Friday, August 14, 2009

What did the songs of the Bible originally sound like?

One more post an ancient music, then on to something else. I've often wondered what the music of Biblical times sounded like. What did the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and other parts of the Bible sound like sound like when they were first sung?

At my Bar Mitzvah, I chanted my Torah and Haftorah portions as everyone does. The sounds of the notes though come from one of a series of oral traditions, and their relationship with the actual way these were originally sung is unclear.

Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, a French musician, began studying the cantillation marks, which appear both above and below the Hebrew text of the Masoretic Bible. This Bible was compiled over several centuries by scholars, and completed in the eleventh century. She concluded that the eight cantillation marks appearing below the Hebrew text (which are always present) represented a series of hand gestures that were used to indicate performance of a musical value. This is known as chironomy, and was used throughout the ancient world particularly in Egypt. Her work has had a mixed scholarly reception

Here's an overview of Haik-Vantoura's work, from NPR's "Morning Edition" (1986)

Psalm 23 from H
aik-Vantoura's "Music of the Bible Revealed" (1982)

Many "Music of the Bible Revealed" clips are available here.

Psalm 29 in the Masoretic text:

An article on chironomy in the ancient world:


Biblical style harps and lyres have been created by Harrari Harps.

An ancient melody played on an ancient lyre.

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting. I always wonder what the music in the Bible sounds like.