THE PROBLEM OF THE MODUS IN THE ASHKENAZIM SYNAGOGAL CHANTS
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Synagogal chants published in the nineteenth century in modern musical notation alerted scholars to the fact that they are based on melodic principles different from those of the music of the West. Towards the end of the century researchers began to identify the scales on which the melodies were based, and to relate them to the system of Church Modes and the Greek Oktoechos.The Vienna cantor Josef Singer introduced the name steiger, the synonym of modi, and gave them names derived from the incipits of prayers. Using the concept of modus Abraham Zvi Idelsohn demonstrated the similarity between the steiger structure and structures typical for some musical systems outside Europe. As far as the melodic organisation of synagogal chants is concerned, the term encountered most frequently is nusah, defined as a stock of configurations of notes linked to a permanent place in the liturgy. These configurations do not have a set rhythm and provide material for improvisation for the person leading the prayers. As a sequence of notes devoid of metre, nusah has been contrasted with 'melody', which does possess it. In Poland this term relates to the pronunciation of prayer texts and to the manner in which they are realised musically as indices of local tradition. The term steiger (in Yiddish - 'manner') is uniformly used by scholars to signify modus in religious and folk music of the Ashkenazim people. A counterpart of steiger is gust, a word of Romanic provenance, originally relating to the artistic music of the West. Independently of these terms, scholars often used the terms modus and the names of the church modes. Josef Singer, who initiated research into modal structures in Ashkenazim music, distinguished three modi (steiger): 1) Adonoy Malakh: c-d-e-f-g-a-b-c, 2) Magen Avot: c-d-es-f-g-as-b-c, and 3) Jishtabach or Ahavah Rabbah: c-des-e-f-g-as-h-c. These constitute the core of the later systematics. Irene Heskes mentions as an additional variant modus Mi Sheberakh, referred to as Ukrainian or Doric Hungarian, with the scale: g-a-h-cis-d-es-fis-g, which often appears in the Chassidic nigunim and in the melodies of folk dances. For nearly half a century scholars have been attempting to abstract the motifs which constitute the indices of steiger. However, the motifs which constitute the 'equipment' of modus prove to be hard to define. The steiger systematics created by scholars constitute abstract models, alien to the way of thinking of practitioners, although the latter are aware of the presence of certain repeating patterns in the melodies they perform. However, an important feature of the realisation of prayers is also their high emotional charge. It is the result of the singer's striving to give expression to the feelings contained in the prayers he intones, and of his experience as a member of the community and as an individual. So far, full concensus on defining the manner of functioning of the modi in the chants of Ashkenazim Jews has not been reached. The situation is made more difficult by the existence of numerous local traditions, and the dominance of oral transmission of knowledge about musical realisation of prayers.
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