Old Coptic Recordings of St Basil


I’m wondering if anyone has access to very old recordings of the Coptic Liturgy of St Basil— I am interested in learning if/how any tunes have evolved, so I’m looking for authoritative sources that are as old as possible… if anyone here is able to help, that would be greatly appreciated.


  • Hi,
    CopticHymns App by the HCOC and under the guidance of Deacon Albair Gamal has at the end of our Albums.
    +God Bless+
  • gr
    edited March 2021
    That’s an incredible resource.
  • Thank you very much, I will make sure to pass on the nice words :)
  • While there are transcriptions done by western musicologists dating back to the 19th century (which are suspect not only due to the difficulty of accurately transcribing Coptic music, as it was not systematized according to the ochtechos system used for Church music by every particular church but us and the Tewahedo, but also due to the obvious disdain shown for the Church's music in many of those same sources), i am unaware of any actual sound recordings that predate the 1930s. As such, I think you can only reliably trace back the melodies so far. This much is admitted in the article on Coptic music in the Coptic Encyclopedia, which states in the electronic edition as hosted by Claremont College libraries: 

    Scholars do not agree concerning the antiquity and purity of the Coptic musical tradition. Admittedly, without notated manuscripts, it is virtually impossible to unravel the sources of the many melodies. Nevertheless, specialists who have studied, transcribed, and analyzed this music concur that, at the very least, it does reflect an extremely ancient practice. Ernest Newlandsmith (see Musicologists, below) traced it to pharaonic Egypt, whereas Rene Menard, a bit more cautious, proposed that those melodies sung in Coptic descended from the pre-Islamic era. In all probability, various sections of the music, like the numerous texts, were introduced into the rites during different stages of the early Coptic church, and the music as a whole does not date from any single era or region. It is clear, however, that the musical tradition has continued unbroken from its beginnings to the present day.

    The Coptic Encyclopedia entry is authored by Dr. Ragheb Moftah, Marian Robertson, and Martha Roy. Moftah and Roy collaborated on the modern professional transcription of the liturgy of St. Basil for publication by the AUC Press in 1998, so their words above can be reasonably seen as carrying much weight. (Moftah's especially, for reasons I'm assuming everyone here already knows.)

    I personally do not have any recordings which predate the 1950s (or so I assume; there's no date on it, but I have one very precious shellac 78 rpm disc which I assume dates back to the 1950s; the rest of the things in my modest collection of historical Coptic recordings are on vinyl disc or audio tape, and date from 1960 or later, insofar as I have been able to find dates for them), and I cannot say I have noticed any great difference between recordings made in the 'digital era' (say the last two decades/ ~ since the rise of the internet) and those that are earlier, even though the time span I'm working with is only maybe 70 years at the most. I would make considerable allowances for regional variation in melodies, however, without assuming therefore any particular modern evolution. This is something I learned about first hand when doing my own academic fieldwork for my thesis when I was in grad school a few years ago: I was at the monastery, making recordings of liturgies, tasbeha, etc., and interviewing anyone who would talk to me from among the people and the clergy, and I noticed there was one fellow layperson who was at every service just as I was, but never participated that I could see. I didn't want to pry too much, but it did make me curious so I asked him why he didn't give the responses like everyone else, and he said (paraphrasing from memory) "The way that they do them here is disorienting for me; we don't do them that way in the place where I grew up." I asked him where he grew up, and he told me the name of some village in Egypt that I don't remember now. (It wasn't a place I'd know like Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, etc.)

    This was in 2014, not 1870 or whatever. So maybe you wouldn't need to dig too far into the past to find some sources of regional variation that have probably been 'smoothed out' in the forms of the hymns that most of us know. (See also: the at best uneven adoption of the Greco-Bohairic pronunciation of Coptic.)
  • @Jeremy the person you quoted was referring to what? Arabic or Coptic styles of hymnody?
    Ⲟⲩϫⲁⲓ ϧⲉⲛ Ⲡϭⲥ
  • @ophadece it is part of a larger article dealing with Coptic music more generally, from the electronic version of the Coptic Encyclopedia: https://ccdl.claremont.edu/digital/collection/cce/id/1446/rec/1
  • very interesting discussion.
    my church encourages us to learn coptic (today we had the Lord's prayer in coptic at liturgy! how beautiful!) so i have been reading up and trying to gain just 1% of the knowledge of the other, very knowledgeable people in this discussion.

    so i clicked on that source, and was surprised to find an error - the author states that coptic church music is sang
    'solely by men, with the exception of some responses assigned to the whole congregation'

    no! most of the hymns are CONGREGATION hymns that the congregation struggle to learn (or have learnt slightly differently as in jeremy's example) and so it may seem like they are for the (sub)deacons, as the congregation don't always join in with confidence.
    in fact, everything that is said / sung by the (sub)deacons outside the altar is for the whole congregation to sing.
    the altar responses (much less than half the coptic chanting) are reserved only for the (sub) deacons (+/- second priest if there is one) and EVERYTHING else is for us all to learn.

    sorry, rant over. i'll read the rest of it now!
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