Click to donate today!
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Music and Musical Instruments
Occasions for Music.
The development of music among the Israelites was coincident with that of poetry, the two being equally ancient, since every poem was also sung. Although little mention is made of it, music was used in very early times in connection with divine service. Amos 6:5 and Isaiah 5:12 show that the feasts immediately following sacrifices were very often attended with music, and from Amos 5:23 it may be gathered that songs had already become a part of the regular service. Moreover, popular festivals of all kinds were celebrated with singing and music, usually accompanying dances in which, as a rule, women and maidens joined. Victorious generals were welcomed with music on their return (Judges 11:34; 1 Samuel 18:6), and music naturally accompanied the dances at harvest festivals (Judges 9:27, 21:21) and at the accession of kings or their marriages (1 Kings 1:40; Psalms 45:9). Family festivals of different kinds were celebrated with music (Genesis 31:27; Jeremiah 25:10). 1 Samuel 16:18 indicates that the shepherd cheered his loneliness with his reed-pipe, and Lamentations 5:14 shows that youths coming together at the gates entertained one another with stringed instruments. David by his playing on the harp drove away the spirit of melancholy from Saul (1 Samuel 16:16 et seq.); the holy ecstasy of the Prophets was stimulated by dancing and music (1 Samuel 10:5,10; 19:20); playing on a harp awoke the inspiration that came to Elisha (2 Kings 3:15). The description in Chronicles of the embellishment by David of the Temple service with a rich musical liturgy represents in essence the order of the Second Temple, since, as is now generally admitted, the liturgical Temple Psalms belong to the post-exilic period.
The importance which music attained in the later exilic period is shown by the fact that in the original writings of Ezra and Nehemiah a distinction is still drawn between the singers and the Levites (comp. Ezra 2:41,70; 7:7,24; 10:23; Nehemiah 7:44,73; 10:29,40; etc.); whereas in the parts of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah belonging to the Chronicles singers are reckoned among the Levites (comp. Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 11:22; 12:8,24,27; 1 Chronicles 6:16). In later times singers even received a priestly position, since Agrippa II. gave them permission to wear the white priestly garment (comp. Josephus, "Ant." 20:9, Â§ 6). The detailed statements of the Talmud show that the service became ever more richly embellished.
Singing in the Temple.
Unfortunately few definite statements can be made concerning the kind and the degree of the artistic development of music and psalm-singing. Only so much seems certain, that the folk-music of older times was replaced by professional music, which was learned by the families of singers who officiated in the Temple. The participation of the congregation in the Temple song was limited to certain responses, such as "Amen" or "Halleluiah," or formulas like "Since His mercy endureth forever," etc. As in the old folk-songs, antiphonal singing, or the singing of choirs in response to each other, was a feature of the Temple service. At the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah formed the Levitical singers into two large choruses, which, after having marched around the city walls in different directions, stood opposite each other at the Temple and sang alternate hymns of praise to God (Nehemiah 12:31). Niebuhr ("Reisen," 1:176) calls attention to the fact that in the Orient it is still the custom for a precentor to sing one strophe, which is repeated three, four, or five tones lower by the other singers. In this connection mention may bemade of the alternating song of the seraphim in the Temple, when called upon by Isaiah (comp. Isaiah 6). The measure must have varied according to the character of the song; and it is not improbable that it changed even in the same song. Without doubt the striking of the cymbals marked the measure.
What Western peoples understand by harmony is still incomprehensible to the Arabs. They consider it "a wild and unpleasant noise, in which no sensible person can take pleasure." Niebuhr refers to the fact that when Arabs play on different instruments and sing at the same time, almost the same melody is heard from all, unless one of them sings or plays as bass one and the same note throughout. It was probably the same with the Israelites in olden times, who attuned the stringed instruments to the voices of the singers either on the same note or in the octave or at some other consonant interval. This explains the remark in 2 Chronicles 5:13 that at the dedication of the Temple the playing of the instruments, the singing of the Psalms, and the blare of the trumpets sounded as one sound. Probably the unison of the singing of Psalms was the accord of two voices an octave apart. This may explain the terms "'al 'alamot" and "'al ha-sheminit." On account of the important part which women from the earliest times took in singing, it is comprehensible that the higher pitch was simply called the "maiden's key," and "ha-sheminit" would then be an octave lower.
There is no question that melodies repeated in each strophe, in the modern manner, were not sung at either the earlier or the later periods of psalm-singing; since no such thing as regular strophes occurred in Hebrew poetry. In fact, in the earlier times there were no strophes at all; and although they are found later, they are by no means so regular as in modern poetry. Melody, therefore, must then have had comparatively great freedom and elasticity and must have been like the Oriental melody of to-day. As Niebuhr points out, the melodies are earnest and simple, and the singers must make every word intelligible. A comparison has often been made with the eight notes of the Gregorian chant or with the Oriental psalmody introduced into the church of Milan by Ambrosius: the latter, however, was certainly developed under the influence of Grecian music, although in origin it may have had some connection with the ancient synagogal psalm-singing, as Delitzsch claims that it was ("Psalmen," 3d ed., p. 27).
- SaalschÃ¼tz, Gesch. und WÃ¼rdigung der Musik bei den Alten HebrÃ¤ern, 1829;
- Delitzsch, Physiologie und Musik, 1868;
- Forkel, All-gemeine Gesch. der Musik. 1:173 et seq. and the bibliography there given.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Music and Musical Instruments'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/m/music-and-musical-instruments.html. 1901.
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26