Musicians have an important and necessary function in the liturgy. Whether fully trained professionals or enthusiastic amateurs, all must remember that the purpose of the music is to implement the liturgy, and not to entertain the faithful or glorify themselves. The motto of all ought to be: Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam! (Not to us, Lord, but to your name be all glory!).
His main contribution was to instil in seminarians a love for sacred music- Fabian Mangion
No doubt, the Augustinian priest Fr Alberto Borg, or Patri Bert, as he was affectionately known, was a professional musician who, through his sacred compositions, completed the liturgy and exalted God’s name.
With his death a year ago, on February 11, 2012, at the age of 92, Malta lost a true example of a great priest and a dedicated musician.
Alberto (Francesco) Borg, son of Salvatore and Emanuela Bonaci, was born in Valletta on May 1, 1919. He was educated at St Augustine’s College. In 1934, at the age of 15, he entered the Augustinian order as a novice and pursued his studies in languages, literature, philosophy and theology at the Theological Augustinian College of St Mark in Rabat.
On March 21, 1942, during the worst days of World War II, he was ordained to the priesthood in the Gozo Cathedral. He celebrated his very first Mass the following day at Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary.
Fr Borg started his musical studies under Mro Giuseppe Abela Scolaro. In 1942, having completed his studies for the priesthood, he devoted himself to the piano under Bice Mizzi (one of the top pianists in the Maltese musical annals and daughter of the distinguished composer Paolino Vassallo) and harmony, counterpoint and orchestra under Mro Carmelo Pace.
In January 1945, after obtaining his A.Mus.LCM diploma, Archbishop Michael Gonzi nominated Fr Borg maestro di cappella of both the Mdina and Valletta Cathedrals and as music teacher at the Archbishop’s Seminary (a post he held until 1992).
In 1946, Fr Borg was sent to Rome to complete his musical studies at the Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra, founded by Pope Pius X, graduating as Master in Gregorian chant and in composition in 1949. He always considered himself lucky to have had teachers such as Licinio Refice, Ferruccio Vignanelli, Luigi Ronga, Hubert Descrocquettes, Joseph Gajard and Igino Angles, all well known in the musical world.
In 1979, Fr Borg was appointed part-time lecturer at the University of Malta, and in 1985, at the Augustinian Institute, Valletta. He also directed the Sacred School of Music. As teacher, composer and director, reviving old music from the Maltese music archives was a matter very close to his heart.
Fr Borg was deeply convinced that Gregorian chant was the music that most befitted the Roman Catholic Church, and thus went all out to teach it to seminarians and religious. In this he had the enthusiastic support of the late Mgr Albert Pantalleresco, who served as rector of the Major Seminary between 1951 and 1963. In fact, in the 1950s and 1960s, when many were taking up the vocation to the priesthood, the Seminary choir was renowned for its interpretation of Gregorian music.
Apart from his love for Gregorian chant, Fr Borg also taught and conducted music by 20th- century composers like Refice and Lorenzo Perosi. His main contribution, however, was his ability to instil in seminarians and religious a love for sacred music. In fact, after their ordination, many of these went on to set up reputable choirs in their parishes. The most noteworthy choirs were those of Żurrieq, St Julian’s, and Ħamrun (St Cajetan), led by Fr Michael Damato, Fr Guido Calleja and Fr Joseph Cachia, respectively.
As maestro di cappella he was greatly admired and esteemed by both Archbishop Gonzi and Archbishop Joseph Mercieca. Besides, in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI awarded him the cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for promoting sacred music in Malta.
During his musical career, Fr Borg directed several important concerts and oratorios, and also an opera by his teacher Refice, Cecilia, at the Radio City Opera House, Ħamrun, with the Impresa Cantoni in 1953.
He composed various genres of sacred music. These include four oratorios, among them Conversio Sancti Augustini, performed in 1986 on the occasion of the sixth centenary of St Augustine’s conversion, and Mid-Dawl tal-Ħabs għad-Dawl ta’ Alla, presented in 1991 on the fourth centenary of the death of St John of the Cross.
Fr Borg also composed different Masses in Latin and Maltese, including Quddiesa tal-Mejtin and Quddiesa tal-Poplu t’Alla.
A member of the Metropolitan Commission for Music for several years, Fr Borg composed all the liturgical hymns of the missal, including the Exultet. In response to the liturgical reform designed by Vatican Council II, he joined up with Oliver Friggieri, a student of his, to produce hymns in Maltese, such as ĦennGħalina and B’Qalbna Safja, which soon became staples in Maltese churches.
He also composed antiphons, introits, graduals, motets, psalms and polyphonic compositions for Holy Week and the Easter triduum such as the Turba dei Giudei, Amicus Meus and Velum Templi. Most of these were presented in an evening of Polyphonic Chant for Holy Week at St John’s Co-Cathedral on March 12, 1986, directed by Mro Borg himself.
He twice won competitions for a musical composition: first with a string quartet and second with the religious cantata Desideratus Cunctis Gentibus. He also composed an Ode to Malta and the cantata Maria performed in 1983 during the International Marian Congress held in Malta.
He composed two melologues: Christmas Night and Jum l-Indipendenza. The cantata Magnum Anni MM Jubilaeum, which he wrote to a text by the Augustinian monk Bonaventura Chetcuti, was written to commemorate the Holy Jubilee of the Year 2000, the beginning of the Third Millennium.
In 2005, Fr Borg was awarded the Premju Għarfien Kulturali by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts. In 2006, he released a CD of Maltese music –Għanjiet b’Differenza – with poems by Oliver Friggieri.
Fr Borg occupied various posts within the Augustinian order, including that of prior of the Valletta convent, counsellor to the provincial, procurator, and for three consecutive times (between 1971 and 1982) Maltese provincial. He was also for three consecutive times president of the Council of the Major Superiors.
It is due to Mro Alberto Borg, OSA, that to this day we can benefit from the sacred music which adorns the whole liturgical year with popular hymns which Maltese and Gozitans alike still sing and know from memory.
Thank you, Patri Bert, for sharing with us the musical talent with which God endowed you.
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