Jewish Music

This is the more noticeable because the frontier had almost unquestionably been crossed by Jewish music, the influence of which on our Western civilisation has been so strangely underrated. Evidence of this is afforded by the superscriptions of many of the Psalms. Thus Ps. xxii is headed "To the Chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar," i.e. to the tune of " The Hind of Morning";

Ps. xlv. is headed " To the Chief Musician upon Shoshannim," i.e. to the tune of " Lilies "; Ps. lvi. is to the tune of " The silent dove in far-off lands "; and there are several other instances. Indeed most of the superscriptions have great musical interest. Some (e.g. iv., vi., liv., lv., lxvii., lxxvi.) indicate that the psalm is to be accompanied by a band of strings: some (e.g. vni., xii., lxi., lxxxi., lxxxiv.) by a single instrument; No. xlvi. may possibly refer to a method of tuning (cf. 1 Chron. xv. 20);

No. lxii. to a style of interpretation (cf. xxxix. and lxxvii.); Nos. cxx. to cxxxiv. are " Songs of Ascents," i.e. used on the pilgrimages which every pious Jew had to take to Jerusalem three times in the year. But most important among them are the indications which fix and establish melodies, whether hymns or folk-songs, that were in current use.

Nor should we feel surprised that the Jews in this matter anticipated by centuries the progress of Aryan Europe. Precluded, as they held, from the practice of painting and sculpture, the whole artistic impetus of the race poured through the open channels of poetry and of music, to the latter of which they have always shown a special susceptibility. It is not too much to say that the Old Testament is saturated with a love of music. Its most primitive history contains the figure of Jubal: the passage of the Red Sea is celebrated by Miriam and the defeat of Jabin's army by Deborah; Saul's melancholy is soothed by David's harp; Elijah, called upon to prophesy, asks for a minstrel to inspire him. The Temple services were magnificent outbursts of music. David established at Jerusalem a singing-school of 4000, the largest in history (1 Chron. xxiii. 5), and the accompaniments were played on orchestras of trumpets, pipes, cornetti, harps, psalteries and instruments of percussion, with Asaph, the conductor, keeping time on a pair of cymbals (1 Chron. xv., xvi.). The size of these orchestras varied according to the occasion. On ordinary days there were from ten to twenty playersabout the number for whom Haydn wrote his earlier symphonies:on the great feast days they were enormously increased, and we are told that at the dedication of Solomon's Temple the number of trumpeters was a hundred and twenty (2 Chron. v. 12). Indeed, if Josephus is correct, Solomon kept in store for the Temple use 200, 000 trumpets and 40, 000 lyres, and even if one makes all allowances for patriotic exaggeration, the real total must have been very great. Nor was the Hebrew music by any means confined to religious use. The Song of Solomon has all the appearance of a lyric drama, intended to be sung: the historical and prophetic books made frequent allusion to wedding songs and funeral songs, to songs of the reapers and the vintagers. Of all human pleasures music is that of which the Jewish writers speak with the most invariable approval and enthusiasm. " Pour not out words where there is a musician," says the author of Ecclesiasticus, and the world has not yet succeeded in learning that lesson.

We must beware of tinging with too modern a colour our impressions of Old Testament music. There was still no harmony: the wind instruments doubled the voice at unison or octave, the strings probably kept the time with short, rhythmic figures. There was, so far as we can tell, no musical notationat any rate no trace of it has come down to us and the melodies must therefore have been simple and easily capable of oral transmission. But with all deductions it is certain that the Jewish music was far in advance of any other in the whole ancient world. And of this we have possibly one piece of direct evidence. Mr. Cohen believes that two chants from the old Temple service have survived to this present day. One he quotes, the other is given in Stainer's " Music of the Bible," and both are, to our ears, wholly different in kind from the existing specimens of Greek musical art.