'ABODAH, MUSIC OF:
By its liturgical position, the "'Abodah" stands out as the central point of the services on the Day of Atonement. The confession of sin being the most essential and characteristic element in those services, a peculiar importance and solemnity attach to that form of the confession introduced in the "'Abodah" which is couched in the very words uttered by the high priest—according to the record of the Mishnah (Yoma, iii. 8, iv. 2, vi. 2.)—when laying his hands upon the head of the scapegoat. In sympathy with the exhortation of Hosea, xiv. 2, the pious Jew would at any time devoutly read of the Atonement, as of other sacrifices, that he might mentally, at least, go through the "order of the service." But on the "great fast" itself his devotions would arouse poignant grief that, "because of abundant iniquities," he was not privileged to be present in the great Temple at Jerusalem to behold those solemn rites of which he read. Accordingly, the recital of the "'Abodah" is followed by a long series of piyyuṭim giving utterances to this grief, in such expressions as: "Happy the eye which beheld all this; only to hear of it wringeth our heart."Expression of Emotion.
Among the northern Jews it was the function of the ḥazan not merely to lead the liturgical song of the congregation, but rather, by his singing, to interpret and elucidate the liturgy to the congregation. Even in medieval times the cantors were inspired by a subconscious sentiment of this kind, to voice in the "'Abodah" all of Israel's longing for rest and liberty; and at times they would approach to the expression of sublimest emotion. Whenever the contrast between the servitude they knew and the glory they read of was more than usually keen, a particular intensity was lent to the Atonement liturgy; and there developed, probably before the modern period, a rhapsody replete with inarticulate vocalization; although its lines were distinct enough for successive generations of ḥazanim so to utilize the traditional matter that, in the rendering of the "'Abodah," the climax of the cantor's art was reached. These main lines, through their parallel employment in the "Ḳedushah," have remained distinct under the growth of improvised cadences.Ornamental Phrases.
Some such adornments were, no doubt, but an echo of the unending scale-passages and sequences of rapid figures so common in both vocal and instrumental music two centuries ago. But so farfrom all being derived thence, it must be remembered that many of the ornamental phrases in general vogue closely resemble what is to be noticed in the performances of Arab musicians, and others recall the melismatic chant so frequent in the graduals of the medieval church. Had not the original Oriental elements in the synagogical intonations and the contemporary example of earlier European neighbors alike fostered such vocal embroidery, the ornamentation of the seventeenth century would have been rigidly excluded as ḥuḳḳat ha-goyim ("Gentile usage").
The experiment has been tried in Berlin and elsewhere of omitting such ornamental phrases, especially those termed "pneuma," to which no words are sung, and of rendering only what seemed to the musical analyst to be the essential sections of suchrhapsodical intonations. But this residuum, besides appearing cold and unmoving, in its brevity and its overfrequent repetition, to those who were not familiar with the traditional rendering, revealed plainly to those who had previously listened to the fervor and rich variation of the melismatic chant the total loss of intensity in its lack of the vocal passages between the words. Lewandowski's artistic treatment of the central melody of the "'Abodah," in which he relegates to the organ accompaniment the ornamental passages between the notes on which the words themselves are sung, was rightly enough conceived. But the experiment was not a success; and no transcription that fails to provide such a rhapsody with some representation of this customary elaboration can hope to do justice to the effect of the traditional rendering.
In the German and Polish rituals the verses of Meshullam ben Kalonymus are divided off into sections of irregular length at the six points where a quotation from the Scripture or the Talmud occurs. The quotations ("Thus did he say")—containing the confession of sin, first of the high priest personally, then of the Aaronites, then of all Israel—and ("Thus did he count")—where Aaron counts the sprinklings on the altar—are chanted responsively, each phrase by cantor and congregation in rotation. Compositions of the modern masters have largely taken the place of the old plain-song chant, itself mainly a rising modulation and then a falling tone.Phases of the Music.
But the Talmudic passage commencing ("Now the priests"), which occurs after each confession, and describes the scene when the Tetragrammaton was pronounced, reverses this order. It is first uttered by the congregation (usually led by some individual), who prostrate themselves when reciting the words describing that action. Then comes the turn of the ḥazan, who intones the passage given above. In this transcription the opportunity is afforded by the repetition of the melody to present both the chief forms of ornamental development, the first being rather German, the other rather Polish, in tradition. It will be noticed that the cantor commences calmly to intone the words of the Mishnah in the major mode, but that the mystic solemnity of the scene in the Temple court soon overcomes his imagination, and he breaks away into the weird strenuousness ofthe Oriental chromatic scale (