Hallelujah - הללו יה

Psalm 150

Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

Psalm 150

G.F. Handel

G.F. Handel - Messiah

Wikipedia gives the preceding as an example of word painting in Handel's Messiah, although the score is somewhat ambiguous. The first syllable of mountain rises to a high F#, while low falls one octave to a half-note low F#. The word crooked is sung three times on melismata. Yet straight is sung twice on B, but once on a melisma. The word rough is sung first in the middle of a measure of five Bs, then on a melisma, last on D#. Finally the word plain is sung first on a half-note B leading to a three-measure melisma revolving around high E, then on a four-measure melisma revolving around D#, last on a whole-note B. Be that as it may, the technique of word painting usually takes the whole linguistic sign (signifier/signified) as the signified and uses musical notes as the signifier. Thus the music serves to illustrate the text.

Leonard Cohen

Cohen stands the traditional method of word painting on its head in the fourth & fifth verses of the first stanza of the following song. The words describe the chord progression that logically precedes them: It goes like this: (C tonic) the fourth (F subdominant), the fifth (G dominant), the minor fall (A minor), the major lift (F subdominant). However, the poet makes his formula recursive when he reaches for the word lift (singing the highest note of the phrase) which he off-rhymes with fifth in order to return the lyric to the role of signifier.

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord,
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth,
The minor fall, the major lift,
The baffled king composing Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

Your faith was strong but you needed proof.
You saw her bathing on the roof.
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.
She tied you to a kitchen chair.
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair,
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah!

You say I took the Name in vain.
I don't even know the Name,
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word.
It doesn't matter which you heard,
The holy or the broken Hallelujah!

I did my best. It wasn't much.
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch.
I've told the truth. I didn't come to fool you,
And even though it all went wrong,
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

From: SAGReiss

Date: 4 July 2010

Subject: Quoting & Translating Poetry


My mother, of course, had no idea you were quoting poetry, as is your wont:

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.

Two other poems come to mind. First, and this should be obvious to most of our readers, is Byzantium, or which the above is the prelude:

Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after spirit! The smithies break the flood,
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

The second is more an accident of my twisted personal history, which shows no signs of untwisting as I move along in middle age:

Non ha l'ottimo artista alcun concetto
c'un marmo solo in se non circonscriva
col suo superchio, e solo a quello arriva
la man che ubbidisce all'intelletto.


The best of artists hardly can reflect
what yet a single marble block contains
within its girth, which labor he attains
but by the hand that heeds the intellect.

translation by SAGReiss (1996)

I wonder how many poems have rhymed the word "intellect". It was a great pleasure to meet your son, daughter-in-law, & grand-daughter. I hope she will enjoy Rose's crib. I hope her grandfather, "a paltry thing", can live long enough to see her walk & talk. It was very brave of them to travel all the way here so you & Noa could at least meet once. These things are neither unimportant nor forgotten.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 16 June 2010

Subject: Light in the Heavens

You could at least have reached for: "Mehr Hitze als Licht." [I feel sure negatron once quoted this to me, but I find no trace.] In his infinite wisdom our friend John (Keep your scarf on.) Keats went so far as to predict the glory of the Age of Information: "And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

From: Alan

Date: 16 June 2010

Subject: Re: Fear & Tremblation

Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.


It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

Meanwhile, the drooloNet tweets ever more strongly as squamous brain- flakes from the Cooldudes of this world detach themselves, flutter briefly free, then condense and clog the arteries of intelligent discourse and honest dataflow. So much noise, so little signal.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 16 June 2010

Subject: Re: Fear & Tremblation

The disadvantage of living too much longer is that you shall witness the triumph of good that is the internet, while you keep trying to think of new ways to sing The Silver Swan in a whirlpool: "More geese than swans now live, / More fools than wise." I am a lifelong abuser of epistolary literature, keenly alert to all the nuances of CC & BCC, and my wife has just smitten me for the commission of this very sin, so I use mailing lists both big & small, but in no case could your answer reach them, unless I forward it, which I might do. I haven't decided yet. That is the disadvantage of a moderated list. My main list (The one I've called The World since 22 February 1996.) is unmoderated, meaning anyone may write to anyone else, as everyone knows everyone else's address. I suggest that you stop criticizing my English style, lest you get into bad habits and your last words should come out: "More punctuation!" You'll be a friend to my father for none of the reasons developed hereunder, but rather because you are both lonely old men who babble on senselessly about minutiae so inane that not even those directly concerned could give a fuck, let alone your random victims at sidewalk cafes. I won't bother with your friend Paul, the worst of a motley crew of handlers & hangers-on, but I approve of your choice of Psalms, although King James & the Poets have butchered this one, a Song of Ascent based on two anaphora, Hallelujah (v1-2) & a hapax (Strong's number 233, v3-5) and including the translation of my favorite Italian word, Uccellatore or the Fowler (v7). The ancient Jews, as the Anglo-Saxons who invaded your precious stone set in the silver sea, blissfully ignored rhyme, an ugly Romish bauble best fit for the adornment of the great whore of Babylon. On the other hand they were quite fond of anagrams, acrostics, & other forms of vertical writing. As to the breakdown of the body, man cannot be considered "elegant" in the cybernetic sense of the word. A cockroach is an efficient survival machine. Man surpasseth all of creation in his capacity for both destruction & self-destruction, which has lead to a teetering balance of power between good & evil that has lasted for thousands of years. Of course the dinosaurs may have thought they would live forever too.

From: Alan

Date: 16 June 2010

Subject: Re: Fear & Tremblation

Hard to reply here, what with your (gigantic? minimal? certainly big enough to trigger my junk mail filters) hidden list of recipients. Does this message go to them also? I have no idea.

hai scritto:

It's good that I have met the Scot.

I am not entirely sure you mean me, here. I will assume so for the moment, since to my knowledge there is only a very small number of ecossais in the Ardeche.

Do be more careful with your definite articles, dear boy. "Met the Scot" sounds depressingly like "Going to Meet the Man" and all those other ferocious black tirades from the 60s and 70s. Or perhaps it is an even more peculiar idiom: to "meet the Scot" is to face up to that last bottle of malt whisky, or indeed something much worse. "I'm afraid Scott met the Scot." "Ah, well. We have replacement pilots coming, though, don't we?" "Of course, Sir. Still, won't be the same in the mess without old Scottie." "Well, Squadron Leader, we all have to Meet the Scot. Went straight in, didn't he? No, no, let me: it's about time I bought a round."

He will be a friend to my father

More than somewhat presumptious, although it is true that my default state is to spread loving kindness around the poor whimpering planet, and very rarely to reach for my diminishing stock of quite small and environmentally only moderately unsound nuclear weapons.

and he is showing me how to deal with a possibly dying old man.

Dear me, the "d" word. An over-rated experience I rather fancy, but time will tell. In my own case it's quite simple: they'll never take me alive.

There must be some middle ground between going gracefully & going gently. Maybe one can rage gracefully.

I don't think so. A properly engineered system will *degrade* gracefully, but that isn't quite the same thing. And grace is really a Christian concept; see Paul's Letter to the Ephesians for the heavyweight version, which frankly caused more trouble than it was worth much later.

But of course you legimately mean "elegantly" by "gracefully", as indeed did my engineers. Eloquent anger I can imagine, but elegant anger? Our words have forked no lightning, leave it at that. Psalm 124 is your very chap. To be sung while drowning, to get the full flavour. See that Lowell fellow.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 8 June 2010

Subject: Eggs & Nichelle

I was just trying to research Nichelle's egg fetish in my vast e-mail database containing much incriminating information about all of you, and I am always astounded by the genius of Nichelle. She creates beauty out of the slightest thing, a sound, a taste, a color, a feeling, a conjunction, rape & murder, absolutely anything. It never ceases to amaze me. I know that only Murder, laurent, & Pierre (who isn't reading) have had any real success in this world. That don't really matter. Rose will not care how much money any of us have "earned". laurent is a great mathematician, but Rose will remember him for his knee dive. Murder is a great musician, but Rose will remember him for his smile. Nichelle has already given us a hundred songs o'love.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 8 June 2010

Subject: Bad Sex & Avocados

Well, that's a perfectly valid explanation of a guilty Styx fetish. I like punk & organ music at baseball games because they remind me of my misspent youth. Throwing out the bad is just another way of identifying the good. There's no need to banish bad music from the City. My father is tone deaf in a way that would seem physically impossible. (He is also hard of hearing, but it don't matter if the music's turned up very loud.) Not only can't he carry a tune (He sings notes that sound arbitrary & never sings a tune the same way twice.), but he can't tap his foot to the beat. Yet he loves to sing & air-conduct, or whatever it's called that Charlie & Hillary Loh are doing in that vid Murder posted. Rose & I both enjoyed his rendition of Khad Gadya in Aramaic. Music, like sex, need not be reserved to the professional classes. Avocados? I think that may be your texture thing, and I don't feel like discussing how your mother makes eggs again. Anyway, the same is true of poetry. The Scot told me that Cereus Sonnet is rubbish, and he's almost certainly right, but I won't delete it. There's a place for bad poetry. Although I recognize almost none of the cultural references below, I am sure you have filled whatever gaps in your education I was ungraceful enough to bring to your attention. Leonard Cohen is an awful poet. I spent the day at work confirming this. All of his songs/poems seem to be some form of alternating I/you by verse or stanza. When compared to his contemporary singer/songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Serge Gainsbourg, & Jacques Brel (none of whom are really poets anyway) he indeed suffers from U2 disease. Any of the last three fill your mind with people, places, colors, sounds, & smells. Cohen fills your mind with pronouns. Anyway, I've finally figured out where Rose heard this song, as you all probably knew. I have the bad habit of working in splitscreen when we watch films, so I seldom pay any attention after the first few minutes. Of course John Cale sang this song in Shrek. Some poofter sang it on the soundtrack CD for copyright reasons, leading to a little confusion. I'm going to work on all of the different versions, including word painting done in two different ways by Cohen & Handel. The latter uses the lyric as the signified and the music as the signifier, while the former does the converse.

From: Nichelle

Date: 8 June 2010

Subject: Re: Hallelujah


I didn't say whether Leonard Cohen is good music because I don't know what's good music and what isn't. I believe I know what's bad. (See Eddie Izzard's bit about the organ music played at ball games. "You do know that's shit, don't you? That is shit, isn't it?")

I do know that for the last ten years my tastes have broadened. I used to feel shame about some of the stuff I liked but assumed I shouldn't. Now I know that I like what I like, for as many reasons as there are varieties of music. I guess that's one of the gifts of aging- not giving a shit whether other people approve of what I like (Big Band Jazz, science fiction novels, pedicabs, accordion polkas, Keen sandals, feta cheese) and what I don't (romantic comedies, avocados, Canadian bacon, punk rock).

A sample of what I have thought was good lately (selections from my Rhapsody playlist - listened to this week, kinda strange and eclectic...):

Woody Herman- Four Brothers
Continued in the Underground Jazz Orchestra - Star Eyes
Mingus Big Band - Eat That Chicken
Bartok - Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
Tower of Power - You Got To Funkifize
Diana Krall - Peel Me A Grape
Prokofiev - Overture on Hebrew Themes for Clarinet, String Quartet, and Piano
John Adams - Gnarly Buttons
Foreigner - Cold as Ice
Honegger - Pacific 231
Adams - Harmonielehre
The Arrogant Worms- Johnny Came Home Headless

Most people I know would think at least some of this is shit. Whatever. I like it. Probably the same is true of the last several books I read/reread:

Faulkner - The Sound and the Fury
Eddings - The Belgariad and the Mallorean
Zweig - Beware of Pity
Stephenson - Anathem
Gladwell - Outliers

Or the last few films I saw:

Duck Soup
The Botany of Desire
Shrek 4
Food, Inc.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

As for Styx, all I can say is my brother introduced me to them. And like all things which came to me through my brother, I loved it because he was my big brother. I still like a few of Styx's songs- the whole Grand Illusion album in particular which I loved so much in my pre-pubescent years. It's not a shameful past, even if not all of it is my current taste.

I'm a bit of an omnivore. I have learned that I like to discover things and to be influenced by other people's tastes, to take a few bites off of their plate when it comes to what I consume in terms of music, film, and books.

There's a personal association with those things as a result. Four Brothers makes me think of Dick Hubbard, my first private music teacher. The Faulkner makes me think of you, Gaby, because you told me I was undergraduate scum and that I had never read anything. The Mingus reminds me of my days at EWU- it was a popular request of the EWU jazz station by the music crowd. Harmonielehre makes me think of Stefan, who told me it was one of his current favorites.

I'm tired. Be well.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 8 June 2010

Subject: Re: Hallelujah

There are 165 occurrences of the three-letter root H-L-L meaning "praise" in the Bible, 94 of them in the Psalms (25 occurrences in 148 & 150 alone, where it plays a structural role in the verse). Rose likes this song, and so does Nichelle, which is good enough for me, although the latter avoids actually saying it's good music, and she still has something of a shameful past with Styx to explain. I'm trying to convince myself, but I'll write what I can, and sing it with Rose, and maybe we can play it with Sara, although we won't see her again until July because of scheduling woes. I like the conceit of the first stanza, which as we've said motivates the signifier: It goes like this (C dominant) the fourth (F subdominant), the fifth (G dominant), the minor fall (A minor), the major lift (F subdominant). The second stanza is a mess. Yes, our friend David from Schnirele Perele did catch a glimpse of the soon-to-be-widowed Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop, but what's up with the kitchen chair, and what is Samson doing here? The rest of the song brings to mind what a critic once reproached of U2: "Doesn't anyone here have a name?" Pete Seeger's version is closest to what I've sung with Rose, as I had forgotten the Leonard Cohen song, but I sing it at half the speed. It is vaguely based on Al Jolson's vaudeville.

From: Nichelle

Date: 8 June 2010

Subject: Re: Hallelujah

I like Leonard Cohen, and I like that song. The word reminds me that I keep meaning to read John Adams' autobiography titled "Hallelujah Junction." His composition for two pianos by the same title was supposedly named after a truck stop on the CA / NV border. So says wikipedia. Had I read the book, I'd know. I don't know the music either, but I finally subscribed to Rhapsody so I can listen there.

More hallelujah... there's the Battle Hymn of the Republic, with its grapes of wrath.

Also with its alternate lyrics:

"Glory, glory hallelujah!
Teacher hit me with a ruler,
So I hid behind the door with a loaded .44
And she ain't my teacher no more..."

I guess the most recognizable hallelujah is Handel's. (Wasn't that at one time set up on your email to signal that you had received a new message?)

That's all I have.


From: SAGReiss

Date: 7 June 2010

Subject: Hallelujah

I think I may have finally found a new theme. It took me long enough (a month or more), but sometimes these things take time. Rose actually gave me the inspiration, but it took me a long time to recognize the song she was asking me to sing, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. I have no idea who could have played or sung it for her. Anyway, I've expanded the topic to include Handel, Al Jolson, & Pete Seeger. You'll see, if it all pans out. What I'm looking for is some ideas about the word "Hallelujah". I'll work on this myself, of course, but you may know of some resources with which I'm not familiar. I still haven't got an idea for a visual motif, but I only thought of this this afternoon.