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COPTIC MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS FROM THE EARLY EIGHTEENTH CENTURY THAT SEEM TO HAVE DISAPPEARED FROM USE

July 13, 2012

Gabinetto armonico pieno d’instrumenti sonori, or for short Gabinetto Armonico, is a book written in Italian by Filippo Buonanni, and published in Rome in 1723. It was digitalised in 2012 by Düsseldorf: Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek.[i] Filippo Bonanni (1638-1725) was an Italian Jesuit priest, scientist, scholar and curator of the Museo Kircheriano in Rome. The book, which translates into “An Instrument Cabinet Full of Harmonic Sound”, includes several engravings of musical instruments of all nations, from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, by the Flemish artist Arnold van Westerhout (1651-1725), and descriptions of them. It appears that the descriptions of these instruments were derived from the accounts of travellers.

I found in the book two engravings of Coptic instruments of music, titled Instrumento delli Cofti[ii] and Legno delli Cofti[iii], which I reproduce here (together with the Italian text attached to them). It is not clear to me from whom travellers did Buonanni and van Westerhout got their descriptions of these Coptic instruments. Buonanni was a pupil of the German scientist Athanasius Kircher until the latter died in 1680. Kircher as we know was Egyptologist and Coptologist, and had wide knowledge of the Copts. Buonanni might have learned something about the Copts from his teacher; however, the increasing contact between Rome and the Copts since the 16th century provided researchers in the West with much insight into Coptic culture.

INSTRUMENTO DELLI COFTI


Shows a supposedly Coptic priest with finger cymbals used to accompany the chanting of prayers. This type of musical instrument, to my knowledge, is not used anymore in the Coptic Church. Finger cymbals are Turkish musical instruments (called ‘zil’ in Turkish and ‘sajat’ in Arabic), and were used in Ottoman military bands. It appears that their use spread to the public, and the Copts took it also, another example of Islamic culturalisation; and we should welcome that it is now obsolete within the Coptic community. At the present it is used mainly by belly dancers in Egypt. A set of zills consists of four little cymbals made usually of brass or bronze, with one secured to the thumb and one to the middle finger (but in the ‘Instrumento delli Cofti’ the second one is secured to the index finger) of each hand. They are used to produce usually ringing tones.  Despite the disappearance of the finger cymbals, Copts continue to use clash hand cymbals in their religious services.

 

 Figure 1: Instrumento delli Cofti.

 

LEGNO DELLI COFTI


Shows a Copt using a wooden musical instrument. Again, I don’t see this being used anymore in the Coptic Church.

Figure 2: Legno delli Cofti.

 


[ii] Gabinetto Armonico; p. 345; plate XCIV.

[iii] Gabinetto Armonico; p. 397; plate CXI.

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