Reuben Pace

Blog 73 - The Maltese Composer Charles Camilleri: His Life and Musical Style – Part 1 by Dr. Philip Ciantar

In this short series of blogs the life of the Maltese composer who brought Maltese classical music into the twentieth century – Professor Charles Camilleri shall be covered. As with most contemporary composers Dr.Reuben Pace,( the main driving force behind City of Humanity ) was directed towards composing by Prof. Camilleri.

The article from which these blogs is taken is written by Dr. Philip Ciantar, the head of the Department of Music at the School of Performing Arts at the University of Malta. Said Department as the reader shall discover further on was set up by Prof. Camilleri himself.

 This first blog covers Camilleri’s early life till the 1950’s.

Ciantar, Philip. 2014. 'Charles Camilleri: His Life and Musical Style', in Henry Frendo (ed.), Towards Independence and Beyond, The Central Bank of Malta Symposium 2014 (Malta: Gutenberg Press), pp. 57-63.


I must start by saying that giving a short speech about Charles Camilleri (1931-2009), the Maltese composer of international repute, is no easy task. Camilleri's life and works have been written about quite extensively by both foreign and local music scholars and commentators. Amongst these, one may mention the works of Christopher Palmer (1975), Jeremy Walbank (1987), Ates Orga (1987), Guy Protheroe (1992), and Basil Ramsey (1996), and, more locally, the writings of Joseph Vella Bondin (2001), and my University colleagues John Galea (2001), Albert Pace (2002), and Hans-Jiirgen Nagel (2007). All these writings draw a picture of the thriving life of this great composer, one who succeeded in being local as much as cosmopolitan, who classicized the popular, who fused the musical east with the west, and who wandered quite at ease between the academic and the artistic. Above all, they portray a man described by the late Rev Prof Peter Serracino Inglott in the composer's funeral address as of great commitment, one who sacrificed much for the art that he loved so intensely. My aim here is to present some of the highlights in the life of Camilleri followed by personal reflections about the composer's persona that emerge out of his musical style.


Charles Camilleri was born in Hamrun on 7 September 1931 to a musically talented family. He received his early musical training under the tuition of his father, and later studied with Joseph Abela Scolaro, Paul Nani and Carmelo Pace. Existing photos show Camilleri, at around the age of twelve, playing the accordion in an ensemble composed of trumpet, clarinet and violin-in itself, evidence of his early attachment to local popular music and its making. Indeed, his early compositions include a small number of festa band marches and, lately, one notes his interest in għana (Malta's folk music) as a source of inspiration for his compositions. Both the wind band tradition and għana as sources of inspiration are very evident in his Malta Suite-a composition in four movements depicting vignettes of Maltese life and the dynamics of local popular entertainment.


During the 1950s Camilleri lived first in Australia, then in London. It was a time when he started to absorb a sense of belonging to the world artistically and to familiarize himself with the music that was being composed at that time. In both London and Australia he pursued a successful career in light music and popular entertainment, amongst other activities playing the accordion for Antony Hopkins's music in the 1957 British film Seven Thllnders . A year after that production, that is in 1958, Camilleri moved to North America. During this phase of his life he became familiar with the music of celebrated composers of that time suchas Kodaly, Orff, Stockhausen and Stravinsky. From these he absorbed musical idioms which are very evident, for instance, in his Fantasy Fugue for strings and the Violin Concerto No.I.

The second blog shall look at Camilleri’s life from the 1960’s onwards.

Download attachments: camilleri-1.jpg
Download attachments: camilleri-1-edited.png