Biographies Ilona Borsai (1925-1982)

Image: Music and Dancing (18th dynasty)
Music and Dancing, 18th Dynasty. Copied from a mural in the Tomb of Nakht in Thebes by Lancelot Crane. From The Tomb of Nakht at Thebes by Norman de Garis Davies, with plates in color by L. Crane, Norman de G. Davies, and F.S. Unwin of the Egyptian Expedition and Nina de Garis Davies. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1917, frontispiece. General Collections, Library of Congress. Call number: DT73.T3D3 Folio

After graduating from the University of Kolozsvar, in her native city of Cluj, Rumania, qualified to teach Greek and French languages, Ilona Borsai attended the Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, where she received the Diploma of Music Education. Completing further studies in the field of musicology under Bence Szalolcsi, she began to work in research in folk music under the direction of Zoltán Kodály at the Academy of Science. Having retired in 1978, she died in Budapest on July 8, 1982.

Her research led into musicological studies of Egyptian music, pharaonic, folk and Coptic. During three visits to Egypt, she made many recordings of folk and Coptic music in 1967-1968 to collect recordings for transcriptions and analyses, in 1969 to attend the Second Conference of Arab Music where she presented a paper, and in 1970 to follow up on the studies and recordings of Coptic music. As a result of these visits she produced a number of transcriptions in collaboration with Margit Tóth and publications describing the results of her research (see bibliography).[1]

She was a member of the Coptic Archaeological Society, the Hungarian Ethnolographical Society, the Association of Hungarian Musicians, the Hungarian Society of Studies of Antiquities, the International Association of Hungarian Studies, the Hungarian Kodály Society, and the International Association of Coptic Studies.

Her pioneering research into the details of the historical, analytical, and liturgical significance of Coptic music opened the field of Coptic musicology and defined its direction. Her contribution has had an impact not only on Coptic studies but also on all research concerning music whose historical roots have been transmitted through the centuries by oral tradition.

Reprinted from The Coptic Encyclopedia. Edited by AzizS. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991, vol. 6, p. 1741.

From Atiya. Coptic Encyclopedia 8 Volumes, OE. © 1991 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, Inc. Reproduced by permission External link: Contact: Cengage Learning Global Rights and Permissions, 10 Davis Drive, Belmont, California 94002 USA.E-mail: Phone: 800-730-2214 or 650-413-7456. Fax: 800-730-2215 or 650-595-4603.


  1. Martha Roy is referring to the Bibliography published in The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991, vol. 6, pp. 1744-1747. [back to biography]