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Collection Coptic Orthodox Liturgical Chant and Hymnody

About this Collection

With its roots in Ancient Egyptian music, Coptic Christian chant is one of the oldest liturgical genres still performed today. Drawing on the Ragheb Moftah Collection, this presentation explores some of the earliest music transcriptions by explorers, missionaries, and scholars in Egypt, highlighting Moftah's efforts to notate, record, and preserve all Coptic Orthodox hymns. Learn more about current scholarship and what is happening in the Coptic community today.

The Ragheb Moftah Collection in the Library of Congress documents Moftah's 75-year career as an ethnomusicologist who served as the chair of the Music Department at the Institute of Coptic Studies in Egypt from 1954 until he died in 2001. The collection includes 14 folios of Ernest Newlandsmith's transcriptions, the work of a British violinist and composer whom Moftah sponsored to transcribe the Coptic liturgy of St. Basil and other seasonal hymns from 1926 to 1936. The collection also consists of correspondence between Moftah and other scholars, though the bulk of these letters outline Newlandsmith and Moftah's working relationship for 10 years. Furthermore, the collection also contains Moftah's recordings of the great cantor, Mu'allim Mikhā'īl Jirjis al-Batanūnī, between 1940 and 1957, and recordings of the St. Basil liturgy made by the Institute of Coptic Studies Choir starting in 1954.

Marian Roberston-Wilson's Revised Guide to the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Coptic Chant accompanies the 21 converted CDs and provides the Coptic texts, transliteration, and English translation for the liturgy of St. Basil. There are also audiocassettes of the Liturgy of St. Basil as chanted by Mu'allim Sadek Atallah, as well as the Nativity Feast, the Great Lent, the Pentecostal Feast, the Midnight Psalmody, music of a wedding ceremony, and recordings of other Coptic Church occasions.

Additional materials from the Ragheb Moftah Collection include photographs and videos of Moftah's centennial birthday party on December 21, 1998, his funeral on June 18, 2001 and final burial on April 25, 2002, autobiographical interviews conducted by Raymond Stock between 1996 and 1997, and Laurence Moftah's interviews with Martha Roy and Margit Tóth on March 13, 2002. The recordings and videos from the Ragheb Moftah Collection are housed in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. All other materials are in the Music Division.

In order to contextualize Moftah's great contribution to the field of Coptic studies, and to understand more fully Coptic music, culturally and historically, this presentation also features materials from other divisions of the Library of Congress, such as books from the African and Middle Eastern Division, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and General Collections; historical maps of Egypt from the Geography and Maps Division; photographs of Coptic churches in Cairo from the Prints and Photographs Division; and the John E. Gillespie Collection of Coptic recordings, courtesy of the American Folklife Center.