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3. THE SACRED SONGS OF THE LEVITES.-All the hymns, and other sacred songs performed in the temple were, of course, intended for the praise and glory of Jehovah. A rich treasury of holy sentiment, particularly suited, and mostly intended for this purpose, was contained in the psalms of David and as these effusions of the sweet royal singer were, at the same time, the most beautiful specimens of sacred lyric poetry which the Hebrews possessed, almost all songs performed by the Levites were selected from amongst them, as occasion and circumstances required, and the proper melodies and mode of performance taught to the Levites by the Menatzeachs, or classleaders. Every day and every kind of service had its appointed psalms, and
each psalm its prescribed mode of performance. Hence the many strange and often almost unintelligible superscriptions over the psalms. During the ordinary service, whilst the burning of the perpetual offering was going on, the Levites sang the 24th Psalm on the first day of the week; the 48th on the second; the 82nd on the third; the 94th on the fourth; the 81st on the fifth; the 93rd and 94th on the sixth. On Sabbath, the 92nd Psalm was regularly performed, besides several others. During the burnt and drink offering the Levites often also sang the last hymn of Moses (Deut. xxxii.); and during the evening offering the first hymn of Moses (Exod. xv.) Part of the latter was also frequently sung on week-days. The two grande.
performances of the Levites were the Hamaaloth, already alluded to, and the Hallel. The former, comprising fifteen psalms (Ps. cxx.-cxxxiv.), one for each step leading from the court of the women to that of the Levites, was performed with many ceremonies every evening of the eight days of the feast of Tabernacles, immediately after the evening offering. The Hallel (literally, "he has praised") comprised Psalms cxiii. to cxviii. These were sung on the day following the first night of the Passover, on the first and last days of the first feast of harvest (Pentecost), and every day during the feast of Tabernacles. The Hallel was also sung during the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, which, after the time of Judas Maccabeus, was celebrated in the winter, from the twentieth to the twenty-seventh of the month of Chisley (November). During the feast of Tabernacles, which of all feasts was celebrated with the greatest pomp, the Levites also sang Psalms cv., xcii., 1., xciv., lxxxi., v., and lxxxv., one on each of the seven days. After the return of the Jews from Babylon, portions of Jeremiah's Lamentations were often substituted for the psalms of the day.
4. THE MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS USED IN THE TEMPLE.-Not all the instruments known to and played upon by the people were admitted into the temple. Of the wind instruments, only the silver trumpets, curved horns (trombones), and flutes (chalil and nekabhim) were allowed to be used. The usual stringed instruments were harps, lutes, and psalteries, without which scarcely ever a psalm was sung. Of the many pulsatile instruments, of which the Jewish women were particularly fond, none but cymbals were admitted upon the douchan. The migrephah, which the -Talmudists mention as one of the sacred instruments, was not employed during the service, but merely to give a signal to the Levites to assemble upon the orchestra. It has already been stated, that at least twelve singers, and as many instrumental performers, were obliged to attend on all ordinary occasions. On feast-days this number was greatly increased, and the priests also joined in the performance.-(2 Chron. v. 12.) No other but real sacrificing priests, i. e., descendants of Aaron, were permitted to blow upon trumpets. Of these there were always two employed to give different signals
to the Levites and the people; when there were more trumpet-players, they joined in the performance of the symphonies and interludes, these being the only portions of the temple music in which the performers upon brass instruments and horns took a part. The most solemn and grand of all instruments were the trombones, of which seldom more than seven were employed. Of the flute-like instruments, the smaller kind (chalil) was used to accompany the melody in the higher octave; and the larger one (nekabhim) in unison. There were frequently a great many of them, especially when the Hallel was sung, from which the former instruments (chalil-halil) derived its name.
5. THE MODE OF PERFORMANCE.. We have already had occasion to observe, that the nature of the musical instruments in use amongst the Hebrews, as well as many other historical, physical, and psychological reasons forbid the idea of a real harmony, in the modern sense of the word, having been known to or practised by either the sacred or profane musicians of Israel. This, however, does not exclude the possibility, that they were acquainted with, and made use of, those most simple harmonic combinations (octaves, fifths, and fourths), which, not only the natural difference between male and female voices, but even the harmonic resonance of every single sound, whether vocal or instru mental, must, at an early time, have suggested to everyone who bestowed the least attention upon the nature of musical sounds. All ancient nations, of whose music we have any knowledge, sang and played not only in unison, but frequently in two simultaneous series of sounds (parts), of which the high one was the melody or air, and the other the lower octave ; now and then interspersed with a fourth or fifth. This kind of natural harmony was known to the Jews also; and the Levites in particular employed it as a regular and established form of art, distinguishing the unison or purely melodious performance from that in two parts, by the artistic terms " Alamoth" and "Sheminith."
The musical signification of these two terms we are enabled to define with great precision and certainty from a passage in the fifteenth chap
ter of the first book of Chronicles (v. 20 and 21). In this passage some of the Levites are described as performing "with lutes (nabels not psalteries, as in the common version) upon Alamoth," and others "with harps upon Sheminith." The literal meaning of Alamoth is "virgin" or "young woman" (see Ps. Ixviii. 26; Cant. i. 3; Ezra. vii. 14); in a musical sense it must, therefore, signify a female or treble voice; or (on account of the prefix "Al," which indicates a rule or precept), a strain for high or treble voices. Modern musicians would call this "singing in alto;" and the term Alamoth is, therefore, equivalent to our "alto voice," or "alto part," accordingly as it is applied either to indicate a peculiar class of voices, or one of the two series of sounds of a two-part composition. In contradistinction to the higher class of voices, or the upper part (melody) of a song, the deeper voices and the lower part were termed "Sheminith," which means "the eighth" or octave. That this eighth or octave must be the one below the melody is plain, not only from the circumstance that it is placed in juxtaposition with the word Alamoth, which can be no other but the upper voice or part, but also from the statement of the inspired writer that it was "sounded upon harps;" the harps being of a lower compass than the lutes. The above passage should, therefore, have been
dered thus: "Whilst Zechariah, Aziel, and other performers upon lutes, accompanied the melody of the singers in unison, Matthitiah, Eliphelah, and their brethren played the lower octave (or bass part,) upon harps." This explanation will also enable the reader to understand the meaning of the superscriptions of Ps. vi. and xlvi. "Neghinoth" being the general term for stringed instruments, the expression "on Neghinoth, upon Sheminith," implies that the melody of the psalm was to be accompanied by all the stringed instruments in the lower octave. In the superscription of the 46th Psalm, the term Alamoth stands by itself, and therefore most likely applies to the performance in general; meaning that the singers, as well as the instrumentalists, were to confine themselves to the air, without adding an accompaniment in the lower octave. Modern composers would
have indicated this by writing over the music, "chorus and band in unison."
Having thus been led to the consideration of the superscriptions or titles of the psalms, we will embrace the opportunity to notice a general difference in the performance of these compositions, indicated by the words 'psalm" and " song." The word psalm is derived from the Greek verb "psallein," which means not merely "to sing," but to sing to an instrumental accompaniment; and the instrument called "psalter," received its name from its being the favourite instrument upon which the Greek and Roman singers accompanied themselves. Hence, those lyric compositions which are especially marked as "psalms," were never sung without an instrumental accompaniment. That mere "singing," and "singing psalms," were considered as two different things, appears from Ephes. v. 19; Ps. xxvii. 6; and many other passages; and as the difference between those compositions, which are designated as psalms, and those which are termed songs, does not consist in a difference between their contents (of this every one may soon convince himself), it must be a difference of form, the inference being, that for the proper performance of the real psalms, an instrumental accompaniment was indispensable; whilst the "songs" did not necessarily require such an accompaniment. Probably the whole performance of the psalms was a more musically developed one than that of the songs; the latter being delivered in a more free and half declamatory (recitativo) style of singing. This agrees with the opinion of Hilarius, Enthymius, Chrysostomus, and Basilius; according to whom, the superscription "a psalm and song," " which we find over Psalms xxx., lxv., lxvii., and others, indicates that the sacred song was to be performed, first, in a strictly musical (cantabile) style, with a full instrumental accompaniment, and afterwards in the form of an alternating recitativo; and vice versa, when the superscription was a "song, a psalm," as over Ps. xlviii., lxvi., lxxxiii., &c. In this case, the expression "a psalm or song," would indicate that the hymn, or sacred song, might be executed in either form.
It has already been stated, that the usual instruments of accompaniment
were the harp, lute, and cymbals, but that flutes were occasionally added to support the melody, as, e. g., in the Hallel. Sometimes, however, the stringed instruments were required to be silent, and none but flutes to be employed in the accompaniment. This was indicated by the word "Nehiloth" (derived from chalil), the general term for instruments of the flute kind. For such a mode of performance only very few melodies or songs would be suited, hence we find it prescribed only for one psalm, viz., the sixth. When none but stringed instruments were to be used, the composer wrote over his psalm, "upon Neginoth" (Ps. iv., liv., Ixi., lxvii., &c.)
The melodies of the psalms, and the proper mode of performance, were taught to the Levites by the classleaders, or menatzeachs, who also conducted the performance during the service. Some of the melodies, undoubtedly, were well known, and required no particular training of the singers or instrumentalists ; others, however, might be new or more difficult, and, therefore, require the particular attention of the leader; in which case the psalm was dedicated to him in order either to recommend it to his special care, or to leave him the choice of a suitable melody. Hence the frequent occurrence of the expression,
to the chief musician.' When a musical arrangement of great importance or intricacy was necessary, e. g., in psalms to be performed on grand occasions, it was not left to the discretion of the mere class-leader, but confided to the special care of the chief of all the Levites. This we see from the superscriptions of Ps. xxxix., lxii., and lxxvii. Some of the melodies to which the psalms were sung were old national airs; others were of a foreign origin. The former were generally named after the commencement of the song to which they had been originally invented, the first two or three words of the song serving (as is still the case with the melodies of the German chorales) as the title by which they were known, e. g., "Altashith," "destroy not (Ps. lvii.); " Ajeleth-Shahar," "the hind of the morning." (Ps. xxii.) Those melodies adapted from other nations were frequently named after the place whence they had been derived. Of this, two instances occur in the superscriptions of the 8th and
69th Psalms, which appear to have given a good deal of trouble to musical historians and expounders of Holy Writ, and which therefore deserve a short notice.
The 8th Psalm has this superscription, "To the chief musician upon Gittith," and the term Gittith occurs likewise over Ps. lxxxi. and lxxxiv., and at different other places in the Old Testament where musical matters are spoken of. Some of the earlier commentators have considered it to be the name of a musical instrument, but this interpretation agrees neither with the connexion nor the grammatical construction of the word. For this reason others have taken it to indicate the place where the psalms thus marked were usually sung, and at the instance of the LXX. translated it by "winepress." But they overlooked that the expression "Bacchus tune" was used by the Greek musicians to distinguish a peculiar tonal mode or scale, namely, the so-called Phrygian (upon E), and that, therefore, the Alexandrine translators also, most probably, took the term in this sense, wishing to indicate a peculiar air or melody known amongst the Jews by the name of the "tune of the Gittites," i. e., a tune which the inhabitants of Gad were accustomed to sing. This view of the case assumes a strong appearance of probability, when it is recollected that David, the composer of those psalms, resided a considerable time amongst the Gittites, from whom he might have learned the air, and afterwards communicated it to the Levites. Another melody of foreign origin was that indicated by the
"Shoshannim," which is found in the superscriptions of Ps. xlv., lx., lxix., and lxxx. Some have derived this word from schosch, which means "six," and believed it to be the name of an instrument with six strings. There is, however, no trace of such an instrument having been in use amongst the Hebrews; and Dr. Schilling, in his "Essay on Hebrew Music," has established the fact beyond a possibility of doubt, that the word Shoshannim, like the one just explained, was the name of an air or scale. According to the explanation of that learned antiquarian, the word Shoshannim was derived from Shusan (a lily), and this again from the Persian word Susan, which means also a lily, but was at the same time
the name of a town situated in the province of Elam, and celebrated for the abundance of lilies growing in the neighbourhood. From the inhabitants of this town the Jews are supposed to have learnt the air which they afterwards distinguished by the name of Shoshannim, or "tune of Susan."
In order to relieve the unavoidable monotony which must necessarily arise from a continual succession of melodies in unison or double octaves, even if occasionally interspersed with a fifth or fourth, the Jews, like all other nations of antiquity, were at an early time led to the introduction of alternating choruses. The first instance on record of a performance of this kind, is that of the incomparably grand and beautiful hymn of victory sung by Moses and the children of Israel after the passage through the Red Sea, and "answered" by Miriam the prophetess, and "all the women with her" (Exod. xv.) Another case of this kind is mentioned in the eighteenth chapter of the first book of Samuel (v. 7), and there are several other passages which show that a division of the singers and instrumentalists into two choruses, responding to each other, was a common practice amongst the Jews. That the Levites also availed themselves of this means of imparting variety and animation to their performance, appears from Ezra, iii. 10, 11, (where a description is given of the manner in which they performed Psalm cxxxvi.) as also from the superscription of Psalm 1xxxviii. The word Mahalath is derived from machal (Lat. miscuit); and as "Leannoth" is synonymous with "Nehiloth," the superscription of the last-named psalm, "A psalm for the sons of Korah to the chief musician upon Mahalath Leannoth," might have been made more intelligible if it had been rendered thus: A psalm for the children of Korah, to be performed by two alternating choruses, with a flute accompaniment, according to the direction of the class-leader."
By means of these double choruses the performance was made to assume a dramatic appearance, and some psalms seem to have been expressly composed and arranged for such a purpose, as, e. g., that most exquisitely beautiful song of consolation in dia
logue form, which comprises the fortysecond and forty-third psalms of our collection, and in which the touching lament of the soul "panting after God," is relieved at regular intervals by a refrain of five short stanzas, rendered thus by Moses Mendelssohn:
"Why so oppressed, my heart?
Why dost thy pulse beat quick?
For Him I shall yet praise,
But the Levites not only sung in alternating choruses, but also were acquainted with that powerful resource of musical expression, the combination of solo-singers and chorus; as is quite evident from the construction of the ninth, eighteenth, twenty-first, and several other psalms. Nay, some of the psalms are so arranged, that they could not be effectively performed without the aid of two solo-singers, and two choruses; as, for instance, Psalm xxiv., which, in order to be effectually rendered, would require an arrangement like this:.
Coro I. The earth is the Lord's, and the
Coro II. The world, and they who dwell therein.
Solo I. Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord;
Solo II. Or who shall stand in his holy place?
Coro I. He who has clean hands, &c. Coro II. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, &c.
Solo I. This is the generation of them who seek Him.
Solo II. Who seek thy face, O God of Jacob!
C. I., e. II. Lift up your heads, O ye gates! &c.
Solo I. Who is the King of Glory?
We find, lastly, that symphonies or interludes between the verses or distinct portions of the psalms, were likewise known to, and in great favour with, the Hebrews. It was principally for this purpose that the brass instruments, as trumpets and trombones, were employed; two of the former being
The Psalms of David, translated (into German) by Moses Mendelssohn.