Mill-Qamar sal-Qabar / From the Moon to the Grave (2013) is a song cycle for soprano and piano written by Alex Vella Gregory, which brings together different Maltese literary texts from the Arab Period till the Second World War. This works consists of eighth songs by different authors, some of which are not well known. The poems are:
1. It-Talba ta’ Majmuna (Majmuna’s Prayer) – Anon
2. Kantilena – Pietru Caxaro
3. Mejju Ġie bil-Ward u Żahar (May has come with blooms and flowers)- Ġan Franġisk Bonamico
4. Tlett Għanjiet bil-Malti (Three Maltese Songs) – Gioacchino Navarro
5. Binti Peppa Isma’ Minni (Peppa my child, listen to what I have to say)- Anon
6. Għanjiet (kwartini varji) (Songs various quatrains)— Anon (Bidu tas-Seklu 20)
7. Ma rridux Tedeski (We want no Huns!) – Ġuże Muscat Azzopardi
8. X’għandu jaħseb kulħadd (What everyone should think) – Manwel Dimech
The title, Mill-Qamar sal-Qabar reflects the two important historical events that frame these poems. The Moon is a symbol of Islamic culture, which opens this cycle, whilst the grave refers to the Second World War which cause both physical and psychological deaths in Maltese culture. The fact that the first poem is also an epitaph, brings the whole work to a full circle.
The works were chosen not necessarily for their literary value, but for their musicality and historical relevance. The prayer of Majmuna is in itself a celebrated archaeological treasure and also evidence of a refined arabic culture. This is the only work which is presented in translation (by Sir Temi Żammit) as it was originally written in Arabic.
The famous Kantilena is not only the oldest surviving Maltese text but also a work of great sophistication. On the other hand, Mejju Ġie nil-Ward u Żahar pays lip-service to the Knights of Malta, whereas Tlett Għanjiet bil-Malti shows influences of the Enlightenment.
Poems like Binti Peppa isma’ minni and Għanjiet are of a more popular origin, but they do betray an increase in national consciousness that would eventually lead to Independence. This movement would eventually turn political and by the early 20th century poets like Ġuże Muscat Azzopardi (Tedeski) are blatantly political.
The work ends with a poem by the controversial writer Manwel Dimech. Unlike a lot of Dimech’s poetry, this poem is not patriotic or political at all. Instead it is a short personal reflection on the duty of every individual to seek learning to better himself. His activism would lead him into trouble with the authorities and he would die in exile in Alexandria shortly before the Second World War.
Mill-Qamar sal-Qabar was premiered by Miriam Cauchi with Alex Vella Gregory at the piano on the 27th February 2015 at the Church of St Augustine in Valletta. ‘Kantilena’ and ‘Mejju ġie bil-Ward u Żahar’ have also been recorded by Miriam Cauchi on the CD ‘Riflessi’, a collection of Maltese Art Songs.