Frederick Aquilina: Benigno Zerafa (1726-1804) and the Neapolitan Galant Style

The Boydell Press, 2016
xii + 335pp, £65.00
ISBN 978 1 78327 086 6

I wonder why Malta isn’t in the title. I was there in January last year and reviewed three concerts, one being at the Co-Cathedral of St John’s in Valletta. The Cathedral of St Paul is situated in Mdina, about an hour to the west. Both cathedrals must have been ideal for multi-choral works. The book is very vague about the relationship between them: did Zerafa supply music to both? Such information is very thin. In fact, the index has little to say about St John’s or St Paul’s.

Zerafa’s career began on 1 May 1735 when he was eight; he spent six years from 1738-44 learning his craft in Naples, before returning to Mdina. Much of the discussion of style must have come from that background. This is a thorough survey of his life and works (all ecclesiastical), with extensive comments on the scores, a bibliography and a thorough index. There is very little about his function in Mdina – I get the feeling that the author is more concerned with the galant style of Naples. Did Zerafa only compose for the church, or was his secular work left with a different organisation which hasn’t survived? If Zerafa produced most of his output for Mdina, are there aspects of it which differ from “Neapolitan style”? A quick read of the first and last chapters may well be all the non-specialist requires.

Clifford Bartlett