Beyond the Horizon – Memorial Speech by Alan Vella

A year has passed since that appalling afternoon. My brother and myself were abroad, and we both headed home as quickly as we could, following the shattering news.

It has been a tough year without you, Maestro Joseph Vella. The inimitable Roberto Benigni conveys the message that life is beautiful, but as he himself points out when reflecting on his own blockbuster comedy-drama, “to laugh and to cry come from the same point of the soul”. Laughter vanished from the family dictionary on that dreaded 25th February 2018 though. The suddenness of the blow also sent shock waves throughout the music and cultural community, echoing stronger than any crescendo, tremolo or vibrato could ever attest to. Worse still, it brought grief and incredulity among the surviving family members, not the least my own mother Nathalie.

Tributes poured in, once the shocking news spread. Many referred to him as a musical giant, several acknowledged his role as the greatest Maltese contemporary composer, whilst others interchangeably called him Prof, Maestro, Surmast, teacher or simply Joe. So many were lucky to consider him as a friend, but not many were privileged enough to call him dad.

For he had a humble but immense heart of gold, always willing to give a helping hand and advice to family members and friends at large, as the years rolled by. Likewise, he displayed the energy of a teenager, having been a driving force in many visionary initiatives of his. Dad was like a prominent sunflower in a garden, a conspicuous reference point through that contagious, amiable personality of his. He found time for everything and everyone, whilst also successfully managing to express the inexpressible particularly through his music and his charismatic smile.

The great philosopher Plato once said that “music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” Dad was quick to grasp that context because music was his life and passion. Energy misused cannot be excused, and he certainly lost no time in directing most of his strength, vision, passion and dynamism to the field he loved best, music.

Dad`s reputation as Malta’s leading contemporary composer stemmed through his unique ability to touch upon a considerable diversity of styles, giving rise to a personal idiom stemming mainly from the 20th Century neo-classical movement, although other influences – not least Mediterranean overtones – also emerge in some of his works. As his career progressed, his works reached all continents, and lavish critical acclaim followed from around the world.

Regrettably, there is an alpha and an omega, a beginning and an end, for all mankind. His physical presence is sorely missed, but his legacy remains. William Shakespeare in this regard coined the famous phrase in Act 3 of “Richard III” that “death makes no conquest of this conqueror: for now he lives in fame, though not in life”.

Words of comfort, to a certain extent, knowledgeable of the fact that dad`s music lives on. Beyond a beating heart. Beyond the confines of time. Beyond the horizon.


Alan Vella is Maestro Vella`s elder son. The tribute was published on the Sunday Times of Malta.