Insights into the music patterns of St Basil liturgy according to the Coptic rite

PhD Thesis

Henein, M. 2022. Insights into the music patterns of St Basil liturgy according to the Coptic rite. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Creative Arts and Industries
AuthorsHenein, M.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philsophy

The exact roots of Coptic music and its creation remain unknown, with speculations suggesting potential Pharaonic, Jewish and Greek roots. This thesis focuses on the musical features of both the priest’s chants and the congregational responses in the St Basil liturgy according to the Coptic rite, in an attempt to discern its patterns and roots since it seems impossible to identify its composers and origin. The practice-based empirical methods used were audio and video
recording of the liturgy, notating its music using the Arabic music rules, comparing melodies of Greek responses practised in the Byzantine and Coptic traditions and attempting to
reproduce the Coptic melodies using Pharaonic nay replicas.

The current literature shows no description of musical features and scales of St Basil liturgy, as stated decades ago by H Hickmann, being transmitted via the oral tradition. Audio analysis of some of the liturgical responses revealed significant scale discrepancies between three renowned contemporary musicians. Also, having compared four sets of notations by eminent Coptic musicians, there were significant differences in the style of notation and the dominating scales. These results raised doubt about the accuracy of the conventional Arabic music analyses in describing the Coptic music, since scale recognition is based only on the tetrachord. Despite that, my suggestion of the seven musical sections of the liturgy has been confirmed. Also, comparing the music of thirteen Greek responses shared between the Byzantine and Coptic traditions, showed similarities only between two; the rest of the responses were different. Furthermore, attempts to reproduce the St Basil melodies using Pharaonic nay (flute) replicas showed limited ability of the oldest long nays compared to the more recent short ones. Thus, despite being the first empirical study of the music features of St Basil liturgy according to the Coptic rite, this thesis successfully describes unique patterns and puts forward suggestions, with some speculations, regarding the roots of such ancient music, which requires further analysis.

KeywordsSt Basil liturgy; Coptic rite; Music patterins
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Deposited13 Feb 2023
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