Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What did Torah reading sound like 500 years ago?

Wolfish Musings, who is a Torah-reader, wonders if the tune for the cantillation ever changed. Actually, I would word it another way; he knows full well that it has changed, and wishes to know more about it, what it sounded like 1000 years ago, and so forth.

I don't know the answer to what it sounded like 1000 years ago, but I can show precisely how it sounded in at least one place more than 500 years ago.

Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) published an edition and translation of Rabbi Moshe Kimchi's מהלך שבילי הדעת, calling it מלאכת הדקדוק, in 1524.

Münster was good enough and had the foresight to directly address Wolf's question by including notation of cantillation used by Jews in Western and Central Europe at the time (1524):

I welcome anyone to bang those notes out on the instrument of their choice, record it, and upload it -- I'll post it.

Actually, the book is much more than a translation of Kimchi, and here are some excerpts:

Finally, I thought it might be nice to see a couple of pages from a less well known Erasmus's הספד for Sebastian Münster:

It continues in this vein for an impressive 50 pages.

See here for a letter R. Eliyahu Bachur wrote to Sebastian Münster.

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