RAGHEB MOFTAH (1898-2001)
A Musicologist, educator. He was born to a wealthy Coptic family on 21 December 1898 at Al-Faggala in Cairo. In 1991, he was sent to Germany to study agriculture at the University of Bonn, but his great passion was music. After his earning a bachelor’s degree in agronomics, he obtained degrees in music at Bonn and in Catholic Southern Germany at the University of Munich. Muftah’s most important achievement is the recording of the entire corpus of Coptic liturgical music, including the hymns and chants for the celebration of the Great Lent, the Pascha or Holy Week through the chants of Bright Saturday to the magnificent Resurrection chants.
Moftah found a willing companion in the traditionalist Coptic music teacher Mu‘alim Mikhail Girgis al-Batanouny, who worked with him from 1907 to 1957. From 1927 to 1936 Moftah collaborated with Oxford-trained musicologist Ernest Newland Smith, who used a Nile houseboat while investigating the structure and notation of Coptic music. They produced 16 volumes of musical notation that could be read by any trained musician. They lectured on Coptic liturgical music at Oxford, Cambridge, and London universities in 1931. In 1940, Moftah founded the first Coptic choir, and five years later he established two centers in Old Cairo and Bab al-Hadid (now Ramses Square) to teach Coptic liturgical chants and hymns.
He was one of the founders of the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies, and established the Music Division in 1954. In 1970, Muftah entrusted the Hungarian ethnomusicologist Margit Toth to transcribe the notation of the Coptic Orthodox Liturgy of St. Basil that he recorded. This colossal project took 30 years and the work was published by the American University in Cairo Press in 1998. The Library of the Congress, the American University, and the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies possess archives preserving Moftah’s collections of recordings, documents, writings, and letters.