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CANTILLATION, a term derived from the Latin canticum and cantilena, which besides "song" also meant the singsong delivery of an orator or an insistent talker. It was introduced into musical terminology by the influential work of J.N. Forkel, author of Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (Leipzig, 1788–1801, p. 156), to indicate the musical reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. In its subsequent broadest application, cantillation can be defined as having simpler, freer structure than ordinary vocal music, closer to solemn declamation than to structured, organized singing. Although on occasion this music may be ornamented with rich vocalizations, its form and flow are subordinated to the text being sung. Cantillation is primarily, but not exclusively, associated with religious rites. The basic principles of cantillation are universal, although their application reflects unique local attributes as expressed in language and intonation, as well as in the temperament and mores of a given population. The style comprising any form of cantillation may be defined according to Curt *Sachs as "logogenic," i.e., a word-created, word-dependent, and word-supporting system of musical expression.

In 1961, the eminent French scholar Solange Corbin published an extensive article on cantillation in the Christian ritual wherein she discusses its numerous parameters. Although her definitions relate to cantillation in Christian ritual, they nevertheless have many points in common with its use in Jewish ritual. Dealing with the universal principles of cantillation E. *Gerson-Kiwi has given the interesting name of "Sounds of Alienation" to the special vocal tension inherent in cantillation (1980). It should be noted, however, that biblical cantillation is distinguished by a unique musical phenomenon within the Jewish musical oral culture referring to an exceptional combination of orality on one hand and written text with its *Masoretic accent system on the other.

The term cantillation is also found in Judaic and musical literature with any of the following meanings: Delivery of a talmudic text by projection of the rhetorical speech-curve into a few standard "melodic clauses" ("talmudic cantillation"); recital of biblical poetry for similar texts in a standard "melodic sentence" recurrent for each verse ("Psalm cantillation," "Psalmody"); recital of liturgical formulae and texts, mostly prose but often also poetry, by the improvised but conventional linking of the elements of a melodic pattern in free oratorical rhythm ("synagogal cantillation," "cantorial recitative").


C. Sachs, The Rise of Music in the Ancient World-East and West (1943), 30–44; E. Gerson-Kiwi, in: Journal of the International Folk Music Council, 13 (1961), 64–67; H. Avenary, Studies in the Hebrew, Syrian, and Greek Liturgical Recitative (1963). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Parisot, "Notes sur les recitatives israelites Orientaux," in: Dictionnaire de la Bible de vigoroux, vol. 8 (1902); S. Corbin, in: Revue de Musicologie 47 (1961), 3–36; E. Gerson-Kiwi, in: Israel Studies in Musicology 2 (1980), 27–31.

[Bathja Bayer / Amnon Shiloah (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.