By deciphering Hyroglyphs at the Rosetta Stone on 1822, the young Jean-Francois Chapollion opened the gates of a new science Egyptology. Scientists began to read and understand a great culture that was still an enigma. Translations revealed the different aspects of life, worship and different activities of the people of Ancient Egypt. On temples' and tombs walls, constructions and papyri, they could unveal 5000 years of civilisation beginning of the unification of the two lands of Egypt by King Naarmar (Menes) in 3100 BC and invention of writing. They could share the daily life, work, pains and love. Especially in the Middle Empire (2050-1786 BC) when arts, literature and poetry flourished to attend it's optimum in all Ancient Egypt.
Yet a considerable part was also left undecipherable. Egyptologists hardly know anything of the history before 3100 BC. Architecture of constructions like the Pyramids, embalming techniques, religious rites and music, all seem to puzzle Egyptologists who went on making different theories.
Ancient Egyptian Music is a field that some Egyptologists began looking at recently because it is the deepest reflection of human feelings and reactions. Genuine music is composed as reaction to an inner or outer stimulae to a human being. It expresses his reaction using the musical language acquired from the environment.
In any country, music is born of the land, it's sounds are acquired from nature from the whisteling of the wind through the fields, water and plain desert, also from the voices of birds, water falls and still silence. People do not compose music, they just open their hearts to allow music flow and behold the most beautiful tunes come within. Upon stimulation, feelings and reaction of native people's daily life and feelings spring to reveal everything in a musical piece. Music is a pure art that expresses feelings exactly the way they are. It doesn't need any intermediairy (picture, statue...etc) to express joy, sorrow or warmth. It transfers feelings in their abstract form to the listener.
How much joy do we feel when listening to Bach, Hayden, Handel.. and other baroque composers? or even older rennaissance music? What greater wonder, when we know that those composers, could transfer their abstract feelings through ages for us for over 400 years of humanity. The music that survived world wars, decline of major civilizations and birth of new ones, discoveries of remote planets and mastering genetic engineering. Everthing changed, beginning of life style and ending by the nature and environment itself.
In Ancient Egypt, priests kept all secrets of astronomy, music and architecture inside the temples. Those sciences were not intended to be known by common people. Likewise, the sons of the pharos who adopted the new religion "Christianity" kept one of the oldest musical heritages in the workd sung for more than 2000 years in Coptic Churches till our age. Nowadays only few hundreds of deacons and Egyptian people in the whole world can sing those beautiful tunes in the Coptic Language (which is the last form of evolution of Ancient Egyptian language).
Many people claim that those Coptic tunes are indeed Ancient Egyptian music that survived to our age in liturgical hymns, others claim that the music died already and disappeared. Nobody can tell for sure where and when it was composed!
Below, we compiled a wide variety of bibliography of Ancient Egyptian and Coptic Music. Writers of those articles present the music from different perspectives.
Curt Sachs is a famous German Egyptologists that lived at the beginning of the 20th century, he studied the music and poetry of Ancient Egypt. The German Hans Hickmann took a deeper focus on music in Ancient Egypt. He studied and analysed all available engravings, inscriptions and instruments of Ancient Egypt.
Ernest Newlandsmith, had no knowledge of this field, but his fate made him meet with Ragheb Moftah who invited him for 9 consecutive winters in Egypt where he transcribed in 16 volumes all the inherited Coptic musical heritage. This was the fourth and most successful and complete attempt to transcribe this old heritage. The first being by the French Expedition 1820, the second by the Jesuit monks Jules Blin and Louis Badet 1888 and the third being of Kamel Ibrahim Gobrial 1916.
The trail of Jules Blin and Louis Badet was followed by Emmanuel Lanne and the Jesuit monk René Ménard. The first studying the pascal liturgical rich Coptic lectionary and the second studying the accurate continuity of oral hading over centuries.
Having studied and worked with the infamous musicians Bela Bartok and Kodaly, the hungarian Ilona Borsai came to Egypt in 1960 to compile, compare and analyse all forms of Egyptian inherited folklore and Coptic music and deduct by evidence the old music of this country that might have lived since the time of Ancient Egyptians. This led her ro study Coptic music. Later, she was joined by her friend Margit Toth who was director of the Museum of Budapest.
Other scholars include the Egyptian Hossam Adeeb who studied Classical Music, composition and harmony as well as Arabic music. Through his experience, he has deducted theories that are much interesting and worth to be studied. They also include Fouad Asaad Attiya who amongst reconstructed the architecture, colours and music in the temple of Edfu and studied its psychological effect on a worshipper. Other scholars include Shenouda Mamdouh, the founder of this website who expresses his personal journey towards Coptic music with an article and interview with Ragheb Moftah, a man who affected anyone trying to study Coptic music in modern ages.
Altough the richest collection of articles on the net, this web site is far from a being complete bibliography. And worse, if one reads the whole bibliography of Coptic Music, he would only grasp a vague idea of how it was. Many many studies still need to be conducted in this field. Therefore, we are offering this humble contribution as brief introduction helping to know what is already said by scholars about Coptic Music hoping that the reader may find an inspiration to conduct further studies and reach new discoveries of these old mysteries! and we are sure that by time discoveries would come together like a jigsaw puzzle forming a whole marvelous picture of this music that strongly impressed Herodotus in 440 B.C.
Coptic Music Audio Links
The Alhan (Hymns) Website The TasbeHa On-line Web Site The Coptic Liturgy Text (according to St Basil) Salib.com Collection of offices and hymns St Mina Holmdel Multimedia Center Real-Audio of Seasonal Coptic Hymns The History of Recording Coptic Hymns in the 19th and 20 Centuries The Audio Coptic Liturgies on the web Project Coptic Chant Samples on copt.net Coptic Classical Music Coptic Church Hymns