Coptic Music History:
To which ages return back Coptic Church's hymns?... Are they from the Ancient Egyptians' time as some people claim? May be Islamic ages?... Who did, in vain write the words and who did compose the music... What is the real scientific worth and musical weight of these old melodies?
These questions are repeating themselves day after day in the minds and hearts of many people, ethnomusicologists, archeologists and a lot of people who listen to them... They wonder about the mystery behind this magical music which brings back the sinner's heart to God with tears and joy together... and so impressive to break the rock, they try with no results to analyse it to get out this secret which will probably stay undeciphered like many Ancient Egyptian secrets until the end of the world... Therefore I offer this humble contribution as brief introduction to Coptic Music... The reader may find the way to decipher some of these old mysteries!
For centuries, Coptic music scholars and many archeologists tried to discover the roots of Coptic Hymns... They agreed that there exists three sources which might have influenced this heritage who are: Jews, Greeks and Ancient Egyptians: Jews played a big role in the spread of Christianity, from them all the Ancient Testament and many rituals were taken.
Greeks generated many Greeco-Egyptian musicologists who contributed in building the actual known musical culture with it's rules, styles and forms. Musicologists as Dydimus of Alexandria, Pseudo-Demetrius of Phaleron (First Century) Claudius Ptolmy (Second Century), etc. Some old Coptic hymn manuscript (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus) was found from this age having coloured circles with different shapes and colours over the Coptic text of the hymn. It was interpreted as an ancient way of musical notation where the colours represent the tone and the shapes represent different musical lengths.
Finally, we find a big influence of Ancient Egyptian music on the church in early centuries: There exist a relationship between the Coptic Kyrie and the Ancient Egyptian traditions for the sun-god... Scholars found also the Antiphonal singing system between a group of priests and group of priestesses... Ancient Egyptians were also characterized by the melismata (singing many notes over one of the seven vowels which were called "Magic Vowels" and used to give strong feeling of piety and humility in Religious occasions) They were also characterized by using professional blind singers and some percussion instruments for religious music. It was noticed that the actual Egyptian village folklore have big similarity with the tones and rhythms of the Coptic Music.
As it is difficult to separate the music from the civilization evolution, Coptic music passed through three essential ages:
- Roman Empire's age where Egypt sent a lot of Coptic missionaries to spread the gospel and a lot of traces left by the Theban Legion in Northern Italy, Switzerland, down the Rheine Valley and all Western Europe... As monasticism and mysticism, music also spread. We find great similarity between Ancient Latin hymns and Egyptian hymns. (e.g. Crucem tuam adoramus, Flectamus genua and levata, etc.) and also the Ancient Egyptian harp as one of the Egyptian traces found in Ireland.
- After the Council of Chalcedon, the church was divided... Copts cut contact with all other churches except the Syrian church to keep their Orthodox faith uncontaminated. This, although unpredictable had a very positive influence in preserving the ancient musical heritage.
- The Egyptian ability of preserving and maintaining their culture was well shown after the Arabs invasion to Egypt. All Egypt spoke Coptic until the time of HH Pope Zacharia (1004-1032) and more than that some villages in the South of Egypt remained maintaining their language until the 19th century... Until this day, a big part of the Egyptian culture is still preserved. Three writers from the middle ages described the Church rituals and hymns: Ibnel-Assal & Ibn-Saba (13th century) Abul-Barakat Ibn-Kabbar (14th century) and we find them the same today as described in their books.
Because the clergy were not professionals in singing, the church decided to use talented people (usually blind) in singing... The German archeologist Hans Hickmann proved that those cantors still move their hands and fingers systematically (Cheironomy) with the Coptic music as used to do their ancestor Ancient Egyptian grandfathers when conducting music in the Fourth Dynasty (2723-2563 BC) and those cantors played a big role in transferring this heritage to our day with great precision! They mastered it and considered it a sacred secret and precious treasure which should be kept for several ages to come, exactly as have done the Ancient Egyptian priest before thousands of years ago.
At the time of HH Pope Kyrellos Father of Reformation (1854-1863), the senior Cantor at The Great St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo Mlm. Takla was assigned to compile the Coptic Hymns from the North to the South of Egypt along with revision and language adjustment by the assistance of Mr.Erian Moftah the professor of Coptic language in The Cairo Clerical Faculty and both they had big triumph in achieving such a sensitive task. Mlm. Takla taught seven cantors all the treasure he collected. By two of those cantors the great Mlm. Mikhail Gerges El-Batanony cantor of the 20th century who will later on be very famous was instructed.
In 1927, a young man called Ragheb Moftah, invited the famous British Musician Ernst Newlandsmith and transcribed in 9 years all the Coptic Hymns in 16 volumes in modern musical notation... He recorded from Mlm. Mikhail and several other's voice all the Coptic Music heritage on records and tapes to preserve it from vanishing. By doing that, Dr. Ragheb Moftah inaugurated the new age of Coptic Music.
These records are considered the most precise ones in the whole world, upon which most studies were and are built. Among these studies the scholar of Ancient Egyptian music Hans Hickmann, the Hungarian ladies Ilona Borsai and Margerit Toth, the American Martha Roy and Marian Robertson. Several theses are now made on Coptic Music: Master Thesis-1975 on Coptic Music Bibliography by Salwa El-Shawan , Master Thesis-1976 by Nabil Kamal Boutros and the first Ph.D.-1986 by Nabila Erian in Baltimore County, Maryland State University. In 1989, the Coptic Encyclopaedia was compiled by the efforts of Professor Aziz Suriel Attia at Yota University and published with the most recent and elaborated information and research work about Coptic Music Studies. Another Ph.D. thesis-ICS-Cairo-1995 on the Psychological effect of Coptic Music was submitted by Fouad Asaad Attia.
What I want to stress here is that this strong and impressive music, inherited from generation to another from thousands of years began to disappear and to be influenced by the modern attractive media. And instead of being spread and used in our daily lives in your home, your car even as light music when working or at least to flourish in Universities, Musical Institutes, Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Music Therapy departments and many choirs everywhere as one of the most precious and ancient music in the whole world, it is unfortunately ignored by many people and I am afraid it might die as happened to many Ancient Egyptian secrets as building the pyramids and mummifying the human's body!
Shenouda Mamdouh - Coptic Music Scholar
Based on article by Shenouda Mamdouh published in: Watany Newspaper (Aug.8th, 1993)
Coptic Midi Files:
|Eporo "Instrumental" (File 5.55 Mins)|
|Yamariam . (File 1.06 Mins)|
|My Coptic Church, Church Of God. (File 4.22 Mins)|
|Lets Pray, Lets Fast. (File 4.20 Mins)|
|Collection Of Midi Files For DownLoweding; MidiZip|
|Lama Can Al-Daam (File 3.18 Mins)|
Other Non-Coptic Midi Files
|Hosanna (File 2.27 Mins)|
|Silent Night (File 1.06 Mins)|
Some Real Audio Files:
Listen to Coptic
Hymns in Real Audio.
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These files are the work of Saint Mark Coptic Church of Jersey City
|Verses of Cymbals (Coptic)|
|Long Tovh Hina (Coptic) "Pray that God haver mercy and compassion upon us..."|
|Evshes (Coptic) Chanted after the commemoration of Saints.|
|Apetjeek Hymn(Coptic) Prayed before the Catholic Epistle during the Divine Liturgy.|
|Shere Ne Maria (Coptic) Chanted on Midnight Praises.|
Sheremaria Hymn (Coptic)
|Introduction to Doxologies|
|Doxology for St. Mary (Coptic)|
|Doxology for Archangel Michael (Coptic)|
|Fourth Canticle (Hose) (Coptic) Prayed on Midnight Praises|
|First Doxology. (Coptic)|
|Kiahk hiten and Acts responses for the four weeks. (Coptic)|
|Kiahk response of the Gospel for the four weeks. (Coptic)|
|Aspasmos Adam for the First Week of Kiahk (Coptic)|
|Aspasmos Watos for First Week of Kiahk (Coptic)|
|Aspasmos Adam for the Second Week of Kiahk (Coptic)|
|Aspasmos Watos for Second Week of Kiahk (Coptic)|
|Aspasmos Watos for Third Week of Kiahk (Coptic)|
|Aspasmos Adam for the Fourth Week of Kiahk (Coptic)|
|Psalm 150 chanted on Sundays of the Fast (Coptic)|
|Christmas Aspasmos Watos (Coptic)|
|Christmas Aspasmos Adam (Coptic)|
|Christmas Gospel Response in Coptic|
|Christmas Gospel Response in Arabic|
|Meghalo Hymn said on Masses on Saturdays and Sundays (Coptic)|
|Doxology for Saturdays and Sundays (Coptic)|
|Gospel Response for Saturdays and Sundays (Coptic)|
|First Doxology - week days (Coptic)|
|Second Doxology - week days (Coptic)|
|Alleulia Ei-Eie said on Weekdays (Coptic)|
|Gospel Response - week days (Coptic)|
|Kiryeleison said on week days instead of verses of Cymbals (Coptic)|
|Thok te ti gom (Thine is the Power) (Coptic/Arabic)|
|Okati Keseis (Coptic)|
|Agios - Sad Tune. (Coptic)|
|O Fi-et khen pi ehoo (Coptic/Arabic)|
|O monogeneis Good Friday - (Coptic)|
|Tai Shori - Good Friday (Coptic)|
|Ti epestoli (Coptic)|
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