Gamal Abdel-Rahim

Family Background

   Gamal Abdel-Rahim, one of Egypt's most prominent composers, was born in Cairo to a musical family. His father played several traditional instruments. The talented boy began from an early age to teach himself to play piano.

Study in Germany

   From 1940 to 1944, he joined the Cairo University to study history, where he had an opportunity to study music with European local teachers (Hickmann / Tiegerman).
After graduation a government scholarship enabled him to fulfill his dream of studying music in (W.) Germany. He first studied musicology, with Georgiadis at the Heidelberg University. From 1951 to 1957 he studied composition at the Music Academy of Freiburg  im Briesgau with Harald Genzmer, and Piano with E. Picht-Axenfeld thus being the first Egyptian to study composition academically in Europe.

Back Home 
   After returning home, he held teaching positions at the new Cairo Conservatoire, until he became professor in 1971 and founded the first composition department, in the Arab world, in which composition was taught academically, with a special emphasis on traditional modes (“maqamat”). 

 Many young Egyptian and Arab composers studied with him in that department which he chaired until 1986. His students are now leading figures in the musical life. In 1959, he married his college and close friend, pianist and musicologist Prof. Dr. Samha El-Kholy (1925-2006), former head of the Cairo Conservatoire (1972-1981), then president of the Egyptian Academy of Arts (1982-1985).

Musical Style

   Besides teaching, he started his creative work as composer, beginning a long search for an individual idiom that reconciles the essence of traditional music, with contemporary western techniques. He achieved in his music a clear synthesis of Arab / Egyptian folk and traditional music with techniques of 20th century western music.     
 The personal style that Gamal Abdel-Rahim evolved for himself is based on traditional modal melodies, with their characteristic intervals e.g. the augmented second (hijaz) and diminished fourth (saba) etc. His harmonic / contrapuntal idiom is largely based on these same intervals, which gives it a special contemporary flavor. He favors polyphonic textures, even in his works in Arab microtonal modes.
   His rhythms show great flexibility and vitality: he uses mainly irregular complex rhythmic modes of Arab music, and the variable meters of western music of the 20th century.
 His orchestral colouring has a specifically Egyptian character by his novel use of folk percussion instruments e.g. “bandeer, mazhar, galagil”, and modern western instruments, e.g. vibraphone and marimba etc. (in the ballets)

Polyphony in Microtonal Modes

   Among his most significant contributions to Egyptian new music are his polyphonic works in modes containing Arab microtonal modes with 3/4 tones : Rast, Bayati and Saba etc. a style that he evolved since the seventies, he created chamber works in this style (especially for strings), that have achieved a remarkable success abroad, and opened up a new path for Egyptian music.

Aesthetic world

  His aesthetic world is poetic, contemplative and nostalgic, yet full of vitality. A German critic H.H. Stuckenschmidt - saw in it “a synthesis of Eastern spirit and Western techniques, that goes a step further than that of Bartok “( a broadcast in Rias Radio, Berlin, 1963)


   Gamal Abdel-Rahim has written large scale orchestral works, choral works (a cappella and with orchestra), chamber music for various instruments, music for children, incidental music, ballets and art songs (lieder) etc..


    He was awarded several medals, honors and prizes, including the State Encouragement Prize for composition 1973, and the Gamal Abdel- Nasser Prize etc..

Publications and Recordings

 His music has been performed in many European countries, U.S.A., Russia and the Middle East. Most of his works are recorded on CDs and for radio and TV. His works are published in Europe and U.S.A. See New Grove's Dictionary, 1980 and the expanded entry in 2000 edition (printed and electronic).
   During a visit to his daughter’s family in Frankfurt in July 1988, he suffered a stroke and died 23 November 1988. He is buried in Cairo. 

The Binational “Fulbright Commission” in Cairo published a ‘Festschrift’ for Gamal Abdel-Rahim “, 1993 (in English), an Arabic expanded version 
was published by the Supreme Council for Culture, Cairo 2001
  1996 a documentary film was produced about him directed by K. 
 His statue occupies a prominent place at the Cairo Opera House.