centre upon any other tonic (provided, of course, that all other notes in the recitative are transposed up or down by the same interval). Incidentally, the same is not true of Arabic Maqamat, where the tonic is traditionally absolute, not relative.
4) Although all modes have a sense of ‘key’ or ‘tonal centre’, they are essentially melodic in concept (like Maqamat) not harmonic; this creates hazards when accompaniments in the Western idiom are superimposed. Great care must be taken to avoid ‘destroying’ the mode by the use of incompatible chords, especially dominant (5th degree) triads or dominant seventh chords; for these contain a sharpened leading-note (7th degree) whereas all the Ashkenazi modes – except in a few circumscribed cases – have a flattened leading-note (sub-tonic).
5) A notable feature of the ‘old’ cantorial style was the flattening of the supertonic (2nd degree) as it fell to the tonic at the end of a recitative. This did not, in fact, represent a sudden modulation into an obscure Jewish mode similar to the Ecclesiastical Phrygian, but rather a cadential convention of no structural significance. (See section ix,4 in Part iii of this article.)
6) Modulations are effected (i) by retaining the tonic but changing the mode; (ii) by retaining the mode but altering the tonic; (iii) by changing both the mode and tonic.
7) Of the four main groups of Ashkenazi Prayer-Modes, three are based on the much older, and considerably less flexible, Biblical Cantillation Modes (i.e. Pentateuch, High Festival Pentateuch, Prophets, Lamentations, Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Psalms – though the last-mentioned have been lost in the Ashkenazi tradition). These are Hashem Moloch (Ex.2), Mogen Ovos (Ex.3), and S’lichoh (Ex.4). The Ahavoh Rabboh modes (Ex.5) are a more recent development in the history of traditional Jewish music, and they have accordingly been placed last among the musical examples.
8) Of the four main modal groupings, three may be regarded as relatively ‘pure’: Hashem Moloch (more popular among Western Ashkenazim than those from the East), Mogen Ovos (most frequently used by Western Ashkenazim), and Ahavoh Rabboh (most favoured by Eastern Ashkenazim). The S’lichoh/Psalm modes are considered ‘combined’ or ‘hybrid’.
9) Motifs in the Av Horachamim/Mi Shebeirach mode (see section ix,2), based on the Ukrainian-Dorian scale (Ex.1e), may appear in any or all of the main modal groups.
10) Individual modes relate to a specific liturgical section, time of day, or time of year. However they must be referred to precisely to avoid misapprehension. For example, the P’sukey D’zimroh mode for Sabbath mornings forms part of the Hashem Moloch group, whereas the P’sukey D’zimroh for High Festival mornings may be found among the S’lichoh/ Psalm group.
11) Modal Groups tend to overlap considerably in liturgical function. Note, for example, that three modal groups are represented during the Friday evening service: Mogen Ovos,Kabbolas Shabbos (Hashem Moloch group), and Bor’chu(S’lichoh group). Matters may be complicated further by such phenomena as a change of mode to anticipate the characteristic melody of a Missinai tune, or the introduction of certain half-fixed melod patterns that recur, for example, during the High Festivals, These formulas sometimes dominate entire sections of the liturgy, in flat disregard for the prescribed mode for the occasion.
V: The Hashem Moloch Modes
Their name is derived from the opening words of Psalm 93 with which Chazanim traditionally commence the Friday evening service. However, they are not restricted to texts concerned only with the Kingship of the Almighty, but are applied more generally to prayers of praise, exaltatation – and thanksgiving, and rendered in a majestic style.
These modes, derived from the Biblical Pentateuch mode, are used Friday evenings, a considerable part of SabbathShachris and Musaf Kedushoh, Pilgrim Festival Shachris,Rosh Hashonoh Shofros, High Festival Arvis etc. The ‘synthetic’ scale (Ex. 1a) is complex, resembling the Yemenite T’filloh mode and the Arabic Maqam Rast: between tonic and upper tonic the 3rd degree is major and the 7th degree minor, whereas above the upper tonic the 3rd (10th) degree is minor, and below the tonic the 7th degree is major.
This mixture, and resultant blurring of sharpened and flattened 3rd and 7ths may relate to the ‘neutral’ 3rds and 7ths that characterize the ‘equally tempered’ scales of Arabic Maqamat (e.g. C D E- F G A B- C, where neither a tone nor a semitone but a three-quarter-tone separate D from E ‘minus’, E ‘minus’ from F, A from B ‘minus’, and B ‘minus’ from C).
This observation is not as academic as it may at first seem, since it is not unusual for Chazanim instinctively to utilize microtonal intervals unknown in Western music. (This points yet again to the Middle Eastern provenance of traditional Jewish melos, and is quite a separate issue from singing ‘out-of-tune’.) Musical Europeanization began in earnest with the advent of the Reform movement at the beginning of the 19th century, and with it came the increasing tendency to convert the Hashem Moloch scale into Western ‘major’.
(i) The ascending major triad at the beginning of some of the individual modes (Exx.2a(i), 2a(ii), 2c(i), 2c(ji), and 2d) is a comparatively recent innovation, revealing the influence of German folksong.
(ii) The tonic, 3rd, and 5th degree of the scale function as reciting and resting tones.
Ex.2a: Friday evening Kabbolas Shabbos: This restful mode may modulate to Mogen Ovos, Ahavoh Rabboh, or Ukrainian-Dorian (Ex.2a(ii), bar 5); there is also a characteristic turn to the 4th degree (F) (Ex.2a(i), bar 4) followed by a pause on the 2nd degree (D) (bar 5) before coming to rest on the tonic.
Ex.2b: Sabbath morning P’sukey D’zimroh: This mode tends towards ‘major’ in Western Europe. Since it is used mainly for short responses, there is no real provision for modulation. Note the characteristic ending on the 5th degree (G).
Ex.2c: Sabbath morning Y’kum Purkon/Chazoras Hashatz: The more extrovert character of these modes is examplified by the free use of modulation and the introduction of local melodies. The 5th degree (G) is the reciting tone (Ex.2c(i), bars 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10).
Ex.2d: Yomim Noroim Ma’ariv: This dignified mode also tends towards the Western ‘major’ by way of sharpened 7th and 10th degrees (bars 6 and 5 respectively). Modulation is absent; however variety is ensured by the incorporation of rhythmical or non- rhythmical High Festival melodies. The concluding motif often closes on the upper tonic.
Ex.2e: Shavuos morning Akdomus: Reserved for special poetical sections, this mode avoids modulation, tends toward the ‘major’ on the 4th degree (F) (Ex.2e(i), bars 1 and 5; Ex.2e(ii), bars 1, 4 and 6), upon which the West European example concludes; the East European mode ends on the tonic (Ex.2e(i).
VI: The Mogen Ovos Modes
The prayer which lends its name to this group occurs during the Friday evening ritual and, as a summary of the seven Benedictions of the Amidoh, probably originated in Babylonia during the 3rd century C.E. These modes are sung in a tender, relaxed, lyrical and peaceful manner and form the musical vehicle for declarations of faith, hope and thanksgiving, also for narratives and didactic sections of the liturgy (e.g. Lern Steiger, Ex.3g). They are based on the Biblical Pentateuch, Prophetic, and Lamentation modes, and used during weekday Shachris, Friday evening, Sabbath morning and afternoon, Pilgrim Festival Ma’ariv, and parts of the High Festival services (e.g. Rosh Hashonoh Malchuyos) etc.
The ‘synthetic’ scale is comparatively simple, equating with the Western ‘natural’ minor (melodic minor descending, according to which ‘minor’ key signatures are determined), to the Ecclesiastical Aeolian mode, and to the Arabic Maqam Bayati.
(i) It is not easy to isolate the unifying thread that binds these modes into a group; there may originally have been an underlying form which can now no longer be deduced.
(ii) Melodies often begin by rising to the 5th degree (A) (Exx 3a, c, d, e, g) which, with the 4th degree (G) (Ex.3a, bar 4; Ex.3b, bail), acts as a reciting tone.
(iii) Modulations tend primarily to the ‘relative major’ (i.e. on the 3rd degree (F) (Exx.3a, bar 2; 3b, bars 5-6; 3c, bars 2, 6-7; 3d, bars 3-4; and 3e, bar 6).
(iv) Most modes conclude on the tonic (D) (Exx.3a, b, d, e, g) or on the 5th degree (A) utilizing the Sof Posuk of the Prophetic mode (Exx.3c and f).
Ex.3a: Weekday morning Birkos Hashachar: This comparatively plain and unvaried mode is used for weekday P’sukey D’zimroh and related to the Pentateuch mode. There is little evidence of modulation, except for mild flirtations with the 5th degree of the ‘relative major’ (C) (bars 2 and 6).
Ex.3b: Weekday morning T’filloh: The pentatonic structure of this mode (D F G B flat C) relates to that of the Prophets. The 3rd degree (F) functions pausally (bars 2, 4, 5) and occasionally as concluding note, whereas the 4th degree (G) is the reciting tone. There is opportunity for modulation.
Ex.3c: Friday evening Mogen Ovos: The serenity of this mode is redolent of Sabbath peace. Modulations to Mogen Ovos on the 5th degree (A) or to Ahavoh Rabboh on the 5th degree are characteristic though not obligatory.
Ex.3d: Sabbath morning Bor’chu: This is known in the Western Ashkenazi tradition as the Yishtabach mode (see Section IX,4), and contains distinctive motifs (e.g. bar 4).
Ex.3e: Sabbath Minchoh: The flowing phrases of this mode (related to those of both the Pentateuch and Prophetic modes) revolve around the tonic (bars 1, 3, 5, 7, 8) and the 4th degree (G) (bars 1, 2, 5 , 6, 7, 8).
Ex.3f: Pilgrim Festival Ma’ariv: The prevalent reciting tone and obligatory concluding tone in this mode is the 5th degree (A) (bars 1, 2, 3, 5, 7). Slight variations occur between Eastern and Western Ashkenazi traditions. Modulation to Ahavoh Rabboh on the 5th degree is not uncommon (bar 6).
F.3g: Lern Steiger: This fluidly constructed mode is used when the Talmud is studied, and consequently also in any service where sections of the Talmud are quoted. Its meditative quality stems from the frequent repetition of the same notes (bars 1, 2, 4, 7). This Steiger is firmly based upon the tonic, 3rd degree (F) and 5th (A). Modulation to Ahavoh Rabboh on the tonic is characteristic (bar 3).
There are certain other modes for special occasions which closely resemble the Mogen Ovos modes; examples are the weekday, Sabbath, and Pilgrim Festival Yotzer modes, and those for Tal and Geshem.