Library of Congress > Collections > Coptic Orthodox Liturgical Chant and Hymnody


And we too, who are sojourners in this place, keep us in Your faith, and grant us Your peace unto the end. Excerpt from The Commemoration of the Saints, The Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil

The Coptic Orthodox Christian community is the largest and oldest Christian minority in the Middle East today. While there is no accurate consensus of their size in Egypt, numerous accounts place them between 8 to 12 percent of Egypt's current population.[1] Moreover, they are also a growing immigrant community in the United States, Canada, Australia, and throughout parts of Europe. Historically, the word Coptic is derived from the Greek word aigyptos, which is borrowed from the ancient Egyptian ha-ka-ptah, meaning "house of Ptah's spirit." Ptah was the god of Memphis, the very first capital of Lower Egypt and the first administrative center of a united ancient Egyptian kingdom in 3100 B.C. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, Ptah was believed to be the god who created the world.

Christianity was first introduced to Egypt sometime between 45 and 60 A.D., when St. Mark, the evangelist and author of the oldest canonical gospel, arrived in the city of Alexandria. Though the exact year of his entrance into the country is unknown, it is traditionally held that he began the unbroken succession of Coptic patriarchy in 61 A.D., and he is credited as the founder of Christianity in Egypt. Today, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III is the 117th successor of this Apostolic Seat of Alexandria. 

Much like ancient times, most of Coptic life is celebrated musically. In the Coptic Church, all traditional rites and services accompanying major life transitions are sung. Even the afterlife is believed to be an eternal musical celebration in the presence of God. To understand the Coptic community better, one must understand the reigning spiritual metaphor that largely defines their faith, culture and, consequently, the music that expresses it: life on earth is a transient journey, with the human spirit always longing to return to God. After death, one may rejoin God in heaven where one will live in eternal tasbīh, or musical praise, as it is translated from Arabic. Musically then, Copts believe that their liturgical hymnody, as it is sung during worship services, helps to create momentarily a sense of heaven on earth, as music is the medium that bridges the everyday mundane life with a higher, spiritual realm. 

St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church, Washington D.C. Photograph by Carolyn M. Ramzy

Coptic religious music is composed of three distinct genres: alhān, or the Coptic liturgical hymns performed during church services and traditional rites; tasabīh and madā'h, Coptic and Arabic doxologies that are usually performed in praise of Coptic saints, St. Mary, the Mother of God, or God; and Arabic taratīl or taranīm, non-liturgical folk songs that are sung outside these formal contexts. These three genres do not include the newly emerging materials that immigrant communities are performing in the languages of their new home, such as translated Coptic hymns and Arabic taratīl, or Power, Praise and Worship songs borrowed from other Christian denominations. This presentation will highlight the Coptic canonical genre of alhān, the oldest and most revered of these three, now preserved in their entirety in the Ragheb Moftah Collection at the Library of Congress.

As early as the thirteenth century, the Coptic community had fascinated early explorers, missionaries, and scholars traveling to Egypt for, besides the many murals, excavations, and other tangible historical artifacts, Coptic liturgical chant was, and still is, regarded as the last living testament of an Ancient Egyptian artistic and creative process. In Egypt, writings by Coptic intellectuals such as Ishāq al-Mu'taman Abū Ibn Al-'Assāl and Yuhānnā Ibn Abī Zakāriyyā ibn Sibā' emerged in the thirteenth and fourteenth century describing Coptic music and Church ritual, but a recently discovered transcription dating to 1643 by the German Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher, is among the very first transcriptions undertaken by Western scholars. This interest in Coptic music, though lingering through the eighteenth and nineteenth century, was strongly revived in the twentieth century with the efforts of musicologists such as Ilona Borsai, Hans Hickmann, O.H.E. Khs-Burmester, Marian Robertson-Wilson, and many others. However, no one has matched the efforts of Egyptian scholar, Ragheb Moftah, who dedicated his 75-year career to the collection, notation, and preservation of Coptic liturgical chant. With the help of Margit Tóth and Martha Roy, he published his monumental work, The Coptic Orthodox Liturgy of St. Basil with Complete Musical Transcription, in 1998.


  1. According to the 2006 census undertaken by the Egyptian State Information service, the population of Egypt is estimated at 72.6 million people. Numerous scholars have accounted for the neglect of an accurate Coptic census. Please see S.S. Hasan, Christians versus Muslims in Modern Egypt: The Century-Long Struggle for Coptic Equality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003; and, Edward Wakin, A Lonely Minority: The Modern Story of Egypt's Copts. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1963. [return to text]
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De Ecclesiae Coptae, by Athanasius Kircher. 1643.

Thanks to Ragheb Moftah and other scholars in the field, the entire Coptic hymnody is archived as sound recordings at the Library of Congress, and includes music that has been notated into Western notation for scholarly study. This Web presentation traces the earliest-known transcriptions of Coptic music by explorers and missionaries from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, and focuses especially on the music collected, recorded and notated in the twentieth century by Ragheb Moftah and his colleagues. Moreover, this presentation investigates these early studies within their cultural and social contexts, better illuminating the first encounters with this tradition. While Coptic music studies were predominately undertaken by Western scholars up until the twentieth century, Kāmil Ibrahīm Ghubriyāl became the first indigenous Copt to notate Coptic music when he published his book, Al-Tawqī'āt al-Mūsīqiyah li-Maraddāt al-Kanīsah al-Murqusiyah, or The Musical Notation for the Responses of the Church of St. Mark in 1916. Ten years later, Moftah encountered Ernest Newlandsmith in 1926 and, until his death in 2001, Moftah undertook the most comprehensive preservation project of Coptic hymns.

It is also important to mention the music notation that has been emerging from within the Coptic community for centuries, otherwise known today as hazzāt. As dashes or dots, hazzāt appeared in Egypt as early as the third or fourth century, but it does not resemble Western notation in any sense. While hazzāt serve the same purpose in prescribing the musical motion, they do not imply pitch, intervallic motion, meter, or a specific rhythm. Rather, they serve as a mnemonic device for an exclusively oral tradition, reminding deacons of melodic directions, embellishment on vowels, and the upward or downward motion of extended melismas. Since early Coptic cantors were blind, these notations were reserved for their students and deacons who continue to use them to this day, modifying them according to their own needs.

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Music Recordings

The muthallath (triangle), St. Mary and St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, Tallahassee, Florida. Photograph by Carolyn M. Ramzy

What does Coptic music sound like? An exclusively vocal tradition, Coptic music is only accompanied by two percussion instruments today.[1] The first instrument is a metal triangle otherwise known in Arabic as muthallath. Among Copts, it is also referred to as a turianta. The muthallath is generally suspended by one of its corners on a cantor's forefinger, while the other hand strikes its three edges alternately with a metal rod, producing a very bright and chiming sound. The other instrument is a small pair of hand cymbals otherwise known as the sanj (pl. sajjāt). While many Coptic cantors and singers identify this instrument as a daff, this can be rather misleading because, throughout the rest of the Middle East, a daff refers to a wide frame drum that resembles a tambourine. When the muthallath and the sajjāt are played together, not only do they keep time, but they also produce an intricate rhythm that mimics the embellished vocal lines they accompany.

The sajjāt (cymbals), St. Mary and St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, Tallahassee, Florida. Photograph by Carolyn M. Ramzy

Vocally, Coptic singing style is especially bright and resonant, as most cantors choose to sing at the higher end of their range. It is important to note that there are three parties who are musically involved during the celebration of a liturgy: 1) the clergy or the officiant of the service (known in Arabic as al-Kāhin); 2) the choir of cantors and deacons (known as al-shammāmsa); and, 3) the congregation (known as al-sha'b). Musically, it is the Kāhin whose singing is the most rhythmically free and characterized by rich ornamentation and embellishments. Responding to him, a deacon, or a shammās, will also sing in the same ornate style, though a sense of time begins to emerge as their solos are typically accompanied by the muthallath and the sajjāt. The choir of deacons, divided into bahrī, meaningnorthern, and qiblī, or southern, sides, leads the rest of the congregation during lay responses. This singing style is typically declamatory, less ornate, and framed within a simple duple meter.   

Lastly, Coptic liturgical chant is unique for its elongation and extended melodies of vowels, a phenomenon that scholars believe Copts inherited from their ancient Egyptian ancestors. In their article, "Coptic Music: Description of the Corpus and Present Musical Practice," Ragheb Moftah, Marian Robertson, Margit Tóth and Martha Roy have differentiated between two forms of these embellishments, the vocalise and the melisma (pl. melismata). A vocalise is the elongation of a particular vowel within a rhythmic framework, [2] many of which are passed down orally as a part of the Coptic hymn. A melisma, on the other hand, is the elongation of a vowel in free rhythm, allowing singers to improvise and to illustrate their individual virtuosity.

Among the many recordings from the Ragheb Moftah Collection, it was the Coptic Orthodox celebration of the Eucharist, the liturgy of Saint Basil, which received the most scholarly attention. Moftah was not alone in capturing this most widely sung service among the Copts. The German Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher, and two French Jesuits, Fathers Blin and Badet, as well as Kāmil Ibrahīm Ghubriyāl, who came before Moftah, took special notice of the Saint Basil liturgy as well. The recordings of this liturgy are at the heart of this presentation for two reasons. Firstly, it is performed every Sunday during the year, except for seasonal festivities, such as Christmas and Easter, when it is replaced by the liturgy of Saint Gregory. Secondly, as a liturgy, it is at the center of Coptic religious experience, because the majority of Coptic chant comes from this service. Articles such as "Coptic Music: The Divine Liturgy and Offerings of Incense" by Ragheb Moftah, Marian Robertson, Margit Tóth and Martha Roy in The Coptic Encyclopedia [3] further explain the relevance and the order of this three- to four-hour service that is sung in its entirety.

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  1. For more information on early instruments used in the Coptic Orthodox Church, please refer to the article, "Coptic Music: Musical Instruments" by Ragheb Moftah, Marian Robertson, and Martha Roy in The Coptic Encyclopedia, Aziz S. Atiya, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991, pp. 1738-1741. [return to text]
  2. The Coptic Encyclopedia, p. 1721. [return to text]
  3. The Coptic Encyclopedia, pp. 1715-1724. [return to text]
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Courtesy of the Library of Congress Geography and Maps Division, this Gallery features some maps of Christian Egypt from the end of the seventeenth century to the 1950s, and general maps of Egypt and Cairo until the 1920s. Much like the presentation Timeline that outlines the rise of Coptic music studies, this Map Gallery briefly demonstrates the growing interest in Coptic Egypt by explorers, historians, Egyptologists and, afterward, by Ottoman, French, and British colonial administrators. In this collection, the earliest map from 1693, Les Déserts d'Egypte, de Thébaïde d'Arabie, de Sirie &c., où Sont exactement Marques les Lieux habitez par les Saincts Pères des Déserts, is a mythic representation of dwellings of hermits and saints in the desert. Later, cartographers strived to capture Christian sites such as monasteries and churches that dotted the arid landscape, the dipping valleys, oases, and the path of the Nile River. In 1916, just a few years before Egypt's nominal independence from Great Britain and the onset of the First World War, Bacon's Excelsior Map of Egypt, The Nile Basin and Adjacent Countries illustrated the strong colonial presence in Northeastern Africa that was largely dismantled after the Second World War, and by the time Egypt had gained full independence in 1952.     

Finally, detailed maps of Cairo, dating from the 1920s, are also included in this Gallery to highlight some of the areas where Moftah lived, worked, and collected Coptic hymns, areas such as Old Cairo, the Giza district, and the Faggala neighborhood where he grew up.

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Map Detail: Les Deserts d'Egypte (1693)

Detail from Les Deserts D'Egypte, De Thabaide D'Arabie, De Sirie, &c : ou Sont exactement Marques Les Lieux Habitez Par Les Saincts Peres Des Deserts -- center, just above "EGY" of "EGYPTE," highlighted area shows S. Macaire. [view full map]

This is a seventeenth-century map of Christian Egypt, which is located at the center left. Above it is Libya and to the right of the Red Sea is the Arabian Peninsula. Throughout Egypt are written hundreds of names of saints and holy men and women who lived in caves, hermitages or monasteries in the desert. From a geographical standpoint this map is hardly accurate according to Meinardus but, artistically, it is quite beautiful.

Note the name of "S. Macaire" just above the letters "EGY" in "EGYPTE" at the center left. This refers to Saint Macarius of Egypt (ca. 300-391) and the monastery he founded in the fourth century has been inhabited continuously by monks since that time. Included in this Web presentation is a 1995 photograph of Ragheb Moftah with Father Kyrillos, an elderly monk at the Anba Macarius Monastery in Wadi al-Natrun.

View Full Map - Les Deserts d'Egypte (1693)

L'Ancienne Thebaide (1738)

Detail from L'Ancienne Thebaide, ou, la Carta generale des lieux habitez par les Ss. peres des deserts -- bottom center, straddling the Nile, the area labeled "THEBAIDE" [view full map]

St. Paul (ca. 228-ca. 341), born in Thebes, and St. Anthony (ca. 251-356), born in Coma in Lower Egypt, are credited with establishing Christian monasticism in Egypt, though other ascetics -- holy men and women -- had already lived isolated in the desert by the second century. Like the map of 1693, this map shows hundreds of sites of hermits and saints scattered in the desert, manifesting the richness of Christianity that extended throughout the country. This map honors Saints Paul and Anthony, in particular, and their biographies, in French, are at the left; fourteen numbered areas of the map are described on the right. Thebes, the birthplace of St. Paul, is at the bottom center of this map, in the area of the Upper Nile. Nicolas de Fer (1645-1720), the engraver of this map, was the Geographer to Louis XIV. He engraved over six hundred maps that were noted especially for the fine ornamentation of the plates. Given the life dates of Nicolas de Fer, this map must have been published posthumously. At the top left, the image of St. Paul has been cut away but that of St. Anthony is at the top right. The image of St. Anthony is signed "Guerard le Fils Fecit." Possibly this was Nicolas Guérard, fils, a French eighteenth-century engraver and publisher. The Geography and Map Division does have another copy of this map with the image of St. Paul at the upper left but the map selected here has a more legible text. It is one of the earliest maps to depict Egypt as it currently looks.

View Full Map - L'Ancienne Thebaide (1738)

Deserta Ægypti (1700-1750)

Detail from Deserta Aegypti, Thebaidis, Arabiae, Syriae etc. ubi accurata notata sunt loca inhabitata per Sanctos Patres Anachoretas -- Egypt, center left, area labeled "DESERTUM SCETIS" and above it "DESERTUM NITRAE" [view full map]

This map from the first half of the eighteenth century again shows the dwelling places of the Desert Fathers in Egypt and Thebes at the left as well as the sites of other hermits in Palestine, Syria and the Arabian Peninsula on the right. The details shown here are the Desertum Scetis and the Desertum Nitriae in Egypt. The name of the Scetis Desert may derive from the Greek word askētēs, meaning monk or hermit. In Coptic, it was called Shee-Hyt, meaning balance or measure of the hearts. It was in the Scetis Desert and the Nitrian Desert to the northeast that so many saints lived. Today this valley is still a holy place, Wadi Al-Natrun, where several monasteries are located. This map was engraved by Matthaeus Seutter (1678-1756) after a drawing by Gottfried Rogg (1669-1742). Both artists were from Augsburg. Rogg was a draughtsman and engraver known for his city views. Seutter was a draughtsman, engraver, geographer and art publisher who also engraved coats of arms and portraits. Note that there are several 1995 photographs of Ragheb Moftah at two monasteries in Wadi Al-Natrun -- three taken at the Anba Bishoy Monastery, and one taken at the Anba Macarius Monastery.

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Egypt, Arabia Petraea & S. Turkey (1882)

Detail from Egypt, Arabia Petraea and Southern Turkey (1882) -- Just above lower right corner of full map, Nile delta on Mediterranean Sea. [view full map]

This map dates to 1882, the year in which the British took over Egypt. At the top are small scenes and inset maps of the following: Citadel, Cairo; Grand Square in Alexandria, scene of massacre 11 June 1882; Great Pillar at Alexandria; and small maps of Cairo, Babylon, Petra, Africa, Egyptian Empire; and Alexandria. The bottom half of the map consists of "Powell's Illustrated Pyramid Map of Egypt, Arabia, Petraea & Southeast[er]n Turkey" which includes Mesopotamia, the Nile Delta, and the Suez Canal.

View Full Map - Egypt, Arabia Petraea and Southern Turkey (1882)

Egypt, Arabia, Petraea, Abyssina (1885)

Detail from Egypt, Arabia, Petraea, Abyssina (1885) -- Center left in complete map, Nile River highlighted. [view full map]

This is a delicately colored map which shows Lower, Middle and Upper Egypt, Nubia, Darfur and Sudan, with the Nile Delta and Suez Canal at lower right. It comes from Black's General Atlas of the World. New and revised edition. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1885, plate 37. Call number: G1019.B6 1885

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Bartholomew's New Map of Egypt (1897)

Detail from Bartholomew's New Map of Egypt (1897) -- showing Nile delta down to Cairo. [view full map]

This large foldout map shows the lower Nile and its delta at the left and the upper Nile at the right. The Nile is in blue, with fertile lands on each side in green, flanked by beige deserts. Each major city is underlined in red. There are small inset maps: at left: Alexandria; in center: Cairo and entire Nile; at right: the Upper Nile toward its source further south; at lower left is a list: "Etymology of Arabic Place Names."

View Full Map - Bartholomew's New Map of Egypt (1897)

The Nile Valley including Egypt ... [ca. 1910]

Detail from The Nile Valley including Egypt ... [ca. 1910] -- Delta showing cities on Mediterranean, Cairo, Gizeh, and Suez. [view full map]

This map dates just before World War I and shows almost all of northeastern Africa as colonial possessions with each country, including Darfur and Sudan, delineated in pastel colors. The map is finely detailed with many cities indicated.

View Full Map - Bartholomew's New Map of Egypt (1897)

Bacon's Excelsior Map of Egypt [1916?]

Detail from Bacon's Excelsior Map of Egypt [1916?] -- full map shown. [view full map]

This is a map of northeastern Africa dating to World War I and, like the map dating to ca. 1910, each country is indicated as a colonial possession.

View Full Map - Bacon's Excelsior Map of Cairo [1916?]

General Map of Cairo [1920]

Detail from General Map of Cairo (1920) -- showing El Faggala, birthplace of Moftah. [view full map]

Detail from General Map of Cairo (1920) -- showing Semiramis Hotel (East side of Nile). [view full map]

This map, just after World War I, is a very detailed map of Cairo, with streets, landmarks and gardens indicated on either side of the blue Nile. Several areas are of special interest in this map. 1) Just below the train terminal at the upper center is El Faggala in Cairo, where Ragheb Moftah was born. 2) In the late 1920s and mid-1930s, Moftah moored his houseboat on the eastern shore of the Nile near the Semiramis Hotel, just above Garden City. It was on this houseboat that the great cantor Batanūnī sang Coptic hymns while Ernest Newlandsmith transcribed them. This area on the eastern side of the Nile below the Kasr El Nil Bridge and the Semiramis Hotel was formerly known as the Kasr El Dobarah area (Dobarah Palace). Ragheb Moftah recalled vividly the first time he heard Batanūnī chant on his houseboat, saying: "We were on a Golden ship in the Nile in front of the El-Dobara Palace [Kasr el-Dobarah]. Under us, still water of the Nile flew in peace and we were surrounded by wonderful gardens on both banks." (This information was kindly provided by Laurence Moftah, citing an article written by Ragheb Moftah, "The History of Recording Coptic Hymns & the History of Moalem Mikhail [al-Mu'allim Mikhail]" in El-Kezara Magazine, 1975. (view full article online External) -- accessed 2 July 2009.

View Full Map - General Map of Cairo (1920)

Cairo & Environs (1925)

Detail from Cairo and Environs (1925) -- showing El Giza on Nile and, moving lower left (southwest) on red line to Mena House Hotel near the Pyramids. [view full map]

This map shows Cairo as it is situated in the Nile delta with deserts on each side. It is a good general view of Cairo and the area around it, the landscape colored in oranges, greens and beiges on either side of the blue Nile. The pyramids are at the lower left (in the brown desert just beyond the green area). In 1996, when Ragheb Moftah was in his late nineties, he recalled in an interview the demonstrations in Cairo on January 26, 1952. That day, Moftah had been at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies in Anba Ruweiss in the Abbassiyah area of Cairo. All transportation in the city had been disrupted, but he apparently found some means to get to Giza. From Giza, Moftah walked to his home near the Mena House Hotel in the Pyramids District, a distance of about 15 kilometers, or nearly 10 miles. (This information was kindly provided by Laurence Moftah on July 1 and 2, 2009, citing Ragheb Moftah's interview with Raymond Stock at the Library of Congress, videotape 3, conducted November 19, 1996.)

View Full Map - Cairo & Environs (1925)

Map of Christian Egypt (1955)

Detail from Carte de l'Égypte chrétienne: évêchés et couvents -- Center, just left of delta, monasteries including Anba Bishoi (sometimes also spelled Bishoy). [view full map]

This is a very large, beautiful map with the Christian sites marked with a red cross, and monasteries marked as domed buildings, such as the four monasteries just to the west of the Nile delta: Deir el Baramûs, Deir Suriani, Deir Anbâ Bishoi, and Deir Abû Makar. Various other details are indicated such as camel routes, oases, palm trees and fishes. The map extends from the Nile delta on the Mediterranean to Aswan in Upper Egypt. It is a folded map, actually a brochure, and on the verso is the title of the brochure and texts in English and French indicating "Historic Dates in Egypt -– From the first century A.D. to the Arab conquest in 640 A.D," that is, from 50-58 A.D to 639 A.D. Housed with this map in the Geography and Map Division are two brochures: One, written by O.H.E. Burmester, describes seventeen Coptic bishoprics within Egypt (in 1955), far fewer than the many historic monasteries indicated on this map. The second brochure has Angel Gabriel on the front and St. Mark on the back. It opens to an image of double doors to a church. When opened further, the doors reveal four panels with the Sphinx in yellow at the top and inset photographs of churches in Old Cairo in blue: upper left: Church of the Holy Virgin, known as "The Suspended" in Old Cairo; lower left: High Altar of the Church of Abû Sargah in Old Cairo; upper right: Interior view of the Church of the Holy Virgin in Old Cairo; lower right: Ivory cross inlaid in ebony, Abu Seifen. When the brochure is fully opened, it contains all yellow photos of monasteries or scenes from Old Cairo. Among the photos are: Anba Bishoi [sometimes also spelled Bishoy] in Wadi al-Natrun; St. Paul's Monastery on the Red Sea; Al-Baramûs Monastery in Wadi al-Natrun and its dome; view of Old Cairo; and the Virgin's Tree at Matariya. Note that there are several 1995 photographs of Ragheb Moftah at two monasteries in Wadi Al-Natrun -- three taken at the Anba Bishoy Monastery, and one taken at the Anba Macarius Monastery.

View Full Map - Map of Christian Egypt (1955)

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Le Caire. Intérieur de la cathédrale cophte / Maison Bonfils (Beirut, Lebanon), [between 1867 and 1899]. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.

The photographs of Ragheb Moftah are sub-divided into topical groups: 1) Moftah with family and colleagues; 2) Moftah and others at Anba Bishoy and Anba Macarius in Wadi al-Natrun – Easter 1995; 3) In the recording studio; 4) Moftah at Mass, with the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies Choir, and with Pope John Paul II; 5) Moftah with his niece, Laurence Moftah, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, and Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress; 6) Moftah's 100th birthday – December 21, 1998; 7) Moftah's funeral Mass – June 18, 2001; 8) Moftah's burial at the family mausoleum – April 25, 2002.

A separate group of late nineteenth-century photographs of Coptic churches from the Prints and Photographs Reading Room is also offered in this Gallery, as well as some recent photos of St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral.

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Photographs of Ragheb Moftah by Topic

Photographs of Coptic Churches

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View Correspondence Gallery

In the Ragheb Moftah Collection, there are nearly 30 folders containing correspondence, contracts, and telegraph messages between Ragheb Moftah and fellow scholars, family members, and friends who were somehow connected to his project. Moftah, well-known for being a meticulous man, composed many drafts before sending out a letter officially. He communicated with scholars from all over Egypt, Europe, Eastern Europe, and the United States. Though most of his letters were written in English, others were also composed in Arabic, German, and French.

The selections you will find here include all of Ragheb Moftah's final versions of English letters to scholars beginning in the late 1920s and throughout his career, ending with the latest letters regarding his collection at the Library of Congress in 1994. The bulk of this correspondence, however, is between Ragheb Moftah and the English composer and violinist, Ernest Newlandsmith. These letters outline much of their partnership to notate and transcribe Coptic music from 1926 to 1939, when Moftah received his last letter from Newlandsmith. It is these letters that shed the most light on their nuanced relationship as colleagues, friends, brothers and, sometimes on the part of Moftah, as caregiver to the charismatic and larger than life English Friar.

Despite minor damage, such as staining, we have included as many letters as possible, particularly those that provide important information about Moftah and Newlandsmith's work. Unfortunately, we had to exclude others that were far too damaged to read.

Correspondence Between Ragheb Moftah and

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The essays presented here by Carolyn Ramzy and Coptic scholars Marian Robertson-Wilson and John E. Gillespie – some written especially for this presentation and others previously published – introduce Coptic liturgical music to an audience beyond the confines of academe. For two centuries, this music was handed down by word of mouth from one generation of cantors to the next. It was not until the early twentieth century that Ragheb Moftah devoted more than 75 years of his long life to transcribing and recording the entire Coptic liturgy. Moftah's generous gift of his collection to the Library of Congress in the 1990s serves as the core of this Web presentation and these essays put his life and work into the larger context of Egyptian history and summarize the work of previous scholars.

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Ernest Newlandsmith, 1875-after 1957 [photogravure]. Reproduced in Newlandsmith, Ernest. A Minstrel Friar: The Story of My Life and Work. London: The New Life Movement, 1927, frontispiece.

The seventeenth-century German Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher, made the earliest-known attempt at transcribing a piece of Coptic music. It was not until the early nineteenth century, during Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, that Villoteau transcribed an Alleluia; and, in the late nineteenth century, the French Jesuit priests, Fathers Blin and Badet, attempted to transcribe the Coptic liturgy. These early transcribers, along with other important figures associated with Copts and Coptic music, such as Edward William Lane, are the subjects of the biographies in this Gallery.

The most important work in the preservation of Coptic music was begun in the 1920s and 1930s by Ragheb Moftah and Ernest Newlandsmith. The biographies of Moftah's friends and colleagues presented here – Newlandsmith, O.H.E. Khs-Burmester, Hans Hickman, John E. Gillespie, Ilona Borsai, Martha Roy, Margit Tóth, Marian Robertson-Wilson, and His Holiness Pope Shenouda III – highlight the principal figures in the history of preserving Coptic music.

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Raymond Stock, the author of a recent biographical article on Ragheb Moftah featured in the Biography Gallery, interviewed Moftah in 1996 and 1997 as part of the Library of Congress World Heritage Series. These four video recordings, as well as an interview with Moftah by Dr. Adel Kamel, in 1998, document Moftah’s work in recording and transcribing the Coptic liturgy beginning in the 1920s and 1930s. Also presented here are a video of Moftah’s 100th birthday celebration, as well as a film of his funeral in 2001, the Mass, of course, being sung in Coptic. Another video features Laurence Moftah, niece of Ragheb Moftah, interviewing his colleagues, Margit Tóth and Martha Roy in 2002, a year after Moftah’s death. Several of these videos are in Arabic only, though a few have subtitles in English. Thus, it is the Coptic community to whom these films will have the most significance.

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In April and May of 1931, Ragheb Moftah and Ernest Newlandsmith traveled to England to give a series of lectures at Oxford, Cambridge and other universities, in which they described their work transcribing Coptic music in Egypt since 1927. Newlandsmith also lectured again in England in the summer of 1932. Working on a houseboat on the Nile provided by Moftah, Newlandsmith patiently transcribed by hand the music sung by the great cantor, Batanūnī. Ultimately, Newlandsmith transcribed sixteen folio volumes of Coptic music, fourteen of which have been digitized and are presented in the Transcription Gallery. The lectures, attended by notable figures such as Einstein, caused a sensation in England and around the world as the news services as far away as Ceylon and Malaysia picked up their story. Moftah collected these newspaper articles from a clipping service – many of which are also in Arabic – photocopies of which are in the Provenance file of the Ragheb Moftah Collection in the Music Division. Some of the clippings were incomplete, or were in poor condition, so scans were sometimes made from microfilm in the Newspaper Reading Room. A few clippings document Newlandsmith's "New Life Movement," and one newspaper records his marriage to Maria Romero in 1940.

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Books and Articles

Books, chapters from books, or articles from periodicals having to do with Copts and Coptic music are featured in this Gallery. Ethnographic books by the famous Egyptologist, Edward William Lane, and S.H. Leeder, are reproduced in part or entirely. Rites, Services and Offices of the Coptic liturgy by Evetts, Bute, and Woolley were digitized in their entirety. A chapter on Coptic chant by Fétis from his Histoire Générale de la Musique is offered in a translation by Maryvonne Mavroukakis. Finally, two sources on Newlandsmith – his autobiographical Minstrel Friar, and a biographical article by an unknown author – offer insights into his larger-than-life personality.

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This Gallery is devoted to essays about Ragheb Moftah. Presented here are the following: a recent biography written by Raymond Stock for Turath; a family tree from Moftah’s papers in the Ragheb Moftah Collection in the Performing Arts Division; and five essays by Laurence Moftah, Librarian Emerita of the American University in Cairo, and guardian of her uncle Ragheb Moftah’s legacy of the transcribed and recorded chants of the Coptic Liturgy. Among Laurence Moftah’s essays are: 1) her personal memories of her uncle and how she was chosen by him to safeguard the valuable materials he had gathered in his 75-year-long career transcribing and recording Coptic liturgical chants; 2) a biographical essay on Ragheb Moftah which tells of his survival of a typhus epidemic when he was a child, and the influences of family members, particularly that of his sister, Farida; 3) an essay on Ragheb Moftah and Coptic music and his lifelong quest to save this great cultural heritage; 4) an essay that lays out the chronology of Ragheb Moftah’s contact with those who sang, transcribed and recorded the chants; and, 5) an essay on the Coptic Philanthropic Society, founded in 1881, by members of the Moftah family and to which so many Moftah family members belonged.

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