ISSN: 1089-747X
Copyright © 1995–2012 by the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 7, no. 1:

Stampe musicali italiane alla cattedrale di Malta: Storia e catalogo della collezione (ACM, Mus. Pr. 1–159). By Franco Bruni.  San Gwann, Malta: Publishers Enterprises Group [distributed by Lucca: LIM Editrice], 1999. [199 pp. ISBN 99909-0-139-2 40,000 L ($19).]

Musica e musicisti alla cattedrale di Malta nei secoli XVI–XVIII. By Franco Bruni.  San Gwann, Malta: Malta University Press, 2001. [340 pp. ISBN 99909-45-20-9 60,000 L ($27).]

Reviewed by Anne Schnoebelen*

1.  Malta

2.  The Catalogue

3.  Evaluation of the Catalogue

4.  The History

5.  Evaluation of the History


1.  Malta

1.1 The island of Malta, situated close to Sicily and not far from the Italian peninsula, has been a crossroads of European/Mediterranean culture since the arrival in 1530 of the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (in Italian the “Cavalieri Gerosolimitani”), more commonly called the Knights Hospitallers. Until 1798, when the Order was expelled by Napoleon, it acculturated this small island, importing personnel from its eight language groups (Italy, France, Provence, England, Aragon, Castile, Auvergne, and Bavaria). Malta’s cosmopolitan heritage is evident in its civil and military architecture, such as the city of Valletta, conceived and begun in 1566 by Jean Parisot de la Valette, the French Grand Master. Cultural cross-currents are manifest as well in its music, the subject of two books reviewed here.
1.2 Only lately has the musical life of this island come under scholarly scrutiny, most recently by Franco Bruni, presently Lecturer in Musicology at the University of Malta. Since 1991 he has been mining the musical treasures of the Mdina Cathedral and other Maltese cappelle musicali. From this study have emerged his diploma thesis from the Scuola Speciale per Archivisti e Bibliotecari dell’Università “La Sapienza” di Roma (1994), and his doctoral thesis in Musicology from the Université de Sorbonne-Paris IV (1999).1 Both publications reviewed here result from these two works. In addition, two closely related articles have appeared in Nuova rivista musicale italiana and Early Music,2 both focusing on seventeenth-century music prints in the Mdina Cathedral.

2.  The Catalogue

2.1 Stampe musicali italiane alla cattedrale di Malta is a detailed catalogue of those music prints conserved in the Museo della Cattedrale di Malta, housed in the eighteenth-century Palazzo del Seminario at Mdina. The 159 prints encompass the dates 1568 (Claudio Merulo’s Messe d’Intavolatura . . .Lib. IV, the only print from the sixteenth century) through 1698. In a brief introduction Bruni states the intent of his work: to study the process by which the cathedral accumulated this collection of Italian music prints, and to illuminate the activities of the cappella musicale. There follows a short history from the earliest, sparsely documented, appearance of music in 1473 through the seventeenth century. Although Gregorian chant (canto fermo) was apparently practiced and taught, and organists hired and organs repaired, there is no evidence of polyphonic music until 1573, when the Cathedral Chapter initiated the formal teaching of canto figurato. Early in the seventeenth century, when archival documents are more numerous and specific, an organized cappella musicale began to take shape. Gradually the organization was stabilized to a group of eight tosixteen musicians: voices, organ, and a few instrumentalists. Archival evidence points to the hiring of extra musicians from outside Malta for special feast days and other occasions, and from other churches in Malta.

2.2 Perhaps the most important discovery, summarized here and expanded in Musica e musicisti alla cattedrale di Malta, is the close
relationship between Malta and the Sicilian maestri and musici employed in the Mdina cathedral. This aspect too has only recently been
discussed in musicological literature. Scholars of Sicilian music have welcomed news of this collection, because it contains several unique prints by composers of the “Sicilian polyphonic school.” Such bonds reinforce the evidence of a cross-cultural climate on the Maltese island.

2.3 Relying on archival sources of the cathedral, Bruni reconstructs the history of the cappella musicale. He describes various groups of documents, among which are minutes of the Chapter meetings and administrative documents such as pay records (mandati). Notes of discussions in the Chapter often reveal significant concern about music, while the mandati provide specific documentation of actual musical practice. Bruni notes the beginning of the music collection, the acquisition of music books brought from Venice in 1622, and from Rome in 1625. A key document is the manuscript inventory compiled between 1709 and 1710, listing 152 printed works and almost 500 musical manuscripts in the collection at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Only seventeen prints exist today in the collection that were not listed in the 1710 inventory. (The inventory contains twenty-one prints no longer in the collection.) The author provides various tables showing the breakdown of genres in the prints. His classification, however, does not allow for the frequent combination of Masses and Psalms (Messe e Salmi) in seventeenth-century prints. Such works, which do appear in this collection, are presumably included in his category of Miscellanee. Perhaps the most interesting discoveries for scholars of sacred music are the twenty-two unici (discussed earlier in his two journal articles): four printed in Venice, six in Rome, eleven in Palermo, and two in Naples. Title pages of several of these are reproduced.

2.4 A brief summary of the entire repertory emphasizes the predominance of the Roman school and its predilection for voices and organ without additional instruments, especially the numerous works of Francesco Foggia and Bonifazio Graziano in the collection. Venetian prints too seem to favor voices and organ basso continuo. The collection thus reflects the prevailing constituency of the cappella musicale. Several Bolognese prints, however, call for strings as well, matching the eventual addition to the organization of stringed instruments—violins and basso di viola. Though Bruni does not speculate on the nature of the latter, it probably was a bass instrument of the violin family. A final section of this chapter summarizes the role of major Italian music publishers in the seventeenth century, as reflected in the Mdina collection.

2.5 Before beginning the catalogue itself, Bruni describes his methodology. Information is organized according to the prescriptions in Cataloghi di fondi musicali italiani, edited by the Società Italiana di Musicologia in collaboration with RISM.  It should be noted that none of these works appears in the printed edition of RISM Series A and B. Oddly enough, Bruni never mentions in either of his books the library siglum now assigned by RISM to this collection: M-MDca, (though it does appear in the Early Music article), choosing rather to use the siglum ACM (Archivio della Cattedrale di Malta.)

2.6 The catalogue is organized according to collocation numbers, Mus. Pr. 1–159. Each item includes a diplomatic transcription of the title page; measurements in centimeters of the part-book consulted; the number of fascicles in each work and their bibliographical construction; a description of decorations and devices used on the title page; the number and qualification of existing parts; mention of the dedicatee; notes concerning any special indications within the part-book; the index or table of contents with the page numbers as they appear in that part-book; and finally, any bibliographic references that may apply. Dedications are not reproduced, with one exception—the dedication in a print by Bonifazio Graziano to one of the Knights of St. John, also reproduced in both of Bruni’s journal articles, and printed here without comment. Letters to the reader or avvertimenti are only summarized in the notes, not reproduced. Manuscript copies of works found in the prints are noted.  Appendices following the catalogue contain contents of the old musical inventory (variously referred to as the 1709 or 1710 inventory); a listing of archival documents of musical interest in the Archivio della Cattedrale di Malta and the Archivio dell’Inquisizione di Malta; and a bibliography in chronological order of publication. Useful indices include a general index of names and qualifications of the nominee (e.g., “publisher” or “dedicatee”), and an index of composers and their works.

3.  Evaluation of the Catalogue

3.1 The collection is well served by this carefully done catalogue. Dr. Bruni’s education and experience as a librarian and his enthusiasm for revealing the musical treasures of the Maltese cathedral make for a well organized, useful, and interesting volume.

4.  The History

4.1 In Musica e musicisti alla cattedrale di Malta nei secoli XVI–XVIII, Bruni presents a history of music at the same cathedral, expanding his scope into the eighteenth century. The microfilming of the cathedral’s archives in the 1970s by St. John’s University (Minnesota) provided a stimulus for an upsurge of interest in Maltese scholarship, from which many articles, essays, and monographs in various fields have emerged in the last two decades. In this volume he brings together such information as bears on the musical activity of the cathedral. Additionally, according to the Introduction, his study explores documents only partially analyzed before, and provides systematic research into new archival sources. These include 584 music manuscripts and 162 music prints, of which those from the seventeenth century are described in the catalogue reviewed above.

4.2 Expanding and reinforcing the discussion of relations between Malta and Sicily in the seventeenth century presented in Stampe musicali . . ., he emphasizes the important relationship with Naples in the eighteenth century. There the Chapter sent local musicians to study in conservatories and recruited stellar musicians, especially castrati, for the cappella musicale. During this period the cappella was also enriched by the addition of wind instruments in the latter decades of the century. After discussing the development of the cappella musicale, he turns to its personnel: maestri, organists, musicians, organ builders and their organs. A description of the music collection is followed by an analysis of its repertory. The final chapter discusses music, liturgy, and special ceremonies particular to Malta, such as formal possession of duties by the Grand Masters. Each chapter is presented in chronological order and is expanded and enriched by the citation of relevant archival documents.

 4.3 Although the cappella musicale developed like many of its counterparts in Sicily and Italy, there were some evidences of its insular isolation, such as the comparatively tardy adoption of a set of rules and regulations for the cappella. Only after some 140 years of existence, in 1760, did the Chapter draw up such a piano di musica. Most unusual is the lack of any kind of examination or competition for the hiring of maestri di cappella, a practice widely carried out in similar organizations. In Malta, maestri were chosen only by their reputations at home or abroad. On the other hand, the repertory reflects an acute awareness of Italian musical styles, beginning with Roman and Venetian polyphony in the seventeenth century and shifting emphasis to solo voices and instruments in the eighteenth, especially under the two most prominent maestri, Benigno Zerafa and Francesco Azopardi.

4.4 Following the historical narrative, Bruni describes the archival documents which form the basis for his work. Necessarily selective, he transcribes 58 of the more than 350 documents of musical interest and also provides a list of frequently used abbreviations. Appendices include an alphabetical roster of salaried employees for each century, followed by a year-by-year inventory of personnel and their salaries from 1494 to 1800. There follow a list of employees at the Knights’ official church, S. Giovanni Battista, which had close personnel contacts with the cathedral in the late eighteenth century; a chronology of documents regarding organs and other keyboard instruments; the 1709/10 inventory noted earlier; a chronological list of music prints in the collection; and a detailed list of documents of musical interest from the archives. The final section lists archival sources and bibliography. Small but fascinating details emerge from the documentary sources, such as the description measuring the length of the orchestra (undoubtedly so a riser could be built to accommodate it for a special occasion.) And among the musical manuscripts, Bruni has identified a unique sacred contrafactum of Monteverdi’s madrigal “Chiome d’oro” made by a local copyist, set to the text “Ecce panis angelorum.”

5.  Evaluation of the History

5.1 Though the information in this book is extremely valuable, its organization presents inevitable problems. The author subjects the reader to frequent repetition of the same materials, albeit from different points of view. For example, in the history of the organization on p. 26 we read of the reference, noted above, to the acquisition of music books from Venice in 1623 (also detailed in Stampe musicali), with the amounts paid, etc. Thirteen pages later the same information is given in discussing the maestri di cappella of that period. This is one of many such instances, making the work something of a chore to read. Bruni’s writing style is straightforward enough, though he frequently indulges in the Italian fondness for using a double negative to arrive at a positive. He also has a tendency to state the obvious in drawing conclusions from archival documents.

5.2 Musica e musicisti contains a fair number of reproductions of prints and manuscripts, some of which are poorly reproduced. Several examples are transcribed by computer software. However, one of these is unclear about what is original and what is editorially added.  In the text, p. 118, Bruni discusses an excerpt from a Magnificat for eight voices, which contains passaggi (ornamented passages) for four voices of the first choir “whose style unequivocably makes one think of the utilization of soloists.” On the opposite page (119), the transcribed example presents the words soli and tutti without editorial brackets, implying they are original indications. If so, why would one need to rely on style analysis to infer the use of soloists? In discussing the seventeenth-century repertory, Bruni identifies a group of works as “a cappella,” emphasizing, as if unusual, the frequent presence of the organ. It should be noted that, in contradistinction to present usage, the term “a cappella” (or “da cappella”) in those decades refers to music written for full choir, without solo voices. The term had nothing to do with the presence of the organ, a given element by that time.

5.3 I found only a few typographical errors, e.g., the misspelled name of Persiceto on p. 300, note 90. More serious are several informational lapses. On p. 299, note 75, Maurizio Cazzati is identified as “maestro di cappella del duomo di Bologna.” Cazzati was maestro at the basilica of San Petronio, not the cathedral (S. Pietro.) In the bibliography, James H. Moore’s seminal study, Vespers at St. Mark’s, is attributed to “Henry J. Moore.” An article of my own which appeared in Early Music, “The Role of the Violin in the Resurgence of the Mass in the 17th Century,” though correctly cited in the text, is mistakenly attributed to Eleanor McCrickard in the bibliography. And several works cited in footnotes which would be of interest to musicologists do not appear in the bibliography. As one last criticism, I note that although Bruni signals the invaluable microfilming of the cathedral’s archives by St. John’s University (and includes the website URL of the Malta Study Center there), he relegates to a footnote the fact that this film collection includes not only archival materials but the entire collection of music manuscripts and prints. This is important information to scholars of sacred music, and should have been more clearly emphasized.

5.4 This book could have used more musicological and editorial oversight. However, musicologists interested in sacred music will be grateful for these two volumes, taken together. Franco Bruni and his Maltese publishers have presented a valuable panorama of surprising musical activity in this small island during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


*Anne Schnoebelen ( is the Joseph and Ida Kirkland Mullen Professor of Music at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University. Her publications include Padre Martini’s Collection of Letters in the Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale in Bologna, Solo Motets from the Seventeenth Century, and ten volumes of Masses in the series Seventeenth-Century Italian Sacred Music, of which she is General Editor.
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1. “Storia e catalogo della collezione delle stampe musicali della Cattedrale di Malta (Mus. pr. 1–159).” Tesi di Diploma di Bibliotecario, Scuola Speciale per Archivisti e Bibliotecari, Università “La Sapienza” di Roma, 1994. “La cappella musicale della Cattedrale di Malta nel diciasettesimo e diciottesimo secolo.” Thèse de Doctorat, U.F.R. Musique et Musicologie, Université de Sorbonne-Paris IV, 1998.

2. “Edizioni rare e unica del Seicento nella Cattedrale di Malta,” Nuova rivista musicale italiana 3 (1995): 505–27. “17th-century Music Prints at Mdina Cathedral, Malta,” Early Music 22/3 (1999): 467–9. The latter is a condensation and translation of the former. Outside the scope of this journal, the author has also published Musica sacra a Malta: Le cappelle della Cattedrale di San Paolo e della Concattedrale di San Giovanni Battista nel XIX secolo. Marsa (Malta): Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG), 1993.

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