Sunday, October 22, 2006:
Mro John Galea's article ruffles feathers
Today’s The Sunday Times carries three letters in response to a reaction to an article on Giuseppe Giardini Vella’s famous hymn-cantata to St George. Mro John Galea’s scholarly article had annoyed a correspondent, Mr Joseph Apap, who rushed to print and to banish any thought that a 1913 hymn-cantata to Santa Marija was not “the first composition of this sort for the Maltese Islands”. Actually it was not.
Writing in The Sunday Times of October 15, 2006, Mr Apap stated that Mro Galea was wrong to say that Giuseppe Giardini Vella’s “hymn-cantata became a model for similar compositions for all the Gozitan festas” Mr Apap said that this “was only composed in 1930, while Vincenzo Carabott had already composed a hymn-cantata for Santa Marija in Gozo in 1913”. Mr Apap asserted that it was in fact the cantata to Santa Marija “the first composition of this sort for the Maltese Islands” going on to say that “later|” another one was composed by Orlando Crescimanno.
Mro John Galea’s letter
Today Mro Galea pays on the nail and affirms that he stands – to quote - “squarely by what I have stated, namely, that the Inno a San Giorgio became a model for similar compositions for all Gozitan festas.” Mro Galea, who is a university lecturer, musical director of the King’s Own Band of Valletta and director of the Chorus Urbanus, continued that “Carabott’s and Crescimanno’s compositions in honour of the Virgin Mary composed in 1897 and 1913 respectively were attempts at emulating the hymn Su Garzoni, composed in 1894 by the eminent Gozitan composer Mgr Giuseppe Farrugia, to celebrate the arrival in Gozo of Vincenzo Cremona’s statue of St George.”
But it is Fr George Frendo who conclusively nips Mr Apap’s budding myth with his brief, factual and pointed letter. Fr Frendo, whose musical credentials in local church music are unparalleled, is assistant maestro di cappella of St George’s basilica and director of the Laudate Pueri Choir. In 1994 Fr Frendo had worked in collaboration with Mro John Galea to commemorate the first century since the composition of the first hymn-cantata in 1894. That puts the cantata in honour of St George some twenty years before Mr Apap’s alleged “first”.
Fr George Frendo’s letter
Again in today’s The Sunday Times, Fr Frendo writes: “It is pertinent to point out that in Gozo, Mgr Giuseppe Farrugia (1852-1925), by 1913 had already composed two hymn-cantatas in honour of St George. The first was composed in 1894 to welcome the new papier-mâché statue of St George by prominent Maltese artist Vincenzo Cremona. This hymn-cantata entitled Su, garzoni all’invitto campione was performed for the first time by the La Stella Band and ATB choir on the statue’s triumphant entrance in the main square of Victoria.
The other hymn-cantata Inno a San Giorgio Martire, which bears the title Spento è il drago, for band and ATB choir, was composed in 1901. In both cases, Mgr Farrugia also wrote the lyrics. These hymn-cantatas are housed at the La Stella Band archives.
“In July 1994 both were performed during a special concert held on St George’s Square, with the participation of the Chorus Urbanus, the Laudate Pueri Choir, and the La Stella Band, under the direction of Professor Mro Joseph Vella.
“It is also pertinent to point out that with regard to the Mro Giuseppe Giardini Vella’s with the participation of the Chorus Urbanus, the Laudate Pueri Choir, and the La Stella Band, under the direction of Professor Mro Joseph Vella.
“It is also pertinent to point out that with regard to the Mro Giuseppe Giardini Vella’s 1930 hymn-cantata Al Glorioso Martire, lyrics by Professor Luigi Billion, this hymn started a tradition in Gozo which subsequently was taken up by all the other parishes. It was the first hymn-cantata to be played as the titular statue of St George was carried out at the start of the pontifical procession on the festa day. This is still one of the high points of the festa structure in Gozo.”
Fr George Mercieca’s letter
Another letter appears in the same paper today, under the signature of Fr George Mercieca, spiritual director of the Leone Philharmonic Society and a well-known correspondent with local papers.
Fr Mercieca writes to give more information on some points raised by Mr Apap in his letter and to give information about other hymn-cantata performances in Gozo.
Mro John Galea's October 1 contribution to The Sunday Times is not his first on Giuseppe Giardini Vella's hymn-cantata in honour of St George. His contributions on the subject manifest his scholarship and his access to sources of information that have known the great 'Gozitan' Giuseppe Giardini Vella in his lifetime. Giardini Vella, born in 1895, died in 1973.