Between music and speech: The relationship between Gregorian and Hebrew chant

B. Elan Dresher


This paper looks at two chanting traditions: the Gregorian recitation formula for chanting the psalms and similar texts, and Biblical Hebrew cantillation, the traditional form of public reading of the Torah. The first impression of these kinds of chanting is that they are forms of singing. Both chanting and singing require a manipulation of pitches different from ordinary speaking. But the relation between words and music in chanting is fundamentally different from singing a tune. I will take the view that chanting derives from tendencies inherent in ordinary speech, and is rather a stylized form of intonation. I will discuss the structure of Gregorian recitation formulas known as psalm tones and show their connection with ordinary intonation. I will then consider the Biblical Hebrew cantillation. I will show that the two kinds of chant follow similar principles, though with large differences in the extent to which these principles are elaborated.


Georgian Chant; Hebrew Chant; Syllable Structure; Intonation; Tone; Notation

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