Newlandsmith, Ernest (1875-? [after 1936])
British violinist, composer, and writer, best known for his extensive transcriptions of Coptic liturgical music.
The son of a clergyman, he was born 10 April, 1875. Having shown a talent for music, he entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1893, from which he graduated with distinction in 1899, earning the A.R.A.M. (Associate of Royal Academy of Music). Disillusioned as a music teacher and concert violinist, he turned his back on music as a profession (1908) and became a “pilgrim” or “minstrel friar.” Henceforth, he traveled through the countryside presenting musical religious services and living by the generosity of others.
In 1926 he undertook a musical pilgrimage to the Holy Land. En route, he stopped at Cairo where he met Ragheb Moftah (see Cantors, above), who arranged for him to compile a book of liturgical music of the ancient Coptic church. Newlandsmith continued his journey to the Holy Land (Mount Carmel), but soon returned to Cairo. Here, as the guest of Mr. Moftah, he lived in a houseboat on the Nile, notating the music as chanters—among them the great master chanter Mu‘allim MIKHA’IL JIRJIS (see Cantors, above)—sang their time-honored melodies hour after hour, day after day (1926-1931). He also spent some time at Abu al-Shuquq working with Mr. Moftah on the transcriptions (1929).
The complete project lasted about ten years (1926-1936), and during this time, Newlandsmith transcribed some sixteen folio volumes of music, including the Liturgy of Saint Basil (vol. 1), numerous other special songs for the various feasts and fasts, and special songs reserved for high church officials.
Impressed by the dignity and beauty of this music, Newlandsmith used certain melodies in his own violin compositions, and upon return trips to England (1928, 1931), he played these works as part of his music services. He also gave enthusiastic lectures about the antiquity of the Coptic musical tradition.
During his life Newlandsmith founded various musical-religious societies, the most significant being “The New Life Movement.” A prolific writer, he penned several pamphlets and books wherein he expounded his ideas about music.
A bibliography of his early musical compositions is listed in the Universal Handbuch der Musikliteratur aller Zeiten und Völker (Vienna, n. d.), vol. 1, Pt. 1, p. 124. He based his later works on Coptic melodies, of which two, dating from 1929, remain significant: his Oriental Suite for violin and piano, and the Carmelite Rhapsody for solo violin.