Bice Vassallo was born to Paolino and Marianna Vassallo on November 11, 1899. Her father – composer Paolino Vassallo – was born in Cospicua on July 24, 1856, and grew up to be one of the most prominent Maltese composers of all time. Upon his return to Malta from Paris, where he had developed his musical talents, he met Marianna Grech who he would later marry. The Vassallos had four children – Bice, Victor and two other children who unfortunately died in infancy.

Musical career

Portrait of a young Bice Vassallo, 1910. Photos: Fortunato and Enrico Mizzi FoundationPortrait of a young Bice Vassallo, 1910. Photos: Fortunato and Enrico Mizzi Foundation

Studying under the tutelage of her father, Bice began her musical journey focusing on both the violin and the piano. Later on, she decided to continue developing her command of the piano, leading her to become one of Malta’s most famous female pianists.

Bice achieved distinction in both the lower and higher division pianoforte examinations from the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and The Royal College of Music in 1908 and 1909, respectively.

Her inaugural noteworthy performance – which took place in the presence of the Governor Lord Methuen and the Duchess of Connaught – occurred before she turned eight years old. She performed in a classical music recital at the Manoel Theatre, organised to support the Sisters of St Joseph, Sliema. It was hosted under the patronage of the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Pietro Pace.

Bice’s performance earned her an enthusiastic reception, further drawing her acclaim from various newspapers, with one noting her exceptional talent and likening her to a young Mozart.

Subsequent performances included a concert supporting the Valletta Society of St Vincent de Paul in May 1910, and a pivotal concert at the Sala Scarlatti at the Conservatorio di Musica Vincenzo Bellini in Palermo in June 1911.  This was held under the patronage of the Principessa di Castelreale. During this concert, she delivered an impeccable rendering of Mendelssohn’s Trio, Beethoven’s Appassionata and Chopin’s Scherzo in B flat, op. 31.

At the age of 11, Bice garnered significant praise as a piano prodigy, and was even referred to as “suonatrice prodigiosa” and “fanciulla miracolo” by famous composers and conductors of the time.  A critic from Rassegna Melodrammatica in Milan commented on the concert, saying: “She has been acclaimed as a genuine prodigy of the piano. The distinguished yet reserved audience accorded her the complete honours of an unequivocal triumph.”

Bice’s bastion of moral support was her father, Paolino, who continued to push her to perform both locally as well as in other countries. Paolino was beyond thrilled when his daughter received an invitation from Massenet to perform in Paris. Unfortunately, this did not materialise as Massenet died in 1912.

That same year, Bice captivated audiences at the Royal Opera House in Valletta, earning recognition as a pianist destined for enduring acclaim.

With the death of her father in 1923, Bice – although grieving – remained eager to continue performing in other countries. On November 12, 1923, Bice participated in a recital at London’s Wigmore Hall, solidifying her reputation as a source of pride for Malta.

While being an immensely talented and celebrated musician, in her humility, Bice remained staunchly dedicated to her family

On her return to Malta, Bice found she had to become the family breadwinner. In order to be in a position to both support herself and her mother and brother Victor – who was still pursuing the medicine course at the university – she started to teach piano. While it was not the career she and her father had envisioned, she ended up teaching some of Malta’s most prominent first-class pianists. That being said, she was never fully satisfied with teaching.

Perhaps, if both finances as well as luck had been kinder to her, she would have become an even more accomplished and celebrated pianist than she did become.

Bice’s favourite composer was Chopin – someone she was extremely fond of. Later on in life, in the early 1960s, Bice would go on to record for radio a number of works by Chopin, whom she used to interpret with great brilliance.

Marriage to Enrico Mizzi

Portrait of Bice Mizzi, that her husband Enrico Mizzi kept in a frame on his desk.Portrait of Bice Mizzi, that her husband Enrico Mizzi kept in a frame on his desk.

In 1926, Tereza Parlar, an intimate family friend of the Mizzis, and a mystic to whom certain miracles are attributed to, suggested to Bice that she marry Enrico Mizzi, leader of the Nationalist Party. She actually married him on June 26, 1926. They had a son, Fortunato, in 1927.

Mizzi was wholly dedicated to politics – a mission that he performed with the utmost of rigid righteousness. This meant that Bice was left to lead the family in his absence, leading her to not have a very favourable perception of politics. While she had a negative outlook towards politics, she supported with strong faith both her husband and the political cause he dedicated his life to. She also remained a faithful and dedicated daughter, taking care of her mother till her final days.

When World War II erupted, Enrico was interned on direct orders of the British colonial government at Is-Salvatur. During this time, Bice moved her mother and son to her brother Victor’s house at the Hospital for Mental Diseases – which he was head of. Later on, when Enrico was transferred to St Agatha’s Convent, Bice moved the family to the Convent of the Sisters of Charity in Rabat.

These were extremely difficult times for Bice, who was not only forcefully separated from her husband but subjected to ridicule every time she visited her husband in Rabat. Bice would visit Enrico at midday every day. Despite the insults, foul language and pelting, Bice remained a loyal and steadfast wife who understood her husband’s dedication for the political cause he lived to defend.

In 1942, Enrico, along with the rest of the interned men, were sent to Uganda were they spent three years of their lives. On his return to Malta, Enrico dedicated his entire being to reorganising the Partit Nazzjonalista. Five years later, he became prime minister. He held this position for just three months, before succumbing to illness and dying on December 20, 1950. As a widow, Bice continued to take care of her mother and her and Enrico’s only son, Fortunato, who was now in the process of becoming an ordained priest.

Enrico Mizzi (seated, left) at a Partito Nazjonalista activity.

Enrico Mizzi (seated, left) at a Partito Nazjonalista activity.

Bice and Enrico Mizzi at a Partito Nazjonalista activity.

Bice and Enrico Mizzi at a Partito Nazjonalista activity.

Prime Minister Enrico Mizzi (background, second from left) flanked on his left by his wife Bice Mizzi and Ġorġ Borg Olivier at the Żejtun PN club during the 1950 electoral campaign.

Prime Minister Enrico Mizzi (background, second from left) flanked on his left by his wife Bice Mizzi and Ġorġ Borg Olivier at the Żejtun PN club during the 1950 electoral campaign.

Some of the former Uganda exiles hosting Mizzi (front row, third from left) on his election as prime minister in 1950.

Some of the former Uganda exiles hosting Mizzi (front row, third from left) on his election as prime minister in 1950.

Life as a widow

Following her beloved’s passing, Bice sought to fill up her time with other activities. While she sought a distraction from the loss of her husband, such a need was also fuelled by the harsh reality that Enrico’s political dedication had left the family in financial difficulties.

Going back to her musical roots, she slowly started giving more and more piano lessons. She also began to give concerts in collaboration with the British Institute, as well as the Cultural Institute of Malta Orchestra.

Bice went on to interpret several important works, including pieces by her father, as well as by Josie Mallia Pulverenti. She also played the piano part in a piano concerto that maestro Carmelo Pace dedicated to her. Bice kept studying the classics and also some interesting modern music.

While being an immensely talented and celebrated musician, Bice remained staunchly dedicated to her family. Like her husband, she felt a strong sense of loyalty towards her nation. This was reflected in both her understanding that Enrico was above all ready to dedicate his heart and soul to a political cause but also her ardent commitment to her family. In a similar fashion, the couple’s son, Fortunato, dedicated a large portion of his time to socio-political causes.

In 1955, Fortunato founded the Moviment Azzjoni Soċjali. In the late 1960s, Bice declined concert invitations abroad to avoid leaving her son alone, fearing it might interfere with his mission.

She spent her final years in quiet solitude, in her and Enrico’s home in Valletta, where she peacefully passed away on February 22, 1985.

Therefore, this year, we remember this impeccable woman 39 years on from her passing. In her honour, the National Council of Women of Malta established the Bice Mizzi Vassallo Music Competition in 1987, which continues to run biannually.

Bice remains a source of both inspiration as well as pride for the nation. An accomplished pianist whose talents were beyond her years, she was also a dedicated mother and wife.

Her unwavering support to both her son and, especially, her husband allowed for the development of Malta’s political scene within the context of the time. Her name, meaning ‘she who brings happiness’, perfectly encapsulates the kindness, talent and faithfulness of Bice.


Juanita Galea is a political and public diplomacy officer, and PRO of the Fortunato and Enrico Mizzi Foundation. She has an interest in intercultural politics and religion.

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