Ġgantija II Performance Premiere (Valletta)
The premier of Ggantija II, an electro-acoustic musical work was composed by Dr Mariella Cassar Cordina, co-founder of the Ars Vitae Ensemble, the group leading the Ggantija 2013 Project. The performance was held at the music room of St James Cavalier on 6 August 2014 at 8pm.
Ggantija II was performed by Tricia Dawn Williams, Gisèle Grima, Simon Abdilla Joslin, Alistair Attard and narrated by Sharon Bezzina. Dr Immanuel Mifsud read his works written for this project during the performance.
Ġgannnnnnnnnn. Ġgannnnnnnnnn. Ġgan.
Ġ’gan. Ġ’gan. Ġgannnnnnnnnn.Tiġrix ġol-Ġgantija.
Ġ’gannnnnnnnnn. Ġ’gannnnnnnnnn. Ġ’gannnnnnnnnn.Ħa. Ħħħħħa. Ħħħħħaaaaaaaaaa.
Ħa. Ħħħħħa. Ħħħħaaaaaaaaaa’a!
Ħaġar ġganti – ġganti – ġgantiiiiiiiija!
Tiġrix qalb il-ħaġar ġgant tal-ġgantija.
Tiġri tiġri tiġrixxxxxxxxxx.
Tiġrix qalb il-ħaġar ġgant tal-ġgantija.
Ħalli lil ruħek titlaħlaħ mar-riħ.
Ħalli lil ruħek titlaħlaħ mar-riħ
jonfoħ felħan; jonfoħ felħan, jitlaħlaħ
bħal ruħek titlaħlaħ mal-ħaġar ġgant
ġgannnnnnnnnn, ġgannnnnnnnnn, ġgantija, ġgantija ġgantija.
Ruħek itterraq, tiġġerra mal-ħaġar.
Tiġrix qalb il-ħaġar, tiġrix mal-ħaġar.
Il-mara tal-ħaġar. Raġel tal-ħaġar
Ħa nħalluhhhhhhhhhh ir-riħħħħħħħħħħ jonfoħħħħħħħħħ qalb il-ħaġar.
Jonfoħ. Riħ jonfoħ mal-mara tal-ħaġar.
Jonfoħ. Riħ jonfoħ mar-raġel tal-ħaġar.
Ġar. Ġar. Ġar. Ġgannnnnnnnnn. Ġgannnnnnnnnn. Ġgannnnnnnn.
Ifakkrek fil-baħar ikħal il-ħaġar –
Fil-baħar li qsamt; fil-mixja li mxejt
Fuq il-blat abjad li nfirex quddiemek;
Ifakkrek f’ommok, kbira w abbundanti,
F’dawk dirgħajha jġorru t-toqol; f’riġlejha
Jisħqu l-art, jagħfsu taħthom il-ħamrija;
Ifakkrek fl-għaraq li sponta fuq ġbinha;
Fil-gliegel ħalib li sqietek fit-telgħa
Hija u ġġorrok u tħobbok ma’ ħobbha;
Ifakkrek il-ħaġar f’missierek godli;
Fil-ġilda skura, maħruqa, miksura;
Fil-ħafna qawwija li biha żammek
Malli wasaltu eżatt fil-quċċata;
F’subgħajh jipponta lejn ix-xatt imbiegħed
Mnejn tibda l-istorja ta’ dan il-ħaġar.
U ssemma’ għal leħen ommok jidħaqlek;
Leħen missierek ifarrġek bil-lejl.
Qishom ir-riħ dawn l-ilħna: ħosshom jonfħu
Waqt l’int itterraq, tiġġerra mal-ħaġar,
Tfittex lil wiċċek, lil wiċċhom ikellmek.
Mielaħ daqs ir-raxx li jitla’ mill-baħar.
Hawn xterdet iż-żerriegħa li kabbritek.
Hawnhekk xterdu n-nies: ħutek u zijietek
Li xjaħu w mietu b’wiċċhom lejn il-qamar.
Ħareġ minn ġismek, minn ruħek, minn fommok
Igedwed ħoss ir-ragħad, il-ħoss tal-ħalel,
Il-ħoss tax-xemx timmarka l-ġranet iebsa,
Il-ħoss tax-xita nieżla b’saħħa kbira,
U l-ħoss tat-trabi ħierġa minn ġuf ommhom.
Ħierġa mill-ħaġar jiddawwal bil-qamar.
Anki fuq ġbinek jispontalek l-għaraq.
Fittex, fittex fil-ħaxix kollu nida.
Ħossok kif ksaħt bin-nida mbierka.
Ħossok kif ksaħt bin-nida mbierka
Nieżla fuq xagħrek u nieżla fuq wiċċek,
Fuq wiċċek qed iċarċar mal-ħaġar.
Hawn wiċċek qed iċarċar mal-ħaġar.
Ħarstek tistrieħ. Ħarstek tistrieħ bħal sikta.
Kif ksaħt. Kif ksaħt mistrieħ mal-ħaġar ġganti,
Mal-ħaġar ġganti, ġganti tal-Ġgantija.
Artistic Meditations on the Ġgantija Theme
Dr. Silvio John Camilleri
The Maltese islands boast of pre-historic sites of world heritage status. Dating back thousands of years, these gems drew the attention of not only archaeologists and historians, but also of artists. The latter range from nineteenth century painter Charles F. Brocktorff to ceramist Neville Ferry (1945-2011), and poets such as Achille Mizzi and Richard England. Charles Camilleri composed works such as Music of the Temples of Malta whilst John Galea’s symphonic poem Ġgantija recounts the legend of a virgin who was sacrificed to the gods.
The Ġgantija collaborative project which was launched a few years ago is therefore a further link in a long chain of such tributes. This project also illustrates how Maltese artists seem to be de-emphasising traditional descriptive qualities, in favour of more spontaneous responses to a particular subject, in line with contemporary artistic trends. Artists are also becoming more inquisitive and willing to explore the possible connections between different media.
The current multi-medial exhibition being held at the Upper Galleries of St James Cavalier, Valletta is the final phase of the Ġgantija project. Visitors may appreciate recent mixed media works by Victor Agius, together with a video and other documentation of last year’s activity at the temples, which prominently featured the music of Mariella Cassar Cordina, enhanced by lyrics of the poet Immanuel Mifsud.
The initial plans and studies for the Ġgantija project date back to 2009 and subsequently evolved in various activities such as interactive sessions. These collaborations materialised in a well researched undertaking, curated by Dr. Vince Briffa. The contributors involved were too many to mention specifically, however the music of Mariella Cassar Cordina, the visual art of Victor Agius, and the poetry of Immanuel Mifsud played a major role.
One of the earlier musical initiatives, took place when the Ars Vitae Ensemble met at Ġgantija in October 2009, and recorded some initial improvisations on cello, violin, digeridoo, and percussion, enhanced by other sounds such as water.
Since then Victor Agius created various works where he further explored the use of organic materials which flavour his creations with the characteristics of the local natural landscape. Despite the unrefined state of these raw materials, the final compositions still convey an idea of neat design. Agius also proposed three-dimensional works which apart from their visual appeal can serve as percussion instruments. Made in terracotta or found objects such as pebbles or sea shells, these fascinated the percussionist Renzo Spiteri who used them in some performances.
The expression of composer Mariella Cassar Cordina’s proved particularly fitting for the Ġgantija project. Her willingness to experiment is attested by the way she occasionally incorporates instruments which do not commonly feature in contemporary repertoire, such as the harpsichord or celesta. Her works are imbued with meditative passages, although not without climaxes. In addition, when reduced to essentials, her idiom often conveys primordial allusions. These characteristics feature in the artist’s composition Ġgantija 2013, and they find their parallelisms in the art of Victor Agius, which emphasises organic elements such as raw clay, sand and vegetation, assembled with minimal human intervention.
Mariella’s composition was premiered in June 2013, and the composer has now supplemented the original score with a second movement. In doing so, she aimed at striking a balance between similarities and contrasts of the respective movements. Common elements make up for a more unified work, and these include the blending of acoustic and electronic sounds and the use of Maltese lyrics by Immanuel Mifsud. Additionally, both movements allow for improvisation on part of the performers; the first one is adorned by vocal improvisations, whereas the second one features concluding improvisations by the pianist. In order to avoid creating a mere replica, there are some key differences between the movements as well. In particular, the second movement is more minimalistic in its structure and instrumentation, and features more emphasis on manipulated acoustic sounds.
According to Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), one essential characteristic of valid works of art, is the transmission of the artist’s feeling to others, which is evoked by means of colours, words, sounds or other media. Given this, one may expect that along the course of this multi-disciplinary project the respective artists were affected by and responded to the expression of their collaborators. Mariella notes that both her music and Victor’s visual output evolved in response to each other’s works, discussions and joint research. Not surprisingly, their output drifted in the same direction over the past year – becoming more minimalistic and aiming to convey the idea of space. In Mariella’s composition Ġgantija 2013, the latter is suggested through the use of slower tempos, echoes, and unmetered bars.
Immanuel Mifsud’s contribution has similarly changed, since whereas last year’s lyrics featured an emphasis on sounds and vowels, the subsequent poem is a freer response to the Ġgantija theme. Mifsud was aware that the text for the initial composition entailed leaving room for vocal improvisation, whereas in the succeeding poem he exercised less consideration for musical requisites. He has thus referred to themes such as maternity and paternity which feature in prior works of his, and the re-generation of life which in Maltese pre-historic art is conveyed by the spiral motif. Whilst only selections from Immanuel Mifsud’s verses are incorporated in Mariella’s composition, the poems are shown in their entirety in the exhibition, and the poet is reciting these works during the musical performance.
Maltese prehistoric sites are at times accredited as being fulcrums of sacred energy. Certainly they do not lack the vibes of artistic inspiration, as attested by the outcomes of the Ġgantija project. But how relevant are these “Standing Stones” to present-day life and contemporary art?
According to Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944): “Each period of a civilisation creates an art that is specific in it and which we will never see reborn. To try and revive the principles of art of past centuries can lead only to the production of stillborn works.”
This suggests that when the intriguing works of our forefathers are used as a source of inspiration, contemporary creations should still differ from their predecessors, if they are to retain their validity. In this way, it is pertinent to note that the works presented in connection with the Ġgantija project are not replicas or a plain revival of pre-historic forms, but rather a re-interpretation, or an investigation into their interaction with our new ways of life.
Mariella Cassar Cordina acknowledges that Ġgantija constitutes an integral aspect of our contemporary identity, and therefore its adoption as a point of departure for this project can go beyond mere folkloristic or nationalistic concerns. Indeed, in her case, this venture constituted an integral part of her doctoral programme at Dartington College of Arts, UK, where she explored how Maltese culture and identity can elicit contemporary artistic responses.
Overall it is encouraging to note that our pre-historic locations are still relevant to present-day artists, rather than serving exclusively as a relic. These sites should be preserved not only through the upkeep of their outer appearance, but also by fostering a general interest in them.
In their haunting simplicity, the works completed during the course of the Ġgantija project demand our attention, without being intrusive. Indeed, they seem to entice our thoughts to a higher level, and their meditative qualities can serve as a breath of fresh air amidst the hustle of everyday life. Their emphasis on minimalistic characteristics makes me wonder whether they are also meant to convey an aspect of spirituality – even if they are not spiritual in the traditional sense. Whether this connotation was actually intended by the artists could be a question of dispute; in parallel with the contention as to whether our island’s prehistoric sites functioned exclusively as spiritual locations, or whether they could have served more mundane purposes as well.
It is thus hoped that the multi-medial creations which emanated from this project elicit a response from us all – a moment of reflection as proposed by the poet Immanuel Mifsud:
“Inxteħet għal wiċċek, isma’ t-taħbita
Ħierġa mill-ħaġar jiddawwal bil-qamar”.