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Music to Gozitan ears

A particular group of renowned personalities who made a name for themselves in the history of our islands have a common denominator: they hail from the island of Gozo. Among these I would like to mention Ġorġ Pisani, Mary Meylak, Ninu Cremona, Ġużè Aquilina and Anton Buttigieg.

There are, of course, others. The ones I mentioned are mainly literary figures but literature is only one of the arts. As to music, the most renowned Gozitan so far is certainly Joseph Vella, composer of the Innu lil Għawdex but also a much sought after composer, conductor and professor of music whose musical compositions have been interpreted in so many places not only in Europe but even beyond.

Joseph Vella – A Life for Music is an attempt for an intensive biographical sketch of Gozo’s most accomplished musician. Ever the humble man who would always be surrounded by friends and admirers wherever he happens to be, Vella, who hailed from Victoria, was a larger-than-life figure in the history of Malta and Gozo’s musical heritage.

His unexpected death less than 24 hours after the donation of his musical archive to Gozo’s Il-Ħaġar Museum and the Fondazzjoni Belt Victoria not only rendered his name an immortal one but also transformed him into a semi-divine figure within the legendary aura that surrounds the semi-mythical island of Gozo.

The niche he carved for himself as he passed from glory to glory and set his name on the international musical stage would certainly have given him royal status had he been an English composer or a British citizen.

Putting aside praise and exaltation, the 40-page publication the Fondazzjoni has given us certainly fills a much-felt void. So far, we had no decent publication that focuses entirely on Is-Surmast Vella, as we all referred to him, with the exception of the recent Joseph Vella Bondin’s superb book The Great Maltese Composers. Historical Contexts, Life and Works.

Joseph Vella – A Life for Music is a collection of articles that focus on the late composer’s personality from different perspectives. As is expected, the foreword to the book is by erudite theologian and culture promoter Mgr Joseph Farrugia who, besides having served as parish priest of Victoria’s central parish from 1998 to 2017, is also the founder of Fondazzjoni Belt Victoria and its first and only curator.

The Frendo family of Victoria is synonymous with the promotion of the queen of the arts in Gozo and beyond and Fr George J. Frendo’s ‘biography’ of Vella is all-inclusive and splendidly readable. No extensive biography of Vella will be written which would dare not refer to Frendo’s biographical sketch and still call itself a decent biography.

What follows is Maria Frendo’s focus on Vella’s musical archive; the move for the donation must have been divinely inspired considering the fact that the much-loved maestro passed away less than 24 hours after the event.

The ‘Works by Genre’ and ‘Discography’ at the end of the book make the publication a complete celebration of Vella’s life and achievement.

Vella Bondin’s tribute makes for interesting reading, especially considering he has known the maestro for a very long time.

May this publication be a source of inspiration for young writers and researchers who might be interested in writing a detailed biography of the much-loved Is-Surmast Vella.

His death has robbed Gozo of one of his noblest sons, a man of erudite knowledge in the musical field, an intellectual of singular proportions, a man of all seasons.

Material on new books can be sent to ray.bugeja@timesofmalta.com and a copy of the publication sent by mail or delivered to the office of the Times of Malta in Mrieħel. Book reviews will be carried at the discretion of this newspaper, in which case two copies of the publication would need to be submitted.

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