Category: Isham Memorial Library (page 2 of 15)

Uqbāl mīt Sanah, Aziz El-Shawan

Aziz El-Shawan (1916-1993) was twentieth-century Egypt’s most prominent composer. His collection of manuscript scores, including finished works, sketches and miscellaneous other materials — is held here at Harvard’s Loeb Music Library, and we are excited to announce that the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores is now fully processed, with nearly all of its contents digitized and freely available online.

In this half-body photographic portrait, the composer Aziz El-Shawan is depicted wearing a three-piece dark suit and looking into the distance.

Portrait of Aziz El-Shawan. From the private collection of Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco.

After Egypt’s Soviet Cultural Center was founded in 1952, El-Shawan served as its director for fifteen years, which afforded him opportunities to travel to Moscow, where he befriended and eventually studied with renowned Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian, whose influence on the development of El-Shawan’s composition style was profound.

El-Shawan was a prolific composer of songs, symphonies, symphonic poems, ballets, choral works, cantatas, operas, concertos, suites, and chamber music. He considered Western tonal music to be an “international musical language” and created a new musical idiom in which he wrote for both Western and Egyptian instruments.

His best-known work, Anās El-Wugūd, was the first Egyptian opera with Arabic language and content to reach the stage. It was first performed in Cairo in 1996.

Several people in colorful traditional Egyptian costumes stand on a short flight of steps.

A scene from the 1996 premiere of Anās El-Wugūd at the Cairo Opera House. From the private collection of Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco.

From our collection, here are select pages of his manuscripts of the opera’s full score and vocal score.

Pages 18-19 of the orchestral score of Aziz El-Shawan's opera Anās El-Wugūd, written by the composer himself. Several lines of music spread across a tall sheets of ruled staff paper, with orchestral number 7 at the top of page 19 in red ink.

Anās El-Wugūd (full score). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 5.


Pages 205-206 of the vocal score of Aziz El-Shawan's opera Anās El-Wugūd, copied by the composer himself. Several systems of music spread across a tall sheets of ruled staff paper, with Arabic text underlay and annotations.

Anās El-Wugūd (vocal score). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 7.

Our finding aid for the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores contains information about each piece, along with links to electronic copies of all the pieces we have digitized.

And in honor of May 6th being the 104th anniversary of El-Shawan’s birth date, here from our collection is a birthday song that he composed (with lyrics by Nabilah Qandil), titled Uqbāl mīt Sanah.

The three-page autograph manuscript score of Aziz El-Shawan’s song Uqbāl mīt Sanah (Happy Birthday to You). Apart from the English translation on the title page, the score text is in Arabic.

Uqbāl mīt Sanah (Happy Birthday to You). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 6.

This post was written by Josh Kantor, Assistant Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library. The Aziz El-Shawan Collection is available to view online. Interested researchers may view the rest of the collection by appointment. When the Harvard library buildings re-open, click View in Library in the HOLLIS record for the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores and tell us when you would like to visit.

Last Chance To See (But You Can Listen Anytime): Indigenous Siberian Fieldwork at the Loeb Music Library

The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library’s Fall 2019 exhibition, Tree of Life: Cosmology and Environment in Yakutian Epic, features highlights from the Eduard Alekseyev Fieldwork Collection of the Musical Culture of Yakutia, 1957-1990. On display until Friday, January 24th are photographs and personal effects that document fieldwork in Yakutia (also known as the Sakha Republic) in the second half of the twentieth century by the ethnomusicologist Eduard Alekseyev, who was born there in 1937.

Dressed in a grey suit and holding a microphone on an extension stick, Eduard Alekseyev sits in a crowded auditorium. The date and location of this photograph are unknown.

Undated photograph of Eduard Alekseyev performing fieldwork. Image courtesy National Library of Sakha

Yakutia is located in the circumpolar region of Russia, straddling the Arctic Circle. Its capital of Yakutsk has the reputation for being the coldest city on earth. Dr. Alekseyev’s recordings of musical life in the region capture religious and cultural expressions of Sakha identity/nationhood that have survived Soviet repression, urbanization, and climate change. Also on display are musical instruments crafted in Yakutia and other locally made birchbark and metal handcrafts.

The Eduard Alekseyev Fieldwork Collection has been fully digitized and is available to stream. Among the different musical genres represented in the collection is olonkho, sacred epics sung by a narrator who differentiates between characters by alternating song and recitative. The texts traditionally describe a cosmography of lower, middle, and upper worlds, with the sacred tree, or tree of life, characteristically a larch, bridging across the layers. In the recordings, you will hear the khomus (also known as a mouth harp, jawharp, or Jew’s harp), the diungiur (shaman’s drum), and the bayan (button accordion). The collection also features musical traditions of Crimean Tatars recorded in Kiev, Ukraine. Listen here to Yegor Trofimovich Leveriev sing Siine tuhunan Toiuk (Song about the Siine River) in 1979, one of 689 freely available audio tracks in the collection.

Co-curated by Harvard graduate student Diane Oliva and Music Library staff member Christina Linklater, this exhibition marks the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, bringing special attention to indigenous language collections housed at Harvard Library.

The exhibition also details the process of preserving and digitizing sound recordings. Nineteen-sixties recording technologies relied on acetate and polyester audio tape reels and VHS PAL videocassettes: highly vulnerable for decay and breakage, these magnetic media are typically prioritized for preservation and reformatting. The original cases have been retained, which contain Alekseyev’s own annotations.

This reel case features handwritten notes by Eduard Alekseyev.

Loeb Music Library, AWM RL 16254


The Music Library holds several other audio and audiovisual fieldwork collections that capture musical expression around the world:

Lowell H. Lybarger Collection of Pakistani Music Materials

Stephen Blum Collection of Music from Iranian Khorāsān

Lara Boulton Collection of Byzantine and Orthodox Musics

James A. Rubin Collection of South Indian Classical Music

Marie-Thérèse, Baroness Ullens de Schooten Collection (Iran)

Kay Shelemay, Collection of Ethiopian Music

Richard Kent Wolf Collection of Fieldwork (India)

Virginia Danielson Collection of Field Recordings of Muslim Calls to Prayer

This post was contributed by Diane Oliva, a candidate for the PhD in historical musicology at Harvard University. Diane Oliva is the May-Crane Fellow of the Loeb Music Library for 2019-2020. 

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