مشاهدة جميع الاصدارات : on Coptic Music

20-04-2006, 23:26
A musical resurrection

As the Coptic Orthodox Church prepares for its Easter celebrations, Laurence Moftah pays tribute to Ragheb Moftah, who spent his lifetime preserving the musical heritage of the church

The Feast of the Resurrection, celebrated by the Coptic Orthodox Church on 23 April this year, is the most glorious of Coptic feasts and the rites that celebrate Easter among the most ancient practices of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Ragheb Moftah (b. 1898-d. 2001), who worked from the mid-1920s until his death preserving and documenting Coptic liturgical music, presented the Church with an anthology of pristine recordings of Coptic Orthodox liturgical hymns and chants. The chanters included cantors well known for their virtuosity in rendering Coptic chants. Moftah selected the most gifted deacons to join his choirs, and his collection of recordings includes chants rendered by Al-Mu'allim Mikhail Al-Batanouni, the first master cantor in the history of Coptic music to have his chants recorded. Moftah also recorded the chants of the next two generations of cantors and choirs.

Among Moftah's most important recordings are the hymns and chants for the celebration of the Great Lent, the Pascha or Holy Week, which celebrates the Passion of Christ, through the chants of Bright Saturday to the magnificent Resurrection chants. The recordings of Easter celebrations provide a spiritual and dramatic narrative of the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. The choirs render the Paschal celebration hymns with extreme solemnity. Their chants are rendered in an unadorned "a cappella" style. Their voices are deep, exultant and unsullied as they move through the sorrows of the Passion Week to the spirited tempo of Easter splendour.

No doubt Moftah will be remembered for his masterly recordings of these liturgies and chants, which he bequeathed to Copts and the world at large. But he will also be remembered as the old man in a black suit, wearing a black beret on his bald head, standing in the front row among the choir, his ears attentive to every melisma rendered by the master cantor and deacons as he conducted the Coptic Orthodox Easter celebration, and all other Coptic feasts and festivities, at St. Mark's Cathedral in Abbassiyya.

Moftah was born on 21 December 1898 at Al-Faggala in Cairo, the son of Habashi Moftah and Labiba Shalaby. In 1919, in preparation for his future as heir to agricultural land, Moftah went to Germany to study agriculture at the University of Bonn. After earning a bachelor's degree in agronomics he auditioned for the Music Department to study piano and music theory. Later, in 1924, he continued his musical education at the University of Munich.

Moftah was intrigued by the theories of those musicologists who believed the liturgical music of the Coptic Church was directly descended from ancient Egyptian music. He decided to research its origins and for years delved into the ancient Egyptian and Coptic manuscripts at the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and other archives and libraries in Europe, as well as, back in Egypt, the manuscripts at the Coptic and Egyptian museums in Cairo, at various monasteries and in the Patriarchal Libraries. The music of ancient Egypt had not been well researched but eventually Moftah found several pieces of evidence in Egyptian and Coptic manuscripts to support its links with Coptic liturgical music.

Although Moftah believed that the Coptic music evolved from Ancient Egypt, he was also aware of the influence of the Hebrew and Byzantine traditions. For example, the singing of Psalms is a Jewish practice. Later on, early Christian communities in Egypt adopted Greek antiphonal singing, and developed this practice to accommodate the needs of the early Christian communities in Egypt. Furthermore, the solemn ecstasy in the music of the Coptic Orthodox Church can trace its roots to the early days of Christian worship, during the Byzantine Empire of the Near East. But Moftah's overall contention was that the main influence on Coptic music was the music of pre-Christian times.

On several occasions Moftah recounted that events during the early 20th century, when the British alleged that they needed to protect the Christian minority, a pretext intended to justify their prolonged occupation of the country, acted as a goad for him to preserve the Coptic musical heritage. British evangelists and Protestant missionaries were particularly keen to convert Copts to Protestantism. Although fearing that the Coptic musical heritage would be compromised by the influence of modernity in general, Moftah's immediate incentive was the occupiers', and the Protestant missionaries', interference. The British missionaries, and Copts who had converted to Protestantism, described Coptic liturgical music as "decadent". Despite being apolitical, Moftah reacted vehemently to save the heritage: it was a decisive moment in his life and work.

In the early 1920s he launched his campaign to promote awareness of the value of the Coptic musical heritage. He approached many of his friends and colleagues -- among them Habib Gorgi, Archdeacon Habib Girgis and Aziz S Atiya -- to support his project to preserve liturgical music but they refused to collaborate with him, arguing he needed institutional support to carry out such a monumental task. But when they attempted to dissuade him from undertaking such a project alone he turned a deaf ear.

After extensive deliberation his family backed the project. Habashi Moftah, Ragheb's father, initially provided him with the financial support he needed, and later his siblings, nephews and nieces contributed. In the early 1920s Moftah travelled to England where he met Ernest Newlandsmith, a clergyman's son and a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London. They shared a common interest in religious music. Moftah was intrigued by Newlandsmith's gift for music and recognised in him a superior talent. He proposed that Newlandsmith undertake the monumental task of transcribing the musical notation of Coptic Orthodox liturgical chants. They agreed to meet again in Cairo.

In 1926, when Newlandsmith passed through Cairo on his way to the Holy Land, Moftah arranged that he would stay in Cairo on his return journey and work on the transcriptions. Moftah paid Newlandsmith's expenses, including his travel and living costs, and purchased a grand piano. Staying on Moftah's houseboat moored on the Nile they worked together, and discussed extensively the origins of Coptic music, its structure and form of notation. It was a defining moment in the Coptic cultural renaissance.

Moftah worked with the most authoritative singers of his time, recording the entire corpus of Coptic liturgical music as sung by three generations of choirs and cantors. His intention was both to preserve the musical heritage and to make it available for study, research and critical analysis. His collection includes all Coptic liturgies and chants, and repeats of different versions by different chanters representing different periods of history. The process of selecting cantors was slow, arduous and careful, involving travels from the furthest reaches of Upper Egypt to the Mediterranean coastline. There were many Coptic singers in Egypt, and finally Moftah entered into an inspirational collaboration with the legendary Coptic master cantor, the blind Mikhail Girgis Al-Batanouni (b. 1873-d. 1957), chosen by Moftah and Newlandsmith for his rich baritone voice and accurate rendition of the liturgical chants. He was knowledgeable in Coptic Orthodox religious rites, in addition to being well versed in both the Coptic and Arabic languages.

From 1927 to 1936 Newlandsmith came to Cairo every winter to transcribe, spending time with Moftah listening to the cantors as they auditioned and discussing and analysing musical form and content. Newlandsmith's first project was to notate the Liturgy of St. Basil, which he did from live performances by Al-Batanouni, who sat in a corner on the floor, chanting tirelessly for the transcription. The legendary cantor shared Moftah's and Newlandsmith's perspective about the value of preserving Coptic musical heritage. In the early 1930s he was appointed the first instructor of hymns at the Coptic Orthodox Clerical College by Archdeacon Habib Girgis. He was the Archpsaltos of the Saint Mark's Cathedral in Al-Azbakkiyyah in Cairo. Later, in 1954, Moftah appointed him teacher of Coptic hymns and chants at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS).

In those pre-tape-recording days Newlandsmith compiled some 16 folios of manuscripts which could be read by trained musicians anywhere. The Liturgy of St. Basil (used in the Coptic Orthodox Church throughout the year except during feasts) was followed by other liturgies and hymns, including the Liturgy of St. Gregory (used in the four major feasts of Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection and Pentecost), and a number of special services including the ordination of popes, new priests, festivals, weddings and funerals.

In 1931 Moftah and Newlandsmith travelled to England to lecture on Coptic liturgical music at Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities. Their lectures drew the attention of a wide audience. Professor Griffith, the well- known Egyptologist, Professor Einstein and many others were intrigued by the new findings. Among several articles published at the time one, entitled "Western Music from Egypt: Its Origin in the Coptic Church -- Emotional Appeal", appeared in the Morning Post in May 1931. "Western music", said the article, "has its origin in ancient Egypt, according to Professor Ernest Newlandsmith, who has recently completed a three years' [period of] investigation in that country of the traditional music of the Coptic Church... 'The investigation,' he explained to a Morning Post representative yesterday, 'had its origin in the conviction of Mr. Ragheb Moftah, a distinguished Egyptian Effendi, that beneath the veneer of Arabic and Turkish influences there was much in Coptic music both of aesthetic merit and profound emotional appeal. This opinion, though I was many times inclined to doubt it, has been amply justified.'"

In 1932 Moftah was chosen by the Egyptian government to present Coptic music at the Arab Music Conference held in Cairo and sponsored by King Fuad. Bela Bartok, the composer and ethnomusicologist who attended the conference, was intrigued by Moftah's endeavours and promised to work with him but was unfortunately called away to a more urgent project in Turkey.

In 1940 Moftah formed the first Coptic Orthodox Choir, seeking out the most accomplished cantors and deacons as members. Moftah, who was known for his austerity and self-discipline, subjected the chanters to a rigorous training program before he recorded the chants. In 1945 he established two centres to teach Coptic chant melodies, one in Bab El-Hadid, the other in Old Cairo. He also ran summer camps in Alexandria for additional instruction, all by rote memorisation.

In 1954 Moftah was among the founders of the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS), and established the Music Division. He continued working on his recordings there, and eventually completed the recording of the entire corpus of Coptic Orthodox liturgical chants and hymns. He was also responsible for training cantors at the HICS, and students at the Coptic Clerical College.

Moftah also made recordings of a second generation of cantors -- including Fahim Girgis Rizk (b. 1910-d. 1999), Sadiq Attallah (b. 1918-d. 2001) and Farag Abdel-Messih (b. 1921-d. 2000) -- mentored by the master cantor Al-Batanouni, as well as of the third generation. Indeed, his recordings of Al-Batanouni and the second generation of cantors effectively established the canon of Coptic Orthodox liturgical music.

In 1970 Moftah commissioned Margit Toth to transcribe the notation of the Coptic Orthodox Liturgy of St Basil that he had collected and recorded as orally transmitted chants from authoritative cantors. Cantor Sadiq Attallah chanted the sacred celebration of the Holy Liturgy in its entirety, including all the roles assigned to the priest, the deacon, and the choir of deacons. This collaborative work was published by the American University in Cairo Press in 1998. It contains the full text of the liturgy in Coptic and Arabic, together with an English translation.

With Pope Shenouda III's support and blessings, a number of archives preserving Ragheb Moftah's collections of recordings, documents, writings and letters were established. These include the Ragheb Moftah Collection at the Library of Congress, a collection at the American University in Cairo Library, as well as a collection at the HICS. It is hoped that the latter, which contains some 470 reels of recordings in rapidly deteriorating condition, as well as several unpublished texts, receives the attention and preservation efforts it deserves.

In 2005, four years after Moftah's death, Marian Robertson- Wilson, an eminent musicologist and Coptologist, completed her cataloguing of the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Audio Recordings of the master cantor Al-Batanouni, which she had started at the Library of Congress in 1992 when Moftah was alive. With the help of the recording engineer Kenny Hodges, Wilson has put the music and guide in a usable format. The finished product consists of 21 CDs, and The Revised Guide to the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Coptic Chant Recordings contains Wilson's transcription of the texts into Coptic, transliterations into Latin script, and translations into English. Hodges removed all extraneous surface noise, producing the purest sound possible.

Terence Duquesne, scholar of Egyptology and Comparative Religion, stated in an article on Ragheb Moftah's legacy that appeared in Discussions in Egyptology (vol. 47, 2000), that Moftah's work will be of "interest to Egyptologists, Coptologists, historians of religion, ethnomusicologists, and spiritually engaged people both within and without the monotheistic tradition."

The writer, Ragheb Moftah's niece, is librarian emerita and consultant, Coptic studies collection development, American University in Cairo.

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21-04-2006, 00:27
Thanks Hakem

more info, resources ,audiolinks and photos can be found here :

ياريت نحصل على على بعض تسجيلات المعلم ميخائيل البتانوني (على فكرة بتانون قرية في المنوفية -الدلتا) سجلت في مؤتمر القاهرة و غيره

21-04-2006, 02:35
thanks a lot. Very valuable site. I don't have any Coptic music, but keeping an open eye.