Sinfonija Beltija / A Valletta Symphony (2016) marks the culmination of years of research into Valletta, its communities, and their narratives. The work brings together a wide range of elements from festas to football, and from history to contemporary attitudes. It is the result of years of fieldwork, interviews, and direct involvement with the Valletta community. The libretto, compiled by the composer, draws upon a wide variety of sources, from literary works, to epigraphs, popular verse, ordinary conversation, and original text. The work is scored for 6 solo voices and full orchestra. Each of the six voices is a fully fledged character that narrates his or her story as they experience the city in all its forms.
Riħ I / Wind I: Żiffa ħelwa tar-Rebbiegħa minn fuq il-baħar mat-tbexbix / An early morning Spring sea breeze
I: Il-Profezija / The Prophecy
Riħ II / Wind II: Riħ sħun min-Nofsinhar ġej minn fuq l-art f’nofsinhar / A hot southerly wind coming from landward side at noon
IIa: Festa / Feast
IIb: Karnival / Carnival
Riħ III / Wind III: Maltempata qalila tal-Ħarifa / A violent Autumn storm
III: Ħrafa Beltija / A Valletta fairytale
Riħ IV / Wind IV: Riħ kiesaħ xitwi mal-għabex / A cold winter wind at dusk
IV: Futbol / Football
Riħ V / Wind V: Żiffa ħelwa fuq il-Port mat-tbexbix / A sweet breeze over the Grand Harbour at dawn
V: Melita Renascens / Malta Reborn
The Riħ / Wind sections are scored for a small chamber orchestra from within the orchestra and serve as preludes to the subsequent movements. They represent the timelessness of Nature – a reminder that all human endeavour is ultimately at the mercy of greater and more powerful elements. They follow a cyclical path from dawn till dusk, and from Spring all through Winter.
The work opens with the Il-Profezija / The Prophecy – a movement that incorporates two poems written in 1565, a year before the city was founded and the year of the fateful Great Siege. The first is O Melita Infelix, a lament written by Luca Darmena during the Siege itself, and the other one is Gregorio Xerri’s Inno alla Vittoria, written as a victory ode. Tucked in the middle is the prophecy attributed to the 14th century Blessed Corrado of Piacenza: ‘Xagħret Mewwija jiġi żmien li kull xiber jiswa mija’ (On Xagħret Mewwija – the area where Valletta was built – there will come a time when every acre will be worth a hundred times its value).
The second movement, Festa / Feast, is made up of two parts, and it celebrates the city’s rituals. The first is the festa – and the three major festas of Saint Dominic, Saint Paul, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel are brought together as each extols their virtues. The movement quotes popular marches, chants, prayers, and even everyday conversation. This is followed by Karnival / Carnival which takes the literary form of the Qarċilla – a form of Carnival street theatre that has been revived in recent times. The Qarċilla is a mock nuptial contract which became an occasion for social satire, not to mention crude humour. The form is reimagined as a marriage between two men, one from St Dominic’s parish and the other from St Paul’s, as they set aside their differences and are united in matrimony – a temporary one that will end when Carnival finished.
The third movement, Ħrafa Beltija / A Valletta Fairytale looks at an unusual aspect of the city: that of the fantastical. The movement is a dramatic rendering of the tale of It-Tmien Wieħed Jeħles lil Bint is-Sultan mid-Dragun Draganti (The Eighth Son Rescues the Sultan’s Daughter from the Dragon Draganti). – a tale collected in 1902 from Il-Mandraġġ (an area to the West of Valletta) by Manwel Magri SJ. The tale follows the journey of a young and proud princess who is duped into marriage by Draganti, a therianthropic prince who transforms into a dragon, and locks her up in his underground kingdom. A group of seven brothers attempt an unsuccessful rescue and end up enslaved and transformed into beasts of burden. They are all finally rescued by Pietru Lagrimanti the eight brother who is born from his mother’s tears of grief. The mixture of exotic lands and underground lairs resonate particularly strongly with Valletta’s cosmopolitan outlook and underground tunnel network.
One cannot talk about Valletta without mentioning Futbol / Football. The fourth movement is in effect a football game as experienced from the side of the Valletta supporters. It is based on a real match against Birkirkara played on 26th April 2014 – a match that proved to be a season decider in favour of Valletta. Just like the Festa / Feast movement, the music incorporates football chants and songs, as well as ordinary conversation recorded at football matches. The symphony ends with Melita Renascens / Malta Reborn. The text simply consists of six inscriptions that were included on special coins minted in 1566 to commemorate the founding of the city.
To date the symphony has not yet been premiered but the Riħ / Wind interludes were recorded in January 2020 by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Armenian conductor Mro Sergey Smbatyan. The recording will be released as part of a compilation of contemporary Maltese music later in 2020