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Coptic Music - Coptic Wiki


Description of the Corpus and Present Musical Practice

The following remarks pertain only to the music of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Other Christian churches in Egypt (Greek Orthodox, Coptic Catholic, Protestant, etc.) have their own musical practices.

Coptic music, an expression of a proud and constant faith, still lives today among the Copts as a vestige of an age-old tradition. It is monodic, vocal, and sung a cappella solely by men, with the exception of some responses assigned to the whole congregation. Small hand cymbols and the triangle are employed with specified pieces during certain services (See Musical Instruments, below).

The Divine Liturgy and Offerings of Incense

The core of Coptic music lies in the Divine Liturgy (Arabic: quddas), whose texts are all meant to be sung, excepting the Creed and the Dismissal. In the liturgy the most familiar hymns and chants are heard. It is basically a great music drama, consisting of three parts: (1) the Preparation; (2) the Liturgy of the Word, also called the Liturgy of the Catechumens, which comprises the PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING, the scriptural readings, various intercessions and responses, the recitation of the Creed, and the Prayer of Peace; and (3) the anaphora, that is, the eucharistic ritual (see EUCHARIST).

The entire service may require some three hours of singing, and during Holy Week, the special services may last six or seven hours.

Three liturgies (see History, below) have been established in the Coptic church: (1) the Liturgy of Saint Basil is celebrated throughout the year except for the four major of Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, and Pentecost; also, it is used daily in the monasteries whether there is a fast day or not; (2) the Liturgy of Saint Gregory is used today in the celebration of the four major feasts mentioned above; its music is somewhat more ornate than that of the Liturgy of St. Basil and has been characterized as the most beautiful because of its high emotion; and (3) the Liturgy of Saint Cyril, also known as the Liturgy of Saint Mark, the most Egyptian of the three.

Unfortunately, most of the melodies of the Liturgy of Saint Cyril have been lost, and it can no longer be performed in its entirety. The most recent record of its performance is that of Patriarch MACARIUS III (1942-1945), who used it regularly. Immediately thereafter, there may have been a few priests in Upper Egypt who remembered his manner of celebrating the anaphora. Abuna Pachomius al-Muharraqi, vice-rector of the CLERICAL COLLEGE, also performed it on various occasions. According to BURMESTER, only two chants have survived: the conclusion of the Commemoration of the Saints (“Not that we are worthy, Master . . .”), and an extract from the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (“And these and everyone, Lord . . .”).

The celebration of the liturgy is preceded by two special services unique to the Coptic church, of which one is observed in the morning just before the liturgy and the other the previous evening. They are known as the Morning (or Evening) Offering of Incense (Arabic: Raf‘ Bukhur Bakir and Raf‘ Bukhur ‘Ashiyyah). Today, in actual practice, the Morning Offering of Incense is often incorporated into the liturgy itself. Like the liturgy, these two services are cantillated. They include the well-known Hymn of the Angels (Coptic: marenhwc nem niaggeloc . . . , marenhos nem niangelos, “Let us sing praises with the angels . . .”), the Prayer of Thanksgiving, (Coptic: marensephmot . . . , marenshep(e)hmot . . . ), various prayers and responses, and other preanaphoral material.

The texts and rubrics for the three liturgies and the Offering of Incense are to be found in the EUCHOLOGION (Arabic: al- khulaji), which prescribes the order of the various prayers, hymns, lections, versicles, biddings, and responses. Today these are sung in Greco-Coptic, Coptic, and Arabic. The texts are written in the Bohairic dialect (in Upper Egypt the Sahidic dialect may be heard), and are accompanied by a line-by-line translation in Arabic, with the rubrics all being in Arabic as well. The last section of the Euchologion contains the texts of many chants and hymns proper to the various liturgical seasons.

The participants in the celebration of the liturgy and Offering of Incense are:

  1. The officiant, that is, the priest (Arabic: al-Kahin), and/or other high members of the clergy who happen to be present and wish to participate. It is the role of the officiant to offer the prayers (Arabic: awshiyyah, pl. awashi), which may be recited silently or sung aloud, according to the traditional melodies adjusted to the festal and seasonal requirements. These prayers are constructed on recurring psalmodic formulas, some beginning with simple, unadorned statements, and others having an extended melisma from the outset. Since they become more and more elaborate as they continue, and conclude with a formula comprised of the richest of melismata, they may be rather lengthy. They are intoned in free rhythm that generally follows the textual accents and meters.
  2. The DEACON (Arabic: al-shammas) whose duties include relaying the biddings (Arabic: al-ubrusat, from Greco-Coptic: proceu,/, derived from Greek , proseuxh&, proseukhe) of the officiant, reading the lessons, and leading the set responses and singing of the congregational hymns. Like the officiant, he cantillates in free rhythm, and his melodic line may be both rhapsodic and/or chanting. His melodies are generally more rhythmic than those of the officiant, with duple and triple metres alternating according to the textual accents. Vocalises and melismata are common, but they in no way change the basic structure of the melody.
    Because the melodies of the officiant and deacon are rendered solo, there is greater opportunity here for improvisation and vocal embellishment than in the choir pieces.
  3. The choir and/or people (Arabic: al-sha‘b) sing certain responses (Arabic: maraddat) and portions of the hymns. In the early centuries, these sections were assigned to the people as a whole, but as the liturgy developed, they became so complicated that those who were not musically inclined could not sing them. Thus the choir of deacons, trained in singing, replaced the congregation. In the larger congregations this choir may number about twelve. The deacons involved stand by the iconostasis at right angles to the sanctuary in two lines facing each other, with one line known as the bahri (“northern”), and the other as the qibli (“southern”). According to the rubrication of “B” or “Q” marked in the margin of the text, the choir may sing antiphonally, strophe about, or two strophes about. The singers alternate according to the form of the musical phrase. They may also sing in unison.

Among many familiar choir pieces, three may be cited: (1) the hymn “We worship the Father . . .” (Coptic: tenouwst mviwt, tenouosht(e)m(e)phiot), which is sung Wednesday through Saturday at the beginning of the Morning Offering of Incense; (2) the TRISAGION (“Holy God! Holy and Mighty! Holy and Immortal! . . .”; Greco-Coptic: agioc o yeoc: agioc ic,uroc: agioc ayanatoc . . . , agios o theos: agios isshyros: agios athanatos . . . ), which, according to legend, comes from a hymn sung by Nicodemus and at the Lord’s entombment; and (3) the LORD’S PRAYER (Coptic: je peniwt . . . , je peniot . . . ), which is chanted on one note.

The melodies for the people and/or choir are quite simple, with little embellishment. However, certain hymns are complicated by some rudimentary, rhythmic ornamentation integral to the composition.

As has been stated, this choral singing is monodic, and should any harmonic elements appear, they are only occasional overlappings of the incipits of one part with the finalis of another. Also, the unison chant may not always be perfect, for some singers, wishing to participate in the acts of praise but not having good musical ears, do not listen to each other. Such lack of precision may be rather prevalent today, for in many churches the people, led and supported by the choir of deacons, are again actively rendering the hymns and responses, once again fulfilling the role originally assigned to them. A very wide vibrato characterizes all the singing.

Although the melodies of the participants are distinctive, as described above, there are many traits common to all. One of the most obvious characteristics of Coptic music, and one that probably derives from ancient times, is the prolongation of a single vowel over many phrases of music that vary in length and complication. This phenomenon may take two forms identified by scholars as vocalise, when the vowel is prolonged with a definite rhythmic pulse, and melisma (pl. melismata), when the vowel is prolonged in a free, undefined rhythm. A melisma generally lasts from ten to twenty seconds, but some vocalises may continue for a full minute. Because of these many vocalises and melismata, a study of the text alone does not always indicate the form of the music.

The music may further show its independence from the text in that musical and textual phrases do not always correspond. For example, in the Liturgy of Saint Basil, there is considerable enjambment in the solos of the priest and in the hymns sung preceding the anaphora; in some hymns a musical cadence may occur even in the middle of a word (“Judas, Judas,” heard during Holy Week on Maundy Thursday, is a case in point). In addition, the music may distort the stress and length of the syllables, especially if the text being sung is Greek.

Other traits are also prevalent. Melodies tend to proceed diatonically, usually within a range of five tones, with a characteristic progression of a half-step, whole step, and half-step, both descending and ascending. There may be intervals of thirds in the melodic line, although the distinction between the major and minor third is not always recognized as clearly as in Western music; the augmented second is rare; the diminished fourth occurs rather often. Throughout, there are numerous microtones, and, therefore, many intervals can never be accurately reproduced on a keyboard instrument. Indeed, by means of these microtones, the implied tonal centre of a given tune may shift imperceptibly, sometimes by as much as a minor third or more.

Many scholars have felt that Coptic melodies seem to unfold in spontaneous and endless improvisation. However, analyses reveal that this music has been constructed according to definite forms, three of which may be described. (1) Some songs are made up of various brief phrases, which are woven together so as to form clearly identifiable sections (usually three or four) and repeated with slight variation; the piece ends with a prescribed cadential formula. Concerning these compositions, Newlandsmith (see Musicologists, below) isolated ten musical phrases which he termed “typical.” The extended vocalises and melismata described above are found most often in this kind of piece. (2) Other melodies are composed of longer, individual phrases, complete in themselves, so that one or two such phrases, repeated as strophes and/or refrains, are sufficient for the construction of an entire hymn. (3) Some songs are made up of melodic line and rhythm that are simplified to fit the inflection and rhythm of the text. Such melodies tend to be syllabic and often have an ambitus of only two or three tones.

Some important terms, which appear in liturgical books and manuscripts to specify the music to be sung with a given text, are the Coptic /,oc, adopted from Greek hxov (echos); the Coptic bohem (Bohem) or ouohem (ouohem), meaning “response”; and the Arabic LAHN (pl. alhan). Ibn Birri (1106-1187), as quoted in Lisān al-‘Arab (compiled by Ibn Manzur, 1232-1311), assigned to lahn six meanings, among which are “song,” and “psalmodizing” or “intoning.” Western scholars have translated lahn as “tone,” “air,” and/or “melody,” but none of these words conveys its full meaning.

Although the term may have some affinities with the Arabic maqam and the Byzantine echos, in Coptic music it refers basically to a certain melody or melody-type which is readily recognized by the people and known by a specific, often descriptive name, such as lahn al-huzn (“… of grief”), lahn al-farah (“… of Joy”), lahn al- tajniz (“… for the dead”), al-lahn al-ma‘ruf (“familiar”), etc. Writing in the fourteenth century, IBN KABAR named some twenty-six alhan, most of which are still known today. Some, designated sanawiyyah (annual), are sung throughout the year, whereas others may be reserved for one occasion only. The same text may be sung to different alhan, and conversely, the same lahn may have different texts. Furthermore, the same lahn may have three forms: short (qasir), abridged (mukhtasar), and long (tawil). Among many beautiful alhan, the sorrowful lahn Idribi may be cited as one of the most eloquent.

Performed on Good Friday, during the Sixth Hour, it expresses vividly the tragedy of the Crucifixion. Its text being the Psalm versicle preceding the Gospel lection, it is also called Mazmur Idribi (Psalm Idribi). This name may derive from the ancient village Atribi, which once stood near present-day Suhaj, or it may stem from Coptic eterh/bi (one causing grief). Another lahn whose name shows the antiquity of its music is Lahn Sinjari, named after SINJAR, an ancient village near Rosetta.

The two melody types most frequently named are Adam and Batos (Arabic: ADAM and WATUS). Hymns labeled Adam are to be sung Sunday through Tuesday, and also on certain specified days, while hymns labeled Batos are reserved for Wednesday through Saturday, for the evening service, and for Holy Week. The two names derive from the Theotokia for Kiyahk (see below), in which Adam is the first word of the Theotokia for Monday, adam ediefoi: nem kahnh/t . . . [sic] (Adam ediefoi : nem kahnhet . . . , “When Adam became of contrite spirit . . . “), and Batos is the first word of the Theotokia for Thursday, pibatoc eta mwuc/c: nau erof . . . (pibatos eta mouses : nau erof . . . , “The bush which Moses saw . . .”). Although they are distinct from each other in verse structure, length, and mood, their music differs little in contemporary practice, and both may be heard in the same service.

The foregoing descriptions of the music and terminology used in the services of the Divine Liturgy and Offering of Incense also apply to the rest of the corpus, discussed below.

The Canonical Hours

A great wealth of Coptic hymnology may be heard in the canonical hours, which are prayers performed by lay people in the city churches and by monks in the monasteries. There are seven: First Hour, or Morning Prayer; Third Hour; Sixth Hour; Ninth Hour; Eleventh Hour, or Hour of Sunset; Hour of Sleep, with its three Nocturns; and Midnight Hour. In the monasteries, the Prayer of the Veil (Arabic: salat al-sitar) is added. The book containing these prayers is the Book of the Hours or HOROLOGION (Coptic: piajpia, piajpia, from ajp, ajp, “Hour”; Arabic: al-ajbiyyah, or salawat al-sawa‘i).

The canonical hours consist of the reading of the Psalms assigned for each hour, followed by the cantillation of the Gospel, two short hymns written in strophic form, known as troparia (Greek: , tropa&rion, pl. , tropa&ria), plus two more troparia called Theotokia, which are an invocation to the Virgin Mary (see below). The troparia and Theotokia are separated from one another by the Lesser Doxology, which is also cantillated. Then follow the Kyrie, the Prayer of Absolution, and throughout, responses to each part. Although troparia and Theotokia are also heard in the canonical offices of the Greek Orthodox church, their order of performance is different from that of the Copts. The Greek and Coptic melodies differ as well.

Since the hours are not dependent on priestly direction, in the towns and cities, the musical parts of each hour are led by the cantor (see Cantors, below). Formerly, in the monasteries, the monks, not being musically educated, could not intone the hours; moreover, during the early years of their development, the monastic communities rejected singing and chanting as not conducive to the reverence and piety required of their strict discipline. Today, however, many of the monks are former deacons well acquainted with the melodies of the church rites, and they cantillate the hymnic portions of the hours as prescribed. In general, the hours are in Arabic only, but in some monasteries, the monks are beginning to recite them in Coptic.

The Service of

In addition to the canonical hours, there is a special choral service known as Psalmodia (Greek: Yalmwdi&a, Arabic: al-absalmudiyyah or al-tasbihah) (see PSALMODIA), which is performed immediately before the Evening Offering of Incense, at the conclusion of the Prayers of the Midnight Hour, and between the Office of Morning Prayer and the Morning Offering of Incense. In the monasteries, Psalmodia is performed daily, but in the city churches, it has become customary to perform it only on Sunday eve, that is, Saturday night.

The texts and order of the prayers, the hymns, and the lections are to be found in the book, al-Absalmudiyyah al-Sanawiyyah. Also, a special book, al-Absalmudiyyah al-Kiyahkiyyah, contains the hymns to be sung for Advent, that is, during the month of Kiyahk. In both books, the basic hymn forms of this service are given as follows:

  1. The hos (Coptic: hwc, derived from Egyptian h-s-j, “to sing, to praise,” (Arabic: hus, pl. husat) are four special songs of praise. Burmester refers to them as odes. They comprise two biblical canticles (see Canticles, below) from the Old Testament (Hos One and Hos Three) and two Psalm selections (Hos Two and Hos Four). They are strophic, with their strophes following the versification given in the Coptic biblical text. Unrhymed, they are sung to a definite rhythmic pattern, in duple meter. They are Hos One, Song of Moses (Ex. 15:1-21, Coptic: tote afhwc . . . , tote afhos . . . , “Then sang Moses . . . “); Hos Two, Psalm 136 (Coptic: ouwnh ebol . . . , ouonh evol . . . , “Give thanks unto the Lord,”) with an Alleluia refrain in each strophe; Hos Three, the Song of the Three Holy Children (Apocrypha, Dn. 1-67; Coptic kcmarwout . . . , (e)k(e)smaroout . . . , “Blessed art Thou, O Lord”), and Hos Four, Psalm 148 (Coptic: cmou ep[c ebol . . . (e)smou epchois evol . . . ), Psalm 149 (Coptic: jw mp[c . . . go (e)m(e)pchois . . . ), and Psalm 150 (Coptic: cmou ev]. . . (e)smou e(e)phnouti . . . ); all three Psalms of Hos Four may be translated as “Praise ye the Lord . . . .” In addition, two other hos are sung for the of Nativity and Resurrection, each consisting of a cento of Psalm verses.
    Deriving from the ancient synagogal rites, the hos are very old. Indeed, according to Anton BAUMSTARK, Hos One and Hos Three were the first canticles to be used in the Christian liturgy. A fragment of papyrus, brought from the Fayyum by W. A. F. PETRIE, published by W. E. CRUM, and identified as a leaf from an ancient Egyptian office book, contains pieces of these two hymns. Further, part of the Greek text of Hos Three has been found on an ostracon dating probably from the fifth century. From Hos Three has grown the canticle known in the West as Benedicite. Descriptions of the four hos dating from the fourteenth century, early twentieth century, and mid-twentieth century all concur, a fact that confirms the unchanged tradition of their usage. Each hos is framed by its proper PSALI, LOBSH, and TARH (see below).
  2. The Theotokia: As mentioned above, the Theotokia are hymns dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There is one set for each day of the week, with each set presenting one aspect of Old Testament typology as it applies to Mary, the Mother of God (Greek: h qeoto&kov, he theotokos). The Theotokia for Saturday, Monday, and Thursday have nine sets of hymns each; those for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday have seven; the Sunday Theotokia (performed Saturday night) has eighteen. The strophes for all the sets of these seven Theotokia are nonrhyming quatrains, whose textual accents prescribe the rhythmic and melodic formulae. Each set has a common refrain of one to three strophes that acts as a link to unite the set. Along with each Theotokia, there are interpolations, which enlarge upon the text (Coptic: bwl, Bol; Greek: ermhnei&a, hermenea, “interpretation”), and every set ends with a paraphrase called lobsh (see below). In actual practice, not all the sets of hymns in a Theotokia are performed in a single Psalmodia service because one hymn may suffice to represent the complete set.
    There is a special collection of Theotokia meant to be performed only during the month of Kiyahk for Advent. De Lacy O’Leary has determined that although many of their texts resemble those of the Greek Orthodox church—especially those Greek hymns attributed to Saint John Damascene and the Monk, (see ARSENIUS OF SCETIS AND TURAH, SAINT)—the Coptic Theotokia are not translations, but, rather, original poems composed on the Greek model. De Lacy O’Leary’s translation and editions of the Theotokia for Kiyahk provide ample material for analyzing the texts and comparing manuscripts. A succinct summary of their contents has been outlined by both Martha Roy and Ilona Borsai (see Musicologists, below). As was mentioned above, two of these Theotokia have given their names to the melody types most commonly used throughout the liturgy and offices, namely, Adam and Batos.
    Legend attributes the texts of the Theotokia to both Saint Athanasius (See ATHANASIUS I, APOSTOLIC SAINT) and Saint EPHRAEM while ascribing the melodies to a saintly and virtuous man, a by trade, who became a monk in the desert of Scetis. Euringer has identified him as Simeon the Potter of Geshir (a village in the land of Antioch); he is also known as a poet and protégé of the hymnist, Jacob of Sarugh, who died in 521. This date indicates that the Coptic Theotokia were composed in the early part of the sixth century.
    Mallon, however, asserts that these works are of neither the same author nor the same period. He would date them no earlier than the fifth century, but before the Arab conquest of Egypt (642-643). In the fourteenth century, Abu al-Barakat wrote that the Theotokia for Kiyakh were not used in Upper Egypt, but were passed around among the churches of Misr, Cairo, and the northern part of the country.
  3. The lobsh (Coptic: lwbs, lobsh, “crown,” “consummation”; Arabic: lubsh and/or tafsir, pl. TAFASIR, “explanation, interpretation”) immediately follows a hos or a Theotokia; it is a nonbiblical text on a biblical theme. In hymn form, consisting of four-line strophes and usually unrhymed, the lobsh is recited rather than sung. However, its title designates the appropriate lahn, either Adam or Batos, which would seem to indicate that at one time it was sung.
  4. The Psalis (Coptic: ‘ali, Psali; Arabic: ABSALIYYAH, or madih, pl. mada’ih, “praise, laudation”) are metrical hymns that accompany either a Theotokia or hos. Muyser and YASSA ‘ have published detailed editions of certain Psalis, using manuscripts dating from the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Their articles serve to demonstrate the high level of technique in handling Coptic rhymes and rhythms attained by Psali authors. Every Psali has from twenty-six to forty-six strophes, each of which is a rhymed quatrain; the rhyming schemes may vary. The strophes are often arranged in acrostic order according to the Coptic or Greek alphabet by the first letter of each strophe. Some are even in double acrostic, and others in reverse acrostic. Such patterns serve as mnemonic devices, enabling the singers to perform the hymns in their entirety with no omissions.
    One feature which makes the Psalis very popular is the refrain, an element rarely found in the ritual pieces of the liturgies and canonical hours, or in the hos and Theotokia of the service of . Usually the refrain is made by repeating only the fourth line of the strophe, but sometimes both the third and fourth lines are repeated.
    Another unusual aspect of the Psalis is that, except for a few paraphrases reserved for Kiyahk, these are the only pieces of Coptic music whose authors are identified in the texts. The writer’s name may be found embedded in a strophe, with a plea for mercy and pardon from sin, and with mention of him as “the poor servant” or “a poor sinner.” In the paraphrases, the author’s name may be given in acrostic form as the first letter of each strophe of the hymn, or as the initial letter of each of a set of hymns arranged seriatim.
    Most Psalis are to be sung either to the melody-type Adam or Batos, depending on the day of the week, and are thus designated as Psali Adam or Psali Batos. However, certain ones specify the title of another familiar Psali or hymn to whose melody they may be sung. These melodies are rhythmic and syllabic, that is, the notes match the texts with little trace of melisma or improvisation; their range usually covers four, or at most, five tones; they swing along in quasi-parlando style, and emphasis on textual and melodic accents makes them easy to sing, all of which encourages congregational participation. The very simplicity of these hymns leads the listener to speculate that herein lies the oldest core of ancient Egyptian melody.
    A few Psalis are written in both Coptic and Greek, some in both Coptic and Arabic, and others in Arabic alone. Only one manuscript entirely in Greek has been discovered (Church of Saint Barbara, Old Cairo, History 8, 1385). Most Psalis, however, are in the Bohairic dialect, and the date of their composition is unknown. It is probable that some are no earlier than the thirteenth century. On the other hand, certain Psalis in the Sahidic dialect have been assigned to the ninth and tenth centuries (Morgan Collection, vol. XIII). These latter are in acrostic order, according to the letters of the alphabet, and they are unrhymed.
  5. The TARH (pl. turuhat) usually denotes a paraphrase used to explain a preceding hos, Theotokia, or Gospel reading. It differs from the lobsh or psali in that it is introduced with two unrhymed strophes in Coptic, which are followed by an Arabic prose text. In general, it is recited, not sung. Sometimes the same hymn is termed both Psali (Coptic) and tarh (Arabic), but, technically speaking, it may be considered a tarh when it follows the Coptic hymn of the Gospel lections. A tarh dating from the ninth century has been edited by Maria CRAMER. Written in Sahidic for Palm Sunday, it was supposed to be sung. Abu al-Barakat referred to the tarh as a hymn, which further testifies to its once musical character.
  6. The doxologies are hymns of praise sung during the service of Psalmodia in honor of the season, the Virgin Mary, the angels, the apostles, the saint of a particular church, or other Coptic saints, as time may allow. Their texts are similar in structure to those of the Psali and tarh, having short strophes of four lines each and concluding with the last strophe of the Theotokia for the day. ‘ has published detailed studies of the doxologies.
    In addition to the foregoing, other special hymns are sung by the Copts in commemoration of their saints and martyrs. These are to be found in the DIFNAR or Antiphonarium (Greek: antifwna&rion, antiphonárion, from antifwne&w, antiphonéo, “to answer, to reply”), a book containing biographies of the Coptic saints written in hymnic form. This volume also includes hymns for the fasts and feasts. The texts are arranged in strophes of rhymed quatrains, and two hymns are given for the same saint, their use being dependent on the day of the week, that is, one for the days of Adam, and another for the days of Batos. Because these hymns are quite long, only two or three strophes may be sung during the service of Psalmodia to commemorate the saint of the day. Further, if the SYNAXARION is read as a commemoration, the singing of the difnar hymn may be omitted completely.
    The compilation of the difnar is ascribed to the seventieth patriarch, GABRIEL II (1131-1145). However, the oldest known manuscript with difnar material dates from 893 (Morgan Library, New York, manuscript 575). Another unpublished difnar from the fourteenth century, found in the library of the Monastery of St. Antony (see DAYR ANBA ANTUNIYUS), has been described by A. Piankoff and photographed by T. Whittemore.

Mention should also be made of the numerous ritual books that contain further repertoire to be sung for particular liturgical occasions such as the rite of holy BAPTISM and the rite for MATRIMONY. Each of these many rituals has its own book detailing the specifics of the rite, which of course include the use of music. Other rituals with their special books containing hymns for the specific occasions are those for the and fasts of the liturgical calendar, such as the ritual for the feast of the Nativity, for the feast of Epiphany, for the feast of the Resurrection, for the feast of Pentecost, for the fast of Holy Week, the fast of the Virgin Mary, and others too numerous to mention here (see FEASTS, MAJOR; FEASTS, MINOR; FASTING).

There is one other book very important in the description of the corpus, The Services of the Deacon (Arabic: Khidmat al-Shammas), which was assembled by Abuna Takla and first published in 1859. This work was compiled from the various books and collections of hymns already in existence in order to assist the deacon, who, along with the cantor, has the responsibility for the proper selection and order of the hymns and responses for each liturgy and office. This book outlines the hymns and responses in Coptic and Arabic for the liturgies and canonical offices throughout the year—according to the various seasons and the calendar of and fasts—and for the various rites such as weddings, funerals, baptisms, and so on.

Its rubrics are all in Arabic, but the hymns and responses are in both Coptic and Arabic. Musical terms are employed in directing the singers. The name of the lahn for each hymn and response is specified, and the rubric for the use of instruments (Arabic: bi-al- naqus, “with cymbals”) is also indicated where necessary. Since its first printing, The Services of the Deacon has appeared in four editions.






In addition to the Psalms, some of the early Christian churches adopted into their system of canonical offices certain Old Testament praises and prayers which are known today as canticles. The Coptic church recognizes twenty-one in all, eighteen from the Old Testament and three from the New Testament. Two of the Old Testament canticles are also sung as hos during the office of Psalmodia (Hos One, the Song of Moses, and Hos Three the Song of the Three Holy Children. The three from the New Testament are embedded as Gospel lections in six of the hymns of the Sunday Theotokia for Kiyakh (see Description of the Corpus and Present Musical Practice above). These are: the Song of Mary (Lk. 1:46-55, known in the West as the Magnificat); the Song of Simeon (Lk. 2: 29-32, known as the Nunc Dimittis); and the Prayer of Zacharias (Lk. 2: 69-79, known as the Benedictus).

The full set of canticles is performed at the vigil service on the night of Good Friday (the eve of Saturday). For this service, the officiant and his deacons are seated around a low table upon which are placed three lighted candles, and they read the Biblical prayers and hymns, each deacon taking his turn at reading one canticle. The Song of Moses and the Song of the Three Holy Children are performed in Coptic. All the rest are recited in Arabic. The full set includes:


  1. Song of Moses (Ex. 15:1-21).
  2. Second Song of Moses (Dt. 32:1-43).
  3. Prayer of Hannah (I Sm. 2: 1-11).
  4. Prayer of Habakkuk (Hb. 3:2-19).
  5. Prayer of Jonah (Jon. 2: 2-10).
  6. Prayer of Hezekiah (Is. 38: 10-20).


  1. Prayer of Manasses (Man. 1-15).


  1. Prayer of Isaiah (1) (Is. 26: 9-20).
  2. Praise of Isaiah (2) (Is. 25: 1-12).
  3. Praise of Isaiah (3) (Is. 26: 1-9).
  4. Praise of Jeremiah (Lam. 5:16-22).


  1. Praise of Baruch (Bar. 2:11-16).


  1. Praise of Elijah (I Kgs. 18:26-39).
  2. Prayer of David (II Kgs. 29:10-13).
  3. Prayer of King Solomon (I Kgs. 8:22-30).
  4. Prayer of Daniel (Dn. 9:4-19).
  5. Vision of Daniel (Dn. 3:1-23).


  1. Song of the Three Holy Children (Dn. 1-67).


  1. Song of Mary (Lk. 1:46-55).
  2. Song of Simeon (Lk. 2: 29-32).
  3. Prayer of Zachariah (Lk. 1:68-79).



Books and Articles

  • ‘Abd al-Masih, Y. “Doxologies in the Coptic Church.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 4 (1938):97-99; 5 (1939):175-78; 6 (1940):19-25; 7 (1942):31-61; 11 (1945):95-158.
  • . “The Hymn of the Three Children in the Furnace.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 12 (1946-1947):1-15.
  • . “A Greco-Arab Psali.” Bulletin de l’Institut des études coptes (1958):77-100.
  • Amélineau, E. C. “Saint Antoine et les commencements du monachisme chrétien en Egypte.” Revue d’histoire et de littérature religieuses 65 (1912):16-78.
  • Atiya, A. S. History of Eastern Christianity. Notre Dame, Ind., 1968.
  • . Catalogue Raisonné of the Mount Sinai Arabic Manuscripts. Trans. into Arabic by J. N. Yussef. Alexandria, 1970.
  • Badet, L. Chants liturgiques des Coptes. Cairo, 1899.
  • Baumstark, A. Comparative Liturgy. Revised by Bernard Botte, O.S.B. English edition by F. L. Cross. London, 1958.
  • Bennet, J. P. “Music in the Coptic Church of Egypt and Ethiopia.” Unpublished M.A. thesis. Seattle, 1945.
  • Blin, J. Chants liturgiques coptes. Cairo, 1888.
  • Borsai, I. “A la recherche de l’ancienne musique pharaonique” Cahiers d’histoire égyptienne 11 (1968):25-42.
  • . “Mélodies traditionnelles des Egyptiens et leur importance dans la recherche de l’ancienne musique pharaonique.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 10 (1968):69-
  • Musical transcriptions made in collaboration with Margit Tóth.
  • . “Quelques traits caractéristiques de la musique copte.” I Congresso Internazionale Grottoferrata, Roma, 6-11 May, 1968. Studia Musicologica, 10 (1968):360-63.
  • . “Az egyiptomi zenei szájhagyomány vizsgálátának szerepe az o-egyiptomi dallamok kutatásában.” A. M. Tud. Akadémia I, Osztályának Kozleményei 26 (1969):387-99.
  • . “Variations ornementales dans l’interprétation d’un hymne copte.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum
  • Hungaricae 11 (1969):91-105. With musical transcriptions by Margit Tóth.
  • . “Concordances et divergences entre les mélodies coptes et celles du fellah égyptien.” Deuxième Congrès Internationale de Musique Arabe au Caire, 16-23. December, 1969. Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 12 (1970):325-30.
  • . “Melody Types of Egyptian Wedding Songs.” Acta Ethnographica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 19 (1970):65-81. With musical transcriptions by Margit Tóth.
  • . “Caractéristiques générales du chant de la messe copte.” Studia orientalia christiana aegyptiaca, collectanea 14 (1970-1971):412-42.
  • . “Un Type mélodique particulier des hymnes coptes du mois de Kiahk.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 13 (1971):73-85.
  • . “Le Tropaire byzantin ‘O Monogenés’ dans la pratique du chant copte.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 14 (1972):329-54.
  • . “Y a-t-il un ‘Octoéchos’ dans le système du chant copte?” Studia Aegyptíaca 1 (1974):39-53.
  • . “Die musikhistorische Bedeutung der orientalischen christlichen Riten.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 16 (1974):3-14.
  • . “A kisebb keleti egyházak liturgikus zenéjének zenetudomanyi jelentösége.” Vigilia 6 (1974):404-9.
  • . “Mélodies coptes des textes grecs byzantins.” Actes du 14e Congrés International des Etudes Byzantines, Bucharest, 6-12 September 1971. Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste Roumania (1976):493-503.
  • . “Deux mélodies caracteristiques de la semaine sainte copte.” Studies in Eastern Chant 4 (1979):5-27.
  • . “Mélodie et métrique dans les théotokies coptes.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 22 (1980):15-60.
  • . “Music of the Coptic Rite.” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 6th ed. Vol. 4, pp. 70ff., ed. Stanley Sadie. London, Washington, D.C., and Hong Kong, 1980.
  • Brightman, F. E. Liturgies Eastern and Western, Vol. 1. Eastern Liturgies. Oxford, 1896.
  • Budge, E. A. W., trans. and ed. The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers. . . . London, 1907.
  • . trans. The Wit and Wisdom of the Christian Fathers of Egypt. . . . Oxford and London, 1934.
  • Burmester, O. H. E. The Egyptian or Coptic Church in Cairo, A Detailed Description of Her Liturgical Services and the Rites and Ceremonies Observed in the Administration of Her Sacraments. Cairo, 1967.
  • Bute, J. P. The Coptic Morning Service for the Lord’s Day. London, 1882.
  • Butros, N. K. “Coptic Music and Its Relation to Pharaonic Music.” Unpublished M. A. thesis, University. Cairo, 1976.
  • Cramer, M. “Studien zu koptischen Pascha-Buchern.” Oriens Christianus 47 (1963):118f.; 49 (1965):90-115; 50 (1966):72-130.
  • . Koptische Hymnologie in deutscher Übersetzung (Eine Auswahl aus saïdischen und bohairischen Antiphonarien vom 9. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart). Wiesbaden, 1969.
  • Euringer, S. “Der mütmassliche Verfasser der koptischen Theotokia.” Oriens Christianus (1911):225f.
  • Faulkner, R.O., trans. Songs of Isis and Nepthys. Described by H. G. Farmer, “The Music of Ancient Egypt.” In Ancient and Oriental Music, pp. 253-82. The New Oxford History of Music, ed. E. Wallesz, Vol. 1. London, 1966.
  • Ghubriyal, Kamil Ibrahim. Al-Tawqi‘at al-Musiqiyyah li-Maraddat al-Kanisah al-Murqusiyyah. Cairo, 1916.
  • Gillespie, J. “The Egyptian Copts and Their Music.” Notes preceding the Translation of the Liturgy of St. Basil. n.p., n.d.
  • Graf, G., trans. and ed. “Der kirchliche Gesang nach Abu Ishaq . . .” Extracts from The Foundation of Religion by Ibn al-Assal. Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 13 (1948-1949):161-78.
  • Hickmann, E. Musica Instrumentalis (Studien zur Klassifikation des Musikinstrumentariums im Mittelalter). Baden-Baden, 1971. Hickman, H. “Un Instrument à cordes inconnu de l’époque copte.”
  • Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 12 (1946-1947):63-80.
  • . “Note sur une harpe au Musée du Caire—sur l’accordage des instruments à cordes. Miscellanea Musicologica” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Egypte 48 (1948):639-63.
  • . “La Cliquette, un instrument de percussion égyptien de l’époque copte.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 13 (1948-1949):1-12.
  • . Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire, Nos. 69201-69852, Instruments de Musique. Cairo, 1949.
  • . “Observations sur les survivances de la chironomie égyptienne dans le chant liturgique copte.” Miscellanea Musicologica (1949):417-45.
  • . “Quelques observations sur la musique liturgique copte des Coptes d’Egypte.” Atti del congresso internazionale di musica sacra, Rome (1950):100f.
  • . “La Castagnette egyptienne.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 14 (1950-1957):37-49.
  • . “Miscellanea egyptologica.” Journal of the Galpin Society 4 (1951):25-29.
  • . “Zur Geschichte der altägyptischen Glocken.” Musik und Kirche 21 (1951):72-88.
  • . 45 Siècles de Musique dans l’Egypte ancienne à travers la sculpture, la peinture, l’instrument. Paris, 1956.
  • . “Le Problème de la notation musicale dans l’Egypte ancienne.” Die Musikforschung 10 (1957):512-18.
  • . “Musikerziehung im alten Ägypten.” Festschrift für H. Mersmann, pp. 55-63. Kassel, 1957.
  • . “Quelques nouveaux aspects du rôle de la musique copte dans l’histoire de la musique en Egypte.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 15 (1958-1960):79-82.
  • . Musikgeschichte in Bildern. Ägypten, Vol. 2.: Musik des Altertums, pt. 1. Leipzig, 1961.
  • . “Altägyptische Musik.” In Der Nahe und der Mittelere Osten, pp. 135-70. Orientalische Musik, ed. B. Spuler, et al., supplementary vol. 4. Leiden, 1970.
  • Ibn Kabar. Le Muséon 36 (1923):249-92; 37 (1924):201-80; 38 (1925):261-320.
  • Jeannin, J. C., O.S.B. “L’Octoechos syrien. Etude historique, étude musicale.” Oriens Christianus, new ser. 3 (1913):82-277.
  • Jourdan-Hemmerdinger, D. “Nouveaux fragments musicaux sur papyrus (une notation antique par points).” Studies in Eastern Chant 4 (1979):81-111.
  • Lanne, E. “Textes et rites de la liturgie pascale dans l’ancienne église copte.” L’Orient syrien 6/1 (1961):279-300.
  • Luqa Sayyid Sidarus. pijwm nte pipac,a eyouab. (The Book of Holy Easter). Cairo, 1981.
  • Mallon, A. “Les Théotokies ou l’Office de la Sainte Vièrge dans le rite copte.” Revue de l’orient chrétien 9 (1904):17-31.
  • Mearns, J. Canticles of the Christian Church. Cambridge, 1914. Ménard, R. “Note sur les musiques arabe et copte.” Cahiers coptes 2 (1952):48-54.
  • . “Notes sur les musiques arabe et copte.” Cahiers coptes 2 (1952):48ff.
  • . “Notation et transcription de la musique copte.” Cahiers coptes 3 (1953):34-44.
  • . “Une étape de l’art musical égyptien: la musique copte—
  • recherches actuelles.” Revue de la musique 36 (1954):21ff.
  • . “Note sur la mémorisation et l’improvisation dans le chant copte.” Etudes grégoriennes 4 (1959):135-43.
  • Moftah, R. “The Study of the Recording of the Coptic Airs: The
  • History of Mu‘allim Mikha’il.” Al-Kirazah, 10, 17, and 14 January (1975).
  • . “Coptic Music.” Bulletin de l’Institut des études coptes, (1958):42-53.
  • . “Coptic Music.” Saint Mark and the Coptic Church. Cairo, 1968.
  • Mountford J. F. “A New Fragment of Greek Music in Cairo.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 51 (1931):91-100.
  • Muyser, J. “Le ‘Psali’ copte pour la première heure du samedi de la joie.” Le Muséon 65 (1952):175-84.
  • . “Un ‘Psali’ acrostiche copte.” Le Muséon 66 (1953):31-40. Newlandsmith, E. Religion and the Arts. London, 1918.
  • . A Minstrel Friar. London, 1927.
  • . “The Music of the Mass as Sung in the Coptic Church, and Some Special Hymns in the Coptic Liturgy.” Sixteen Folio Volumes of unpublished transcriptions, Vols. 1 and 2. Cairo, 1929-1933. Subsequent vols. are not dated.
  • . “The Ancient Music of the Coptic Church,” lecture delivered at the University Church, Oxford. London, 1931.
  • . A Musician’s Pilgrimage. London, 1932.
  • O’Curry, E. On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, ed. with an Introduction, Appendices, and Notes by W. K. Sullivan. New York, 1971.
  • O’Leary, De L. The Daily Office and Theotokia of the Coptic Church. London, 1911.
  • . The Coptic Theotokia. London, 1923.
  • . The Difnar (Antiphonarium) of the Coptic Church. London, 1926-1930.
  • Périer, J., ed. and trans. La Perle précieuse . . . by Ibn Siba‘. Paris, 1922.
  • Philuthawus al-Maqari. Kitab Dallal wa Tartib Jum‘at al-Alam wa ‘Id al-Fish al-Majid. Cairo, 1920.
  • Reese, G. Music in the Middle Ages with an Introduction on the Music of Ancient Times, pp. 57-94. New York, 1940.
  • Robertson, M. “A Transcription and Motivic Analysis of Two Coptic Hymns.” Unpublished manuscript. Salt Lake City, 1980.
  • . “Hymns from the Liturgy of St. Basil.” Unpublished manuscripts. Salt Lake City, 1980-1983.
  • . “The Modern Coptic Tarnimah, ‘Farahanin, Farahanin’ (We Are Joyful, We Are Joyful’).” Coptologia 5 (1984):77-84.
  • . “The Reliability of the Oral Tradition in Preserving Coptic Music: A Comparison of Three Musical Transcriptions of an Extract from the Liturgy of Saint Basil.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 26 (1984):83-93; 27 (1985):73-85.
  • . “Vocal Music in the Early Coptic Church.” Coptologia 6 (1985):23-27.
  • . “The Good Friday Trisagion of the Coptic Church (A Musical Transcription and Analysis).” Miscellany in Honour of Acad. Ivan Dujcev, Sofia, Bulgaria (in press).
  • . “A Coptic Melody Sung Interchangeably in Different Languages: Comparisons Thereof and Proposed Dating Therefor.” Paper presented at the Third International Congress of Coptic Studies in Warsaw, Poland, 1984.
  • . “Which Came First, the Music or the Words (A Greek Text and Coptic Melody: Musical Transcription and Analysis of the Setting).” In By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27
  • March 1990, ed. S. D. Ricks, pp. 416ff. Salt Lake City, 1990. Sachs, C. Die Musikinstrumente des alten Ägyptens. Berlin, 1921.
  • . Die Musik der Antike. Potsdam, 1935.
  • . The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. New York, 1943.
  • Schott, S., ed. and trans. Altägyptische Liebeslieder. Zurich, 1950. Shawan, S. al- “An Annotated Bibliography of Coptic Music.”
  • Unpublished M.A. thesis, Columbia University. New York, 1975.
  • Sidarous, A. “La Pâque sainte ou la Semaine sainte selon la liturgie copte.” Proche-Orient chrétien 18 (1967):3-43.
  • Tawfiq Habib. Alhan al-Kanisah al-Qibtiyyah (melodies of the Coptic church). Lecture given at the Coptic Girls College. Cairo, 30 March 1917.
  • Tóth, M. “A Transcription of the Complete Liturgy of St. Basil.” Cairo, 1970-1980.
  • Villecourt, L., ed. and trans. “Les Observances liturgiques et la discipline du jeûne dans l’église copte” (chapters XVI-XIX from Misbah al-Zulmah by Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar). Le Muséon 36 (1923):249-92; 37 (1924):201-280; 38 (1925):261-320.
  • Villoteau, G. A. Description de l’Egypte, état moderne, Vol. 2: De l’état actuel de l’art musical en Egypt, pp. 754f. Paris, 1809.
  • Wellesz, E. “The Earliest Example of Christian Hymnody.” Christian Quarterly 39 (1945):34ff.
  • . Eastern Elements in Western Chant. Oxford, 1947. Werner, E. The Sacred Bridge. London and New York, 1959.
  • . “The Origin of the Eight Modes of Music (Octoechos).” Contributions to a Historical Study of Jewish Music. N.P., 1976. Ziegler, C. Catalogue des instruments de musique égyptiens. Paris, 1979.