[Ragheb Moftah reviews and discusses the Ernest Newlandsmith collection with Margit Tóth, ca. 1970s]. Photograph. Photograph courtesy of Laurence Moftah.
Professor Ernest Newlandsmith (1875 - after 1957)
By Laurence Moftah
Professor Ernest Newlandsmith was a clergyman's son and a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He shared with Ragheb Moftah a common interest in religious music. Moftah was intrigued by Newlandsmith's gift for music and recognized in him a superior talent. He proposed that Newlandsmith would undertake the monumental task of transcribing the musical notations 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. Newlandsmith followed the English form of notations transcription. He could not add the ornaments to the music, for he depended on oral rendition, as there was no recording equipment at that time.
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.
From 1927 to 1936 Newlandsmith came to Cairo every winter to transcribe, spending time with Moftah listening to the cantors as they auditioned, discussing and analyzing musical form and content. Newlandsmith's first project was to notate the Liturgy of St. Basil, which he did from live performances by Mikhail al-Batanouni (1873-1957), 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 the 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).
Newlandsmith's Music Notations Transcription
The entire Ragheb Moftah Collection of Newlandsmith's music notations transcription of the Coptic Orthodox Liturgical music is contained in sixteen 16 folios. Two folios were lost, and the fourteen folios were placed at the Library of Congress. Several copies are placed at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS) in Cairo, and other copies are placed at the American University in Cairo's Rare Books and Special Collections Library, and many other libraries in the United States, and Europe.
Margit Tóth (1920-)
The Hungarian ethnomusicologist Margit Tóth was born in Budapest 1920. She worked at the Ethnomusicological Department of the Museum of Ethnography in Budapest until 1978 when she retired. In the 1960s, she made the first transcripts of Coptic melodies, at that time yet in Hungary, through her correspondence with Dr. Ragheb Moftah. She moved to Egypt in the 70s to work under the direction of Dr. Ragheb Moftah to transcribe the music notations of the Coptic Orthodox Liturgy of St. Basil. The text was published by the American University in Cairo Press in 1998.
Dr. Margit Tóth is a great renowned ethnomusicologist, who was a student of the great composer and folk musicologist Lazlo Lajtha, who was mentored by Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. They were followers of Franz Liszt. Béla Bartók was Margit Tóth's advisor when she worked on her Ph.D. dissertation in the field of ethnomusicology and folk music.
Audio Recording of St. Basil's Liturgy
I made an effort to retrieve from Dr. Margit Tóth the original recording she used in her music notations transcription of the Liturgy of St. Basil and have it published, but she failed to procure it. However, I pursued this matter and managed to get the audio recording of the Holy Liturgy from Abouna Mettias Nasr. Magdalena Kuhn, the renowned musicologist/Coptologist, reviewed both the textbook and its accompanying recorded chants, which were provided by me. Magdalena Kuhn documented in her report to the AUC in 2005, that the text with its music notations transcription reads identically like the audio recording of the solo chants rendered by al-Mu'allim Sadiq Attallah of the Coptic Orthodox Liturgy of St. Basil.
Later, I sent the audio recording to Dr. Marian Robertson-Wilson, who reviewed the solo chants rendered by Sadiq Attallah, and she commented that it is an extremely valuable presentation of the Liturgy of St. Basil. It should be regarded as a teaching tool for this particular Holy Liturgy. In fact, Ragheb Moftah clearly indicates in the Introduction of this work, that it should be used as a teaching source for the Liturgy of St. Basil.
Marian Robertson-Wilson and Sound Engineer Kenny Hodges
Dr. Robertson-Wilson introduced me to the sound engineer, Kenny Hodges, who performed with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, to arrange with him to clear the sound of the audio recording, and to remove any extraneous noises. Mr. Kenny Hodges made an excellent reproduction of the Liturgy of St. Basil that was solo chanted by the cantor Sadiq Attallah. Dr. Marian Robertson-Wilson produced a brief Guide to accompany the audio recording of the Holy Liturgy in 2005. This work has been disseminated worldwide.
The production of other recordings of the Liturgy of St. Basil that was produced by Ragheb Moftah was also excellent, but it cannot be regarded as a teaching tool, as the parts rendered by the officiants and the congregation are chanted by those who are not adept professional chanters like the gifted Sadiq Attallah, who was known for his virtuosity in chanting the Liturgy of St. Basil. Sadiq was uniquely gifted to present the most accurate melismatic chanting of the Holy Liturgy, and its distinctive melodic identity of the traditional Coptic rites.
Marian Robertson-Wilson (1926-)
Marian Robertson-Wilson is a distinguished musician, linguist, and teacher. Former assistant solo cellist at the Utah Symphony Orchestra, she is also noted for her solo and chamber music appearances. She is a prolific writer, and wrote extensively and, in particular, on Coptic music. Marian was recognized internationally as music editor of the Coptic Encyclopedia, as she edited the section on "Coptic Music." The editor-in-chief of this publication was Dr. Aziz S. Atiya. She also led pioneering studies on Coptic music. She has had works published in nine countries, and has taught or lectured at prominent universities throughout the United States and Europe.
Marian Robertson-Wilson is a Ragheb Moftah devotee, and has contributed immensely to preserve his work. The latest is the project funded by the Aziz and Lola S. Atiya Foundation in 2005, to edit and clear the sound of the Ragheb Moftah Recording Collection of Coptic hymns and chants sung by al-Mu'allim Mikhail al-Batanouni. She also contributed in editing and clearing the sound of the collection of solo chants of the Liturgy of St. Basil sung by al-Mu'allim Sadiq Attallah. This project was also accomplished in 2005.
Master Cantor Mikhail al-Batanouni's Project
Before Marian Robertson-Wilson undertook the project of identification and putting the chants of the Master Cantor Mikhail al-Batanouni's audio recording in sequence of their order, the Collection was housed in the Music Studio of the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS), and the reels where scattered on the floor of the Studio. The entire Collection of Mikhail al-Batanouni's chants contained in the reel-to-reel audio-tapes, was in a very dilapidated condition, and many reels were out of their containers. There was no way to recover the contents of the Collection of audio recording contained in the reels except by transferring the contents into a digital format. The Library of Congress accepted to undertake the project of restoring the Collection of audio recordings of al-Batanouni's chants.
Consequently, after recovering the audio recorded chants and transferring them into audio cassettes, the Library of Congress asked Marian Robertson-Wilson to identify them. Marian states the following:
"It was a difficult project. And the recording quality was quite low. The Collection they [Library of Congress] received was on big reels of paper, and the paper deteriorated enough that the technicians said it was falling to pieces. They literally had to put it down on the ground and piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle. On top of that, it was all out of order. There would be a snitch of this hymn, a snitch of this prayer -- it was just out of sequence. Wilson said that she transcribed the text, and sent it to the Library of Congress, but they were not satisfied as the chants were out of order. The audio recording and the text did not correlate to each other."
Wilson said that she transcribed the texts into Coptic, then transliterated them into the Latin script, and consequently translated them into English. In response to LC's concern, she tried to put the text in some order, but unfortunately the Guide to the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Coptic Chant Recordings had an unsatisfying conclusion, as the sequence of the chants was in disorder.
According to Marian's comment on the matter, it was only when she received the grant from the Aziz Atiya Foundation of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah in 2005 and, along with the help of the recording engineer Kenny Hodges, that she has been able to put the music and the Guide in a useable and understandable format.
Marian stated that "the finished product consists of 21 CDs and the Revised Guide to the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Coptic Chant Recordings, 338 pages long. We're now giving them to the Library of Congress, the Patriarchy, the American University in Cairo, along with the libraries at the University of Utah, and Brigham."
In addition to putting all the music in order, Wilson said "that a five-second break had been inserted between pieces to tell one from another, and much of the extraneous noise on the original recordings had been removed. This revised Guide is correlated directly with the CDs so that anybody who starts right here can just listen to the CD, and follow this text and either read it in Coptic or in our alphabet and get the translation."
Wilson described the recording 'a great monument'. She also stated that the chants were sung by 'one of the best chanters in the 1940s.' Furthermore, according to Marian Robertson-Wilson 'it is authentic and pure music,' and she continues by stating that she 'bridged thousands of years and thousands of miles in bringing it all together.'
It is noteworthy that with the help and support of His Grace Bishop Youannes, the Pope's Private Secretary, and General Bishop, I was able to disseminate the following to a worldwide audience, including the Coptic monasteries, Dioceses in Egypt and abroad, cantors, deacons, and scholars of music/Coptology:
- Ragheb Moftah Collection of Recording of the Master Cantor Mikhail al-Batanouni's Chants
- Liturgy of St. Basil, that was solo chanted by cantor Sadiq Attallah
His Grace Bishop Youssef, downloaded al-Mu'allim Mikhail al-Batanouni's recordings, and the solo chants of the Liturgy of St. Basil sung by Sadiq Attallah on the Internet of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. His Grace Bishop Raphaeil, and His Grace Bishop Thomas, and many, many others have also disseminated the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Recording of al-Mu'allim Mikhail al-Batanouni Chants.
Following my Uncle Ragheb Moftah's death, I made sure that the entire Raghab Moftah Collection will be in the hands of the members of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt and abroad. It was a real struggle to overcome the obstructions I had to face, but with the Lord's blessings and help, I was resilient to the adversities, and I managed to accomplish my Uncle's Will.
The Instrument of Agreement that was signed between Ragheb Moftah and Dr. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, states clearly the following:
The Ragheb Moftah Collection of Liturgical Music and Chants is to be made available to all members of the Coptic Orthodox church, and Scholars Worldwide.
And now with the blessings of Our Lord the entire heritage of the Ragheb Moftah Collection of Coptic Liturgical Music Recordings is made available to ALL Copts worldwide. That is, of course, in addition that it is made available to scholars worldwide.
Martha Roy (1913-)
Martha Roy wrote the Romanized transliteration under Margit Tóth's music notations transcription of the Coptic Orthodox Liturgy of St. Basil that appears in the textbook published by the AUC Press in 1998. The translation of the texts in Arabic and English of the Liturgy of St. Basil was done by His Grace, the late Bishop Gregorious.
See the following biographical site on Martha Roy:
Engineer Saleeb Bastawros (1927-)
Engineer Saleeb Bastawros was the sound recording engineer who worked with Ragheb Moftah from 1964-2001. Before he was employed by Moftah he was the Director of the Cairo Radio Station. He worked daily with Ragheb Moftah for long hours at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS), and recorded the chants and liturgies chanted by the cantors and Choirs. It was an extremely hard task for Engineer Saleeb to operate the very dilapidated audio reel-to-reel recorders. That's besides working with Ragheb Moftah, who was extremely fastidious and meticulous about the recording of the Coptic chants. The equipment was acquired by Ragheb Moftah in the late 1930s. Engineer Saleeb mentioned that Ragheb Moftah made sure that the chanters rendered the sacred Coptic chants in perfect unison, and if someone was out of tune, or chanted a wrong note, Ragheb Moftah had them repeat the chants, until the rendition was perfect. The chanters were not allowed to escalate beyond a certain pitch, and chanted the Coptic chants in mezzo forte tone.
The Collection of the Master Cantor Mikhail al-Batanouni's Recordings and Other Cantors' Recordings
The entire authentic Ragheb Moftah Collection of the Master Cantor Mikhail al-Batanouni's Chants is deposited in the Library of Congress, the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies, the American University in Cairo Rare Books and Special Collections Library, and many other libraries in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia.
The entire Ragheb Moftah Collection of reels containing the Coptic Liturgical chants rendered by the Second Generation of Choirs and cantors is placed at Sut al-Kahira Radio Station in Alexandria, and the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS). Copies of this Collection are owned by the Library of Congress, and the American University Libraries, and other libraries in the United States, and Europe. There is also a copy that is housed in the Egyptian Opera House, which was presented by Dr. Ragheb Moftah to the Minister of Culture, Dr. Farouk Hosny, in 1992.
Engineer Saleeb made his recommendations to Ragheb Moftah to place a copy of the Collection of reels that contained the audio recordings of the liturgies and chants that were chanted by the Master Cantor Mikhail al-Batanouni and the Second Generation of Choirs and Cantors at al-Sut al-Kahira Radio Station in Alexandria. The Second Generation chanters were mentored by the master cantor Mikhail al-Batanouni, they included Fahim Girgis Rizk (b. 1910-d. 1999), Sadiq Attallah (b. 1918-d. 2001), Farag Abdel-Messih (b. 1921-d. 2000), and others. The HICS Music Studio was in a dilapidated condition, so Dr. Ragheb Moftah agreed to have the Collection housed in an air conditioned environment, to be protected from dust and pollution that would destroy such an invaluable Collection. Moreover, Ragheb Moftah was always distressed to discover many parts of his recordings missing from his Studio, so he kept a copy of his entire Collection at Sut-al-Kahira Radio Station in Alexandria, to secure it from damage and loss.
Engineer Saleeb and Abouna Mettias Nasr mentioned that the Collection of 470 reels is housed presently in the Music Division of the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS). The Collection contains the audio recordings of Coptic chants rendered by several choirs and cantors recorded by Ragheb Moftah. He started recording the Coptic music in the 1930s and continued working until he died in 2001.
Ragheb Moftah intended that the Collection would be used by scholars and researchers to analyze and compare the various forms of Coptic chants rendered by various cantors. He intended to examine the rendition by performers who were auditioning for the recital of Coptic Orthodox liturgical hymns and chants in Choirs. Moreover, he intended to record specific chants sung by gifted chanters, to examine the quality of their voices, and whether they would be potential candidates to serve as cantors in the Choirs, especially the chanters who were gifted with baritone or tenor voices.
Audio Recording Equipment
The very dilapidated recording reel-to-reel audio recording equipment which Ragheb Moftah used in his recording of the Coptic chants were high quality brands, such as ReVox and Ampex. From the late 30s until 1954, he recorded the Coptic Orthodox liturgical hymns in his private studios at Bab el-Hadid and Old Cairo, as there were no Coptic Studios available at that time anywhere else. After the establishment of the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies (HICS) in 1954, Ragheb Moftah continued recording the Coptic liturgies and chants in the Studio of the Music Division of the HICS. For this reason, Ragheb Moftah recorded all the chants sung by the al-Mu'allam Mikhail al-Batanouni from 1927 until the latter died in 1957. Although al-Batanouni chanted at Churches and several places, the recording of his chants was under the direction of Ragheb Moftah.
The great philanthropist, Mr. Charles Faltas, who is a sort of godfather to the nuns at Deir Abu Seifein and other convents, is well-informed about the detailed history of the recording equipment used by Ragheb Moftah, and the brand names of reel-to-reel audio tapes, such as Ampex, and the record discs used to record the Coptic chants.
6 October 2006