MAX STERN : RECONSTRUCTING THE VOICE OF KING DAVID'S HARPS
These pieces were commissioned for the exhibition "Sounds of Music – Music in the Holy land and the Ancient World" by the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem, Winter, 2007as reconstructions of ancient music, models of musical archeology in practice and performance.
They were written to be played on replicas of biblical instruments, constructed by Israeli luthier and sculpture, Moshe Frumin, Haifa, who based his models upon archeological findings (i.e., coins, pottery, carvings, figurines, reliefs, drawings and seals) and passages from the Bible, Mishneh and Talmud. If the precise materials, sounds and playing techniques of ancient instruments are unknown, an extensive heritage from earliest times is to be found among the primitive peoples of today. 1
The technique of playing the lyre, for example, still lives among Ethiopian folk musicians. The Ethiopian "beganna" (a box lyre), for example, is played mainly by aristocrats only, a tradition which may date back to Old Testament times. Holy books in Ge'ez record that David played a lyre in the Temple. In the Ethiopian psalter of Belen Sagad (early 15th century) he is depicted playing the "beganna". 2 Filmed excerpts of performing Ethiopian musicians accompanying singers were viewed and analyzed in ascertaining playing techniques on the lyre. While independent compositions for harps undoubtedly did exist, for the most part, harps played a supportive role to the voice. 3
A second source is the music of today's Oriental Jewish Communities in Israel. The structural feature of parallelism, so integral to the Psalms, find roots in "call and response" forms and the choral antiphony of Africa, as well as Oriental Jewish Psalmody. This free alteration of two similar, yet contrasting musical phrases constitutes a principle of literary and musical construction since earliest times.
The limited scope of recitation tones in this music often corresponds to the number of strings on ancient harps, from three to ten. 4 Of great interest are women's songs of Yemen, which have long attracted ethnomusicologists in their search for more archaic strata of musical expression. The non-standard tonal inflections of these songs antedate fixed scale systems and intervallic relations. Among this repertoire one finds the first signs of modality centered around structural tones, pre-tetrachordal conjunctive forms of neutral thirds, enharmonic structures, tetrachords, pentachords, and gapped quasi-pentatonic scales; living tonal structural features which appear often only theoretically in the writings on music of the Ancient Greeks. 5
In ascertaining the possible tunings of the harp strings, a third source was considered, the research of Anne Draffkorn Kilmer and others into Old Babylonian tuning procedures for the lyre (ca.1800 BC) based on cuneiform theoretical texts. 6 This revealed procedures for tuning harp strings, often in up-down alternating fourths and fifths, and arranged in modes from low to high pitches or from high to low, similar to modern practice. 7
While the Bible was consulted in determining the character of the individual movements, even standard commentaries differ in regard to the meanings of the headings of the Psalms.8 "Ayeleth Hashachar" or the hind of the morning, for example is perhaps the name of a melody to which Psalm 22 was sung; a Talmudic reference to Esther; or an expression of David's feelings at a time of suffering. "Hashalish" were instruments played by women singing joyfully in 1Samuel 18:6. "Al Hashemitite" may be a prayer in sickness, or a deep toned instrument (Psalm 6); while "Al Alamoth" (Psalm 46) were either female voices, high register sounds, or a plea for refuge, help, or strength. "Maskil" (Le-Lammed or Michtam) may mean either to instruct or to play skillfully (Psalm 60). "Al Hashoshanim" or lilies (Psalm 69) may be a song of love. "Al Shiggaion" (Psalm 7) may be a dithyrambic song, an intellectual error, or a form that wanders aimlessly. "Shir Yedidot" (Psalm 45) is most likely a prayer for happiness, or a wedding hymn. Al hagittit" (Psalm 8) may be a vintage song, perhaps sung while stamping grapes to a Philistine melody. "Al Tashchith" or do not destroy (Psalm 57) is an expression of confidence in danger. 9 In any case, "Nebhel & Kinnor" is not a depiction of psalm titles, but rather follows attitudes of joy, prayer, confession, confidence, and praise that the psalms express.
Ancient performers were skilled professionals. Anyone familiar with the skill attained by illiterate folk musicians on primitive pipes, strings, or drums can attest to this. There is reason to assume achievement in the peforming arts comparable to ancient technical accomplishments in engineering, pottery, jewelry making or weaving skills -
I. NEBHEL & KINNOR , ten pieces for ancient biblical harps and lyres
1. AL HASHALISH, (1Samuel 18:6), for three stringed 'Kinnor David', reconstructed after a Bar Kochba coin, 132-135 CE, tuned on a conjuctive neutral third (d - e - f )
2. AL AYELET HASHACHAR, (Psalm 22), a song of the morning, for four stringed lyre, after a painting on a pottery jug, Megido 1350-1150 BC, tuned on a gapped scale (f - g - a - c')
3. MASKIL (Le-Lammed), (Psalm 60), a song to instruct, for a four stringed lyre, after a Bar Kochba Coin 132-135 CE, tuned in an enharmonic tetrachord mode (d - e flat - f sharp - g )
4. AL TASHCHITH, (Psalm 57), an expression of confidence, for six string kinnor, after a pottery figurine , Ashdod 8th Century BC, tuned on a pentachord with a lower drone string (D - g - a - b - c - d )
5. AL ALAMOTH, (Ps . 46),a lyric meditation, for eight string lyre, after an ivory carving, Megiddo 1350-1150 BC, tuned on a mixolydian heptad with a lower third affix (e – g – a – b – c – d – e' – f ' ).
6. AL HASHOSHANIM, (Psalm 69), a song of the lilies, for a ten stringed nebhel asor, after an un-identified ancient statuette, tuned in pentatonic mode (F sharp– A - B – D- e – f sharp - a – b – d' – e' )
7. AL HASHIGGAION, (Psalm 7), a dithyrambic song , tuned in two conjunct mixed tetrachords (c - d - e - f / ,f - g sharp - a - b )
8. SHIR YEDIDOT, (Psalm 45), a prayer of happiness for five stringed lyre, reconstructed after a relief at Senherib Palace, Nineveh 681-705 BC, tuned on a pentachord (c - d - e - f - g )
9. AL HASHEMINITE, (Psalm 6), a prayer on a deep toned instrument, four an eight stringed harp, after a drawing, Megiddo 3000 BC, tuned in two disjunct tetrachords (c - d - e - f / g - a - b - c' )
10. AL HAGITTIT, (Psalm 8), a vintage song, for a six string lyre tuned in a pentachord with a lower drone string (G - c - d - e - f - g )
These pieces were recorded on a concert harp by Rivka Amar, harpist with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, at Creative Audio Studio, Jeruslaem on January 28,2007. Sound: Eli Yonah.
II. THREE ANCIENT PIECES are musical commentaries after Psalm verses. They are based upon ethnic music from the Jewish communities of Yemen, Morocco, and Tunis. Originally written for flute and guitar, 1984, they have been frequently performed and broadcast. This version for flute and strings won special mention at the International EPICMUSIC composition prize, 2004 "for the special language in balance between tradition and innovation".
SHEPHERD SONG The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1)
PARABLE I will incline mine ear unto a parable; I will open my dark saying upon the harp (Ps. 49:4)
BIRDSONG The Shekina is like a bird hovering lonely in space (Lamentation, "Oholi" by Kalir)
They are performed by Dafna Ishaki, principal flutist of the Israel Sinfonnietta under the direction of the Sinfonietta's concertmaster and assistant conductor, YaronPrensky. They were recorded live at the Beer Sheva Conservatory on January 22, 2007. Sound: Yaakov Aviram.
III. PEREK SHIRA (1981) is based on an anonymous tract dating from the 10th Century, recited as a prayer of mystical character. It contains saying and biblical verses in praise of the Creator. All creation: in-animate, natural and supernatural, plants and animals is represented – except man. Sounds effects, narration, improvisation, theatricality and humour are combined to form a cosmic song of praise by the whole of creation.
This live prize concert performance was narrated in Japanese translation by Chihiro Owada, with the Tanpopo Children's Chorus and the Bunkyo University Wind Orchestra at Santory Hall in Japan, on November 23, 1991, in the framework of the Tokyo Contemporary Music Festival, International Music for Children Contest, sponsored by the Japanese Society for Contemporary Music.
IV. BEDOUIN IMPRESSIONS was written under the glow of a chance encounter with Bedouin shepherds tranquilly grazing their sheep and camels in the wilderness not far from the composers home in the Negev in the 1980s. Each movement is a character study, touching upon aspects of the environment. The work crosses over the barrier of cultural difference to become witness to the harmony of the universe.
This work was recorded live in concert by the Israel Sinfonietta under conductor, Yaaron Traub at the Tel Aviv Museum, June 30, 2004. Sound: Yaakov Aviram.
V. JACOB STRUGGLING WITH THE ANGEL, for piano and orchestra (1991)
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him
until the breaking of the dawn. (Genesis XXXII:25)
Commentators in all ages have regarded the contest as symbolic, the outward manifestation of the struggle within the Patriarch between his baser passions and nobler ideals. It was written during the Gulf War between news broadcasts at the height of the conflict. The style merges tonal and aleatory elements in a ferocious dialogue between piano and orchestra.
This archive recording was made anonymously at the premiere concert in Beer Sheva, with the Israel Sinfonietta under music director Uri Mayer on March 6, 1993. Rotterdam born - Israeli pianist Bart Berman is soloist.