THE ASHKENAZI PRAYER-MODES
A COMMENTARY ON THEIR DEVELOPMENT AND PRACTICE
This final Part contains five sections:
VII: The S’lichoh/Psalm Modes;
VIII: The Ahavoh Rabboh Modes;
IX: Other Modes;
XI: Selected Bibliography.
XII Special AcknowledgementVII: The S’lichoh/Psalm ModesThese are based upon cantillation modes of the Prophets and Lamentations. Not surprisingly they have become especially prominent at times of communal anguish (e.g. in Eastern Europe during and after the Chmielnitzki pogroms of 1648-1660), and have subsided in times of prosperity and calm. These modes are used in various services throughout the liturgical year, especially for S’lichos before the High Festivals and for chanting the Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and on the first days of Pilgrim Festivals.The intervals of the Psalm-mode scale are identical to those of the Mogen Ovos modes between tonic and upper tonic; however there are several ‘accidentals’ below the tonic (sharpened 3rd, 6th and sometimes 7th) which bear no resemblance to Gregorian or Arabic counterparts. As a consequence, numerous ‘hybrid’ or ‘mixed’ modes nestle beneath what is in effect an umbrella for the S’lichoh mode (Ex.4h) and its closer associates.General characteristics:(i) The tonic functions as reciting tone for all these modes, and as concluding tone for all but one: Pilgrim Festival morning Amidoh (Ex.4d) which closes most unusually on the 4th degree (D).(ii) Melodies tend to dwell on the 3rd degree (C), occasionally modulate to the 4th (D) or to Ahavoh Rabboh on the 5th (E), but rarely extend beyond the 6th (F or F sharp).Individual characteristics:Ex.4a: Psalm mode (not Biblical): Intermediate phrases in this mode tend to close on the 3rd degree (C) (bars 2 and 7) or the 5th (E) (bars 3 and 8) Motifs from the Festival morning Amidoh mode (Ex.4d) are frequently borrowed.Ex.4b: Sabbath and Festival evening Bor’chu: Apart from its distinctive motifs, the most obvious feature of this mode is its chromaticism, extending even to the point of ‘false relationship’ (C sharp and C natural in bar 6).Ex.4c: Sabbath and Festival morning K’rovoh: This simple mode, showing the influence of the cantillations of the Prophets and of Esther, is used for poetic texts. There is a tendency towards Ahavoh Rabboh on the 5th degree (E) (bars 1, 3, 4).
Ex.4d: Pilgrim Festival morning Amidoh: The two main features of this mode occur in that part of its range below the tonic, namely the major 6th degree (F sharp) (bar 9) and its striking conclusion, referred to earlier under ‘general characteristics’.
Ex.4e: Yomim Noroim morning P’sukey D’zimroh: This is another simple mode containing the minor 7th degree (G) below the tonic (bar 2).
Ex.4f: Yomim Noroim morning K’rovoh: The main characteristic here is the modulation to the Ukrainian-Dorian (Ex. 1e) on the tonic (A).
Ex.4g: Yomim Noroim morning Amidoh: Modulation to, and improvisation within, the Ahavoh Rabboh on the 5th degree (E) (bars 2-4) and the final cadence, are the significant features of this mode.
Ex. 4h: S’lichoh: Penitential prayers in this mode are chanted either in a quasi-major style, or in a quasi-minor style favoured in Eastern Europe and exemplified here. Noteworthy characteristics are (i) the use of the 3rd degree (C) as a reciting tone, (ii) the halting downward sequence (bar 3), and (iii) modulations to the Ukrainian-Dorian (bars 5-8).
A further mode in this group is the Weekday Amidoh mode, which is used also for the Ovos of all Minchoh services except that of Yom Kippur.
VIII: The Ahavoh Rabboh Modes
Of all the Ashkenazi Prayer-Modes, the history, structure and character of the Ahavoh Rabboh are among the most arresting. The name is taken from the prayer which introduces this modal form on Sabbath morning (following on from earlier portions in the Hashem Moloch and Mogen Ovos modes). Ahavoh Rabboh modes appear in most religious services, but pre-eminently during the High Festivals, where they identify confessions of sin, supplication, lamentations over national or personal tragedies, and pleas for mercy. In early prayer-codes, Chazanim were advised to move their congregations to tears on certain appropriate occasions such as fasts and days of penitence; and their artistry was measured according to their ability or otherwise in this respect. During the Chmielnitzki progroms referred to earlier, a Chazan is on record as having chanted Keil Mole Rachamim with such feeling that Moslem overlords were moved to deal kindly with the 3,000 refugees in their charge. Only the Ahavoh Rabboh was regarded as capable of achieving such a powerful effect. To this day it is considered, in many places, to be synonymous with synagogue song, and remains by far the most popular mode among East European Ashkenazim, cantors and laymen alike.
And yet this family of modes has no connection whatever with Biblical Chant; indeed, it would have been prohibited in the Temple! A brief historical resume may help to explain this astonishing reality.
Olympus is said to have introduced a certain musical mode (intervallically related to Ahavoh Rabboh) from Asia into Greece in c.800 B.C.E. ‘Conservatives’ during the Pythagorean Age attacked this ‘chromatic’ scale on account of its association with the Aulos, a primitive and raucous-souning double-oboe, which played the notes: D, C sharp, B flat, A, F, and which accompanied orgiastic rituals of the most sordid kind. This chromatic scale was said to have a seductive and paralysing influence on its listeners; nevertheless, despite attempts to abolish it, it retained and consolidated its position. Naturally, the Priests of the Jerusalem Temple forbade contact with this potential contaminant.
Leaping forward one-and-a-half millenia we read of the Khazar tribes of the Caspian Sea who, during the 8th century C.E., converted to Judaism en masse. These tribes were probably of Tartaric stock and may have gradually blended their musical heritage with that of their new correligionists. At any rate the Ahavoh Rabboh scale closely resembles the Arabic Maqam Hijaz which was exceedingly popular with the Mongols and Tartars who travelled westward into Asia Minor, Syria, the Holy Land, Egypt, as well as into South Russia, the Balkans and Hungary during the 13th and 14th centuries. Maqam Hijaz became well known in the Near East and even penetrated Greek Church Song. The Jews, in the wake of Tartaric conquests, responded to the nostalgic impression created by this exotic music; it aroused sentiments of yearning for Zion. Prohibitions and taboos were soon submerged or forgotten; Ahavoh Rabboh as a vehicle for expressions of pain, love, or even in some cases poignant joy (as, for example, in the music of the Chasidim of later centuries) was here to stay.
Geographical boundaries were, however, reflected in musical boundaries and, indeed, prejudices. Just as certain parts of Central and all of Northern and Western Europe had been left untouched by this influx of Asiatic tribes, so also was the music of these regions. German Jews of the 18th century regarded this form of orientalism as exotic but inferior; Salomon Sulzer, the great Viennese Cantor, composer and scholar of the 19th century, looked askance at Ahavoh Rabboh, and excised it from all but those texts that specifically justified its presence.
The scale (Ex.1d) is probably the most complex of all the traditional Jewish modal scales. The 2nd degree (F) is flat above the tonic but sharpened above the upper tonic; the 3rd degree (G) is sharp above the tonic but flattened above the upper tonic; the 6th degree (C) is sharp below the tonic but flattened above; and the 7th degree (D) is flat below the tonic but may be sharpened above. The orientalizing factor is undoubtedly the ‘augmented 2nd’ interval between the 2nd and 3rd degrees (and sometimes between the 6th and 7th).
Ex.5a: Sabbath and Yomim Noroim: Recitatives in this mode usually begin and end on the tonic; all other degrees of the scale, excepting the 2nd (F), may act as resting tones, whereas the 5th often functions as the reciting tone. The most common modulations move (i) to the ‘major’ on the 4th degree (A) (bar 8); (ii) to the ‘minor’ on the 4th degree (bar 5); or (in) to the Ahavoh Rabboh on the 4th or 5th degree (bar 9). A descending motif from the upper 7th degree (D) to the lower 7th before the end of a musical sentence is typical (bar 10). The upper tonic and notes above it are used to climactic effect.
Ex 5b Weekday evening and morning: Many motifs are shared with the Sabbath and Yomim Noroim mode; however, this mode is very plain and indulges in the minimum of modulation and embellishment.
IX: Other Modes
1) Viddui: This mode is derived from the cantillation mode for the Book of Job, and slightly resembles the intervallic structure of the Hashem Moloch group; however melodies in this mode rarely rise above the 5th or 6th degree, and are characterised by their sternness and dignity.
2) Av Horachamim/Mi Shebeirach: The two texts after which this mode has been named both refer to a highly orientalized medium of expression based upon the Ukrainian-Dorian or ‘Gypsy’ scale (Ex.le), not unlike the Turkish Makam Nigriz. Extracts from this mode appear in other groups (e.g. Hashem Moloch). It is used at various times during the year (e.g. Weekday Shachris, Sabbath Musaf, Pilgrim Festivals, S’lichos, Yomim Noroim Amidos, and Yom Kippur Koton). The main characteristics are the augmented 2nd between the 3rd degree (G) and the 4th (A sharp), and occasionally between the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale. Like the Ahavoh Rabboh, it is a comparatively late importation into Jewish modality.
3) The Oz Bekol and 4) Yishtabach modes are both regarded as combinations of Ahavoh Rabboh and Mogen Ovos. The Yishtabach mode has already been referred to (see Section IV, Ex.3d) in the context of the Western Ashkenazi tradition; among the Eastern Ashkenazim the ‘synthetic’ scale ascends according to Mogen Ovos but descends in the form of the Ecclesiastical Phrygian mode (i.e. the 2nd degree is usually flattened). A typical pattern for modulation from the tonic would pass through ‘major’ on the 4th degree, Ahavoh Rabboh on the 5th degree, returning to Mogen Ovos on the tonic. Yishtabach is used in settings of laudatory prayers.
There are numerous further modes in addition to the thirty-or-more described in greater or lesser detail during the course of this article. Though they may vary considerably in mood and character, and display idiosyncratic motif-structures, they are of secondary importance and will be traceable in most cases to one or other of the four modal groups and five ‘synthetic’ scales.
Cantor Jack Kessler contributed an article to the Journal of Synagogue Music as long ago as 1973 (see Bibliography) in which he proposed new areas of exploration in the field ofNusach. Drawing examples from his own compositions, he demonstrated how the Jewish Prayer-Modes could be adapted to such contemporary developments in Western music as Serialism. The moral behind this may be summed up in two words: organic development.
Since time immemorial, Prayer-Modes have undergone change – albeit slowly and subtly. The danger of conducting research into a practical and vibrant art-form is that scholarship may become an end in itself and fossilize that which it should merely explain. It is to be hoped that scholars will be as flexible in their attitudes to modal analysis as are the modes that they choose so to analyse.
Discoveries are continually being made; and although we do not know exactly how music sounded two centuries ago, let alone two millenia, it is possible that scientists may one day be able to manufacture an instrument sensitive enough to register and isolate, at will, sound-waves generated in the distant past. In that eventuality it would be a sorry comment on our civilization if direct comparisons with remote antecedents were allowed to negate the validity of contemporary expression.
The Ashkenazi Prayer-Modes of the present are a sure vindication of the continuing trust placed in them as carriers of profound and enduring Jewish values.
XI: Selected Bibliography
H. Avenary, articles on ‘Music’, ‘Nusach’, ‘Shtayger’, etc. inEncyclopedia Judaica, Jerusalem, 1972.
H. Avenary, ‘The Concept of Mode in European Synagogue Chant: an Analysis of the Adoshem Moloch Shteiger’, YuvalVol. II, Jerusalem, 1971, pp. 11-21.
A. Baer, Ba’al T’filloh, Gothenburg, 1877.
A. Bernstein, Musikalisher Pinkes, Vilna, 1927.
F.L. Cohen, article on ‘Jewish Music’ , Jewish Encyclopedia,New York, 1907.
B.J. Cohon, ‘The Structure of the Synagogue Prayer-Chant’,Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. III No.1, Boston, Spring 1950, pp. 17-32.
M. Deutsch, Vorbeterschule, Breslau, 1871
I. Freed, Harmonizing the Jewish Modes, New York, 1958
A Friedmann, Der Synagogale Gesang, Berlin, 1904 and 1908
L. Glantz, ‘The Musical Basis of Nusach Hatefillah’, Journal of Synagogue Music, Vol. IV Nos. 1-2, New York, April 1972, pp. 31-45.
Z.N. Golomb, Zimrat-Yah, Vilna, 1885.
A.Z. Idelsohn, Jewish Music in Its Historical Development, New York, 1929.
A.Z. Idelsohn, ‘The Mogen Ovos Mode: A Study in Folklore’,HUCA, Vol. XIV, Cincinnati, 1939, pp. 554-574.
A.Z. Idelsohn, Thesaurus of Hebrew-Oriental Melodies, Vols. VII and VII Leipzig, 1933.
J.A. Kessler, ‘New Areas in Nusach: a Serial Approach to Hazzanut’, Journal of Synagogue Music, Vol. V No. 1, New York, October 1973, pp. 3-6.
I. Lachmann, ‘Unsere Synagogale Nationalmusik’, Der Juedische Kantor, Berlin, 12 February 1880
P. Minkowsky, Die Entwicklung der Synagogalen Liturgie bis nach der Reformation des 19. Jahrhunderts, Odessa, 1902.
S. Naumbourg, Agudat Shirim: Recueil de chants religieux et populaires des Israelites, Paris, 1874
M. Nulman, numerous articles in Concise Encyclopedia of Jewish Music, New York, 1975
J. Schonberg, Die Traditionellen Gesange des Israelitischen Gottesdien in Deutschland, Erlangen, 1926
A. Sendrey, The Music of the Diaspora, New York, 1970
J. Singer, Die Tonarten des Traditionellen
H. Weintraub, Schire Beth Adonai, oder Tempelgesange, Koenigsberg, 1859
E. Werner, A Voice Still Heard. . . The Sacred Songs of the Ashkenazic Jews, Philadelphia, 1976.
E. Werner, ‘Jewish Music’, The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 6th Edition, Vol. 9, London, 1980.
E. Werner, ‘The Music of Post-Biblical Judaism’, New Oxford History of Music, Vol 1, 1957, pp. 320-324.
M. Wohlberg, ‘The History of the Musical Modes of the Ashkenazic Synagogue, and their Usage’, Journal of Synagogue Music, Vol. VI, nos. 1-2, New York, April 1972, pp. 46-61.
M. Wohlberg, The Music of the Synagogue, New York (National Jewish Music Council), December, 1948.
XII: Special Acknowledgment
I wish to pay special tribute to Cantor Baruch Cohon of Temple Emanuel, Beverly Hills, California, for so kindly permitting me to base my musical examples upon his researches (referred to in the body of the text and in the Bibliography) which have been reprinted in the July 1981 isssue of the Journal of Synagogue Music published by the Cantors Assembly, New York.
As Cantor Cohon has indicated, any synthesis of traditional motifs will surely presuppose sensitive embellishment, phrasing, accentuation and adaptation to an appropriatetext; and it is to be hoped that this observation may be borne in mind in the event of a live performance of these musical examples.