Edited by Richard Divall, this long-awaited 3rd of 4 volumes of 6 sonatas (score and parts) by 18th-century Maltese composer and priest, Michel’Angelo Vella, is characterized by a wealth of invention. These sonatas are a first class addition to the repertoire for flute trio (unaccompanied), rivaled only by those of Boismortier.
Born in Senglea, Malta, Michel’Angelo Vella came from a prosperous family with maritime interests. In 1730 he was sent to Naples to study music and he later studied with the opera composer, Leonardo Leo (1694–1744). Ordained a priest in Naples on 18 December 1733, Vella returned to Malta at the beginning of 1738, serving as a priest and later also as a maestro di capella and teacher. Malta had been ruled by the Order of Malta: the Knights of St John, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church since 1530, and the island was intensely religious in character, with a significant musical presence in the Liturgy. Unfortunately Vella’s return coincided with a decree by the then Bishop that music employed in the liturgy was deliberately to be kept simple and short, with the effect that Vella’s obvious talents as a composer were curtailed or restrained.
Until now, Vella’s musical reputation has rested almost solely on the publication in Paris in 1768 of a superlative set of Sei Sonate a Tre Violini col Basso. A unique set of autograph part books for 24 Sonatas for 3 Transverse Flutes without Bass has, however, been recently discovered in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden and has been edited by Richard Divall and published by Lyrebird Press. The collection is likely to have been prepared at the request of the Saxon-born Neapolitan Queen Maria Amalia for her flautist brother, Prince Karl of Saxony. The Sonatas themselves are greatly superior to similar works in this vein by Boieldieu and others, and are a valuable addition to the chamber repertoire for flutes. Generally each work is in three contrasting movements, and each line is given an equal importance in the composition, an unusual feat considering other work in this genre.
These wonderful Sonatas come as a welcome and exciting addition to the flute trio repertoire. They are surely some of the best of their kind and it is extraordinary that their gifted composer, Michel’Angelo Vella, is so little known. Vella’s expressive harmony and sophisticated counterpoint are only matched by his wealth of invention. The ideas come tumbling out, offering constant surprises – ebullient, joyful, lyrical, cerebral and dramatic by turns. They display both the skills of the high baroque and the charm of the rococo, and are rather like a cross between the music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (Vella’s senior by five years) and Domenico Scarlatti. The three parts are of equal importance and the Sonatas will prove to be not merely first rate as educational materials, but also musically totally rewarding for both amateur and professional players.
Margaret Crawford, leading Australian flautist and teacher
Published December 2013
Format (available for download only): Score & 3 parts