Coptic Orthodox Liturgical Chant & Hymnody
The Ragheb Moftah Collection at the Library of Congress
Special Presentation: Timeline of Coptic Music, 1643-1869
|Year||Egyptian History: Major Events||Coptic Music and Culture: Early Research|
|1643||A recently discovered transcription of Coptic music by Father Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) in his Lingua Ægyptiaca restituta of 1643, in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room at the Library of Congress, reveals that Western scholars were interested in Coptic music as early as the 17th century. [view translation] Father Kircher, a German Jesuit priest, offered a brief excerpt of Coptic chant in early music notation, claiming it was "from the mouth of my Coptic scribe."|
Les Déserts d’Egypte, de Thébaïde d’Arabie, de Sirie &c., où Sont exactement Marques les Lieux habitez par les Saincts Pères des Déserts. Paris: Chez E. Michalet, 1693.
Matthaeus Seutter, engraver, 1678-1756, after a drawing by Gottfried Rogg, 1669-1742. Deserta Ægypti, Thebaidis, Arabiæ, Syriæ, etc. ubi accurate notata sunt loca inhabitata per Santos Patres Anachoretas exhibita à Matth. Seutter. [Augsburg: Matthaeus Seutter, n.d.]
|By the eighteenth century, almost all Copts spoke Arabic, and the Coptic language became relegated to liturgical contexts alone. To this day, very few families in Upper Egypt continue to speak the Coptic language.|
L’Ancienne Thébaide ou La Carte Générale des Lieux Habitez par les S[ainct]s Pères des Déserts. Dressez sur celle des Religieux de la Trappe Par N. de Fer Géographe de Monseigneur. Paris: Chez I.F. Benard dans l’Isle du Palais sur le quay de l’Orloge a la Sphère Royale avec Privilège du Roy, 1738.
|1749-1752||Richard Dalton, who visited Egypt in 1749, writes the first dissertation on Ancient Egyptian music, and describes the use of cymbals in his work, A Short dissertation on the Ancient Musical Instruments used in Egypt (London: J. Nichols, 1790).
The Moravians initiate Christian missionary efforts beginning in 1752 and stay until 1782. After attending a Coptic Church service, one Moravian missionary describes his encounter with Coptic music, describing the cymbals and other percussion instruments that accompanied the singing. 
|1798-1801||The brief but influential French occupation of Egypt, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, begins. Though it only lasted for three years, it was to leave behind a profound academic legacy, the first and largest scientific investigation of Egyptian ancient and modern history, natural history, science, music, and the arts, among other topics. The results of these studies were published in the Description de l'Égypte, initiating what was later to become a burgeoning European scholarship of the country.|
|1799||The Rosetta stone is found and becomes a gateway to Ancient Egyptian history after the hieroglyphic language is deciphered in 1822.|
|1805-1882||Known as "the founder of Modern Egypt," Ottoman viceroy Muhammad Ali ushers in government reform, rapid modernization and increased contact with Europe.|
G.A. Villoteau, one of the musicians in Bonaparte's expedition, provides one of the earliest transcriptions of Coptic music in Description de l'Égypte [view translation] in a section entitled"De l'Etat actuel de l'art musical en Egypte," 1809.
|1819||The British Church Missionary society arrives in Egypt.|
|1821||The Turco-Egyptian invasion of Sudan.|
|1822||French scholar, Jean François Champollion, deciphers the Hieroglyphic writing system from the Rosetta Stone.|
Map of Egypt . From Wilkinson, [John] Gardner, Sir, 1797-1875. Modern Egypt and Thebes: being a description of Egypt, including the information required for travelers to that country. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1843, vol. 1, facing p. 1.
|1853||Pope Cyril IV becomes the 110th Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria from 1853 to 1861. He is otherwise known as "the reformer" for initiating changes that began modernizing what was then an ailing Coptic Church institution. He purchased the first private Arabic printing press in Egypt and, in 1855, established the Madrasat al-Aqbat al-Kubra, or the Great Coptic School, as well as a Coptic Patriarchal College in Cairo.||It is during the influential tenure of His Holiness Pope Cyril IV that church cantors, otherwise known in Arabic as mu'allimīn (plural for mu'allim) emerged as gate keepers of Coptic liturgical music. Mu'allim Takla was one of the first blind cantors to be officially commissioned by the Pope to travel and collect Coptic hymns from all over Egypt. When he returned, he published the very first edition of the The Service of the Deacons in 1859, with the help of Ragheb Moftah's paternal great uncle, Iryān Jirjis Moftah, who was a Coptic language linguist and instructor at the Patriarchal College. Mu'allim Takla went on to teach seven students, two of whom were to become Mikha'īl Jirgis al Batanūnī's teachers. Mu'allim Mikha'īl is otherwise known in Coptic history as Mikha'īl Batanūnī the Great for his contribution to Moftah's project which recorded the entire Coptic hymnody.
Learn more: A Musical Inheritance: Coptic Cantors and an Orally Transmitted Tradition [essay]
|1854||The United Presbyterian Church of North America is established. This mission is to have the greatest influence on Coptic Christian social, religious and, consequently, musical domains. The Coptic Evangelical Church of Egypt is still active in Egypt today. The Coptic Evangelical Theological Seminary is established. American Presbyterian missionaries also evangelize in Sudan, where a small Coptic-Sudanese community has taken root after the Turco-Egyptian invasion of Sudan in 1821.|
|1859-1869||The Suez Canal is built.|
- Athanasius Kircher, Lingua Ægyptiaca restituta…. Rome: Apud Ludovicum Grignanum, 1643, pp. 515-516. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Library of Congress. Call number: PJ2033.K5. See English translation by David Shive. Though Kircher never traveled to Egypt, he relied on secondary sources, namely, people who had traveled to the country, Copts, and manuscripts that he encountered in Rome. [return to timeline]
- Andrew Watson, The American Mission in Egypt, 1854-1896. 2d ed. Pittsburgh: The United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1904. Call number: BV3570.W3 1904. [return to timeline]
- Description de l’Égypte, ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’éxpédition de l’armée française, publié par les ordres de Sa Majesté l’empereur Napoléon le Grand. Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1809-1828. 21 vols. Geography and Map Division. Call number: DT46.F8. See Vol. II, pt. 1a, pp. 754-757 for Villoteau’s transcription of Alleluia. [return to timeline]