Maltese Sacred Music of the 18th Century (World Premiere Recordings)


  • Artist(s): Diego Cannizzaro, Ensemble Auditorium Pacis
  • Composer(s): Francesco Azopardi, Luigi Grech, Michel Angelo Falusi, Michelangelo Vella
  • EAN Code: 7.46160915036
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental, Vocal
  • Instrumentation: Organ, SATB
  • Period: Baroque, Classical
  • Publication year: 2022
SKU: C00669 Category:

Additional information




, , ,

EAN Code









Publication year


The island of Malta represents a unicum for a number of reasons. Its small size does not downplay the importance it had in terms of both history and geography. Its position, to the south of Italy and at the very heart of the Mediterranean Sea, made it a strategical reference point, as well as the terrain where numerous cultures, religions, nationalities and languages could, and did, meet.
Malta’s dominators included, in the centuries, such cultures as those of the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins and Aragonese. In 1530, the island came into the possession of the Knights of the Order of St. John, upon a donation made to them by King Charles V of Spain. The Knights were an Order of noblemen, gathering members from all the major houses of the European aristocracy; therefore, members of the socio-cultural elite of the whole continent began to flow to the island, bringing with them their language and culture. These included Italian, French, Auvergne, Provençal, Aragonese, Castilian, Portuguese, English and Bavarian Knights, and their encounter in Malta turned the island into a microcosm. Along with them, the island was home to a substantial Muslim minority, from both today’s Turkey and the Arab peninsula, but also to a small, though significant, Jewish community.
By the early Baroque era, the island was flourishing with art and culture. Some of the major Italian creators of visual art – such as Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio or Mattia Preti – were active there, and the musical culture was also thriving. This was partly due to the positive effects of competition between the chapel of the Mdina Cathedral and that of the Conventual church of the Knights in Valletta, where both sides tried to surpass each other in terms of musical excellency and quality.
The Cathedral archives have provided an enormous wealth of information, works, and documents to musicologists and musicians, thanks to the initiatives of the Cathedral Chapter and of the Cathedral Museum Committee, leading to extensive studies which unearthed a great abundance of primary sources. This treasure is largely due to the liveliness of the chapel, which worked not only as a musical ensemble, but also as a kind of conservatory, an educational establishment for the formation of young musicians. The chapel’s golden age coincides with the Baroque and Classical era, but also in the nineteenth century the quality of the music performed there was by no means irrelevant.
This enormous repertoire has been thoroughly studied in the past decades, thanks to the efforts of Monsignor John Azzopardi and Matteo Sansone, as well as of musicologist Richard Divall, and it parallels the other fundamental sources of information found at the Archives of the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, and at the Cospicua Collegiate Archives. These archival sources include some absolute gems, such as antiphonaries from the 12th/13th centuries, or works by Giacomo Carissimi which are not elsewhere documented, but also a plethora of works by local composers who deserve specific studies and appreciation.
The Cathedral had been endowed with an organ already in the fifteenth century, and had a rich tradition of both plainchant and polyphony. Its chapel became a true institution in the early Baroque era, at times employing the talents and expertise of musicians coming from Sicily, from the Italian Peninsula, and probably also from France. Encouraged by the competition with the new musical and liturgical centre in Valletta (consecrated in 1578), the Cathedral chapel invested generously in music, acquiring scores, instruments, and human resources in the constant effort to achieve repute.
The repertoire in this Da Vinci Classics album offers therefore a valuable insight into the musical culture of the island and into its protagonists. For instance, another centre whence music was disseminated was the Minor Conventual Franciscan Friary at the Franciscan University of Valletta. Among the numerous great musicians who dedicated their lives to Christ as Franciscan Friars was Michel Angelo Falusi (1645-1733), frequently indicated as “Padre Maestro”, thus pointing out his double allegiance – to the Church and to music. Falusi’s career was decidedly high-profile. He had been chapel master at one of the great Roman churches, that of the Holy Apostles (SS. Apostoli); later (1686), he joined the Valletta convent, where he would remain for two decades. His figure brilliantly joins the theological with the musical aspect: he was an appreciated composer, but also a Doctor of Theology. In Rome, he had issued several of his works within the larger context of miscellaneous publications: for instance, one of his Psalms appeared in an anthology by Caifabri, Salmi Vespertini a 4 voci (Rome, Mascardi, 1683), and he also issued some Responsories for the Holy Week (Responsoria Hebdomadis Sanctae, Rome, Mascardi, 1684).
His Roman experience allowed him to bring the expertise and knowledge of the latest musical fashion from the Eternal City to the Mediterranean island; he was almost a living bridge connecting Rome with Malta. One proof of the connections he had had in Rome is the dedication to him of Bonifazio Graziani’s Fifth Book of Motets for solo voice (Rome, 1684). His stay in the island, therefore, represented a unique opportunity for his numerous students to become acquainted with the newest musical styles, as they were lived and experienced in the capital city of Western Christendom. The manuscript for his Missa Brevis was found in Bologna, in the holdings of the Congregazione dell’Oratorio – the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri, who took considerable pains in order to disseminate the Gospel through music.
The influences coming from the Continent, along with some fascinatingly local traits, are evident also in the anonymous Ave Regina Coelorum, which bears witness to the widespread Marian devotion in the island. In this case, the manuscript comes directly from the archives of the Cathedral of Mdina, and the musical language reveals its presumed composition years, dating from the seventeenth century.
We have then a three-part motet by Michelangelo Vella (1715-1792), whose comparatively long life embraced almost the whole of the eighteenth century. This motet was composed on the occasion of a festival of the Virgin Mary, invoked as “Our Lady of the Lily” (Nostra Avocata del Gillio) every year on May 14th. In this case, the feast-day was the one of 1761; even today, the devotion to the Madonna tal-Gilju is deeply felt, for instance in Mqabba, a village to the south of the island.
Michelangelo Vella was one of the most important Malta-born composers, and perhaps the first who engaged with large-scale musical works. He is remembered for several Cantatas (including Astrea e Pallade [1740], La Virtù trionfante [1741], La Giustizia di Nettuno e la Religions Gerosolimitana [1746]). He also authored chamber music, among which six Trios for two violins and bass, six Quartets for the archaic ensemble constituted by three violins and bass, as well as other examples of sacred music. Though he can justly be considered as a Maltese glory, his education took place on the Continent, where he is believed to have received his musical training at one of the Neapolitan Conservatories. In turn, he was generous in giving back the expertise he had received and built; to him we owe the first musical training of some of the greatest Maltese musicians, including Francesco Azopardi. Considering that Azopardi completed his musical training at the Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio in Naples, and that in turn Azopardi would send some of his own students there, it is not entirely far-fetched to imagine that Azopardi might have been addressed there by his teacher, and that therefore Vella could also have studied at Sant’Onofrio.
The following works recorded here come from a later era, since they are dated 1826. Their composer is Luigi Grech. Whilst nothing is known about a composer with this precise name, the tentative inference may be made that he was the same person as Luigi Grech Grandolini (1805-1873). This would make for a very precocious publication, since the composer was in his early twenties in 1826; yet, in that same year he also got married (he would have five children), so it is possible that his human and artistic personality was already mature by then. From the same year dates a Gloria in excelsis Deo, which would be followed by many more sacred works, mainly composed for his forty-year-long service at the Co-Cathedral. For more than thirty-five years (November 1838 to February 1872), in fact, he was the organist of the Co-Cathedral of St. John, following Raffaele Pepe and preceding Dr Giuseppe Vella. The unanimous appreciation and esteem enjoyed by Grech during his lifetime are testified by contemporaneous reviews, such as those for the music he wrote for the Solemn Vespers of Corpus Christi 1844 in Rabat.
Similar success was enjoyed by Francesco Azopardi, who is perhaps the best known among the Maltese composers. As has been briefly hinted earlier, he studied under Michelangelo Vella and then completed his education at Sant’Onofrio in Naples; possibly, he received musical mentoring also from Niccolò Piccinni. At first, Azopardi’s professional career took place in Naples, but later he went back to his homeland and became the organist at the Cathedral of St. Paul, under the chapel master B. Zerafa. He is best remembered for an oratorio, to lyrics by Metastasio, called La Passione di Cristo, premiered by the composer at the Manoel Theatre in La Valletta (1802). Along with composing and playing, Azopardi also took an interest in pedagogy, writing a treatise (Il musico pratico) which obtained great success throughout Europe, also in various translations. At Zerafa’s death (1804), Azopardi took the post of chapel master in the Cathedral, while performing as a chapel master also at the Co-Cathedral of Valletta. The esteem in which he was held is testified by his burial place, in the Cathedral, in the company of the high clergy of the island.
Together, these composers and their works offer us a fascinating perspective on a whole soundscape, that of Malta in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, with the rites, worships, and the beautiful music accompanying them: a true time-travel, capable of revealing a lost, but enchanting, musical world.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022


Diego Cannizzaro graduate in the year 1992 the degree in Italian's Literature in the University of Palermo (Italy), he also graduate the degree of Piano in the Conservatorium "Vincenzo Bellini" of Palermo and the degree of Organ and Organistic Composition in the Conservatorium "Francesco Morlacchi" of Perugia (Italy); successively study organ and harpsicord in Academy of Pistoia, North Germany Organ Academy (Bremen) and the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Finally, he graduate the Ph D. in “History and analysis of the musical cultures” in the University “La Sapienza”, Rome with a dissertation about “The music for organ and harpsichord in the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in the XVI and XVII centuries”.
Honorary inspector of historicals organs in Sicily, organ teacher in the conservatory of Caltanissetta, organist in Cefalù,s Cathedral and artistic director of “In tempore organi” festival (historical organs in Sicily), Diego Cannizzaro is invited teacher in conservatory of Madrid, conservatory of St. Petersburg (Russian) and others . Diego Cannizzaro participated to importants organ’s internationals festivals in all Europe and U.S.A. He recorded many compact-disc, a monographs about the organ works of Filippo Capocci (XIX century), Giovanni Salvatore (XVII century), Pietro Vinci (XVI) in first mondial recording, the integral recording of Pietro Alessandro Yon organ music and, as organist and conductor, the integral of the Church Sonatas of W. A. Mozart.

Ensemble Auditorium Pacis
Federica Neglia, Soprano
Elisabetta Impallaria, Alto
Fabrizio Pollicino, Tenor
Davide Sottile, Basso


Francesco Azopardi [Azzopardi]
(b Rabat, 5 May 1748; d Rabat, 6 Feb 1809). Maltese composer, organist and theorist. After early studies with Michel'Angelo Vella, he entered the Conservatorio di S Onofrio a Capuana on 15 Oct 1763 as a convittore to study under Carlo Contumacci and the German Joseph Doll. He left in 1767 but stayed on as maestro di cappella in Naples and continued to study with Niccolò Piccinni, who is said to have esteemed him greatly. In summer 1774, following an advantageous offer from Mdina Cathedral, he returned permanently to Malta as Cathedral organist with the right to succeed the then maestro di cappella, Benigno Zerafa. His growing interest in pedagogy resulted in Il musico prattico on the art of the counterpoint, published in the form of French translations and introduced as a textbook in Paris by A.-E.-M. Grétry: Cherubini based the 19th chapter of his treatise Cours de contrepoint (1835) on its analysis of imitation. His students included the composers P.P. Bugeja, Nicolò Isouard and Giuseppe Burlon (1772–1856). Zerafa's failing health led to Azopardi's appointment in 1785 as substitute maestro, with an increased salary; he inherited the full title in March 1804.

Falusi, Michele Angelo
(b Rome; fl 1683–4). Italian composer. He was a Minorite and a doctor of theology. In 1683–4 he was maestro di cappella of the church of the SS Apostoli, Rome. He published Responsoria Hebdomadis Sanctae, for four voices and organ, op.1 (Rome, 1684), and a motet for four voices and continuo appears in an anthology (RISM 16831).

Vella, Michel’Angelo [Michaele Angelo]
(b Senglea, Malta, 7 Nov 1710; d Cospicua, Malta, 25 Dec 1792). Maltese composer and teacher. From boyhood, he was intended for the Catholic priesthood. On 14 July 1730 he left Malta for Naples to study at the Conservatorio Pietà dei Turchini with the primo maestro Nicola Fago, the secondo maestro Andrea Basso, and after 1734 also with Leonardo Leo. He returned to Malta in early 1738, where he undertook the duties of a priest and established himself as a maestro di musica. The first truly influential Maltese teacher, he reformed music education, fighting indifference and technical incompetence, and bringing it into line with developments in Naples. His students included Salvatore Magrin, Giuseppe Burlon, Antonio Freri, Francesco Azopardi and Nicolò Isouard. As an organist and maestro di cappella he accepted numerous temporary commissions in the most important Maltese churches before obtaining permanent employment in 1762 at the parish church of Cospicua. His extant works reveal contrapuntal craftsmanship, and his concern with the place of plainchant in an era of rapid musical innovation is evident in his sacred works. In the introit Salve sancta parens, for example, the tight, fugally-treated three-subject antiphon is followed by the psalm verse and Gloria in the second tone. The antiphon is then repeated. Fétis erroneously gives Vella’s name as P. de Vella.