Although art is an eminently practical pursuit, the work which results from the activity of an artist is gauged differently from that which a practitioner of other practical disciplines, such as the conventional professions, is engaged in. In fields of human activity such as these, the work of a practitioner is valued solely in terms of its material benefit to society. Hence, the importance of a medical practitioner, for instance, lies in his or her ability to cure sick people of their illnesses. Conversely, the value of an artist’s work lies in its capacity to bring to the fore some aspect of the covert spiritual life of mankind thereby allowing members of society other than the artist himself or herself to experience such a dimension for their personal enrichment.
When the focus of attention is shifted away from the work or works of art to the life of the artist, it is not surprising to notice a constant clear pattern in the lives of many illustrious exponents of the different art mediums. This pattern includes a long period of strenuous activity during which the individual is intensely involved in the public life associated with the art practiced and experiments with a variety of new forms and ideas in an attempt to gain some sort of freedom from past tradition. Depending on the artist’s life span, this period covers the early adolescent years and a large part of adulthood. It is followed by a shorter but not less important period of distillation, when the artist, having developed an artistic personality all his or her own shuns the public platform and embarks on a solitary single-minded inner journey along the path delineated by the artistic ideas and principles that have come to shape his or her individual style.
Maestro Chevalier Pawlu Grech is one of the handful of Maltese artists who embraced twentieth century modernism when this idiom was still considered as outrageous by most people. Both his music and visual works attest how the artist sought his own way of liberating himself from academic conventions. I made my first contacts with Pawlu Grech when producing a radio series which explored the connections between music and visual arts. I was fascinated to discover his multi-faceted world where contrasting elements can coexist simultaneously in a single work. One such example is his composition for prepared piano "Divertimento for Pianist" written in 1978, where the pianist's antics are disguising an elegy to the classic tradition of the piano repertoire. Indeed, the combination of irony and pessimistic connotations such as the reference to a motif from Beethoven’s Les Adieux Sonata, make it a tragi-comic statement. Analysing Grech's art, one may discern a process of deep inquisitiveness, even if disguised under a child-like surface. His contemplative process is evident in his ability to transform a basic organic element such as a chord or a fossil into a polished artistic expression. For instance, the composition Ideograms (Book 1) starts with a single sound which is then developed in an extensive work through different variations of intensity and duration. This focus on a basic unit and how it relates to a more complete whole is also evident in his series of paintings which depict fossils and fragments. It is therefore no coincidence that the artist has a high regard of Paul Klee, where the child-like facet of the latter's art conceals an intensive attention to detail as evidenced by the extensive academic notes compiled when lecturing at the Bauhaus. In Grech's art the mundane takes a more abstract or philosophical dimension, and his expression reaches beyond the "immediate visual appeal" or "easy listening music". For instance, while the outer sections of his composition Rhapsoidía refer to two Greek folk songs, we do not encounter replicas of the original melodies – in the same way that trees, foliage and fossils are abstracted in his visual art. As opposed to composers who quote melodious passages in their works, or painters who affix found objects on their canvases, Grech tends to detach himself from his chosen starting point to achieve an autonomous creation. It is thus no coincidence that in his "Genesis" series of paintings he seems to be going back to the beginnings to start anew. The concept of re-birth is explored again in Rhapsoidía which deals with the transition across different forms of life. I think that these elements are a key to understanding Grech’s art - for instance his visual renderings of fossils that have now transitioned to a different form of life. Given Pawlu’s interest in the theatre of the absurd, I also venture to interpret these themes as his questioning the meaning of life. How are we to respond to Grech's art? Although one may opt to appreciate these works "at face value" thinking of them as the spontaneous creations of an innocent child residing in the artist, one has to keep in mind that this is probably the mere outer facet of his oeuvre. I thus hope that this brief note serves as an invitation towards delving deeper into Grech's imaginative calligraphy and expression.
Chevalier Maestro Pawlu Grech has been a beacon of light in my artistic path. His adept skills in music and the visual arts has endeared him into many hearts, including mine. He has a unique acroamatic approach to teaching that incorporates not only the principles of artistic aesthetics but also philosophy, history, and other methodical explorations that whet the appetite of a curious apprentice. I owe a heartfelt gratitude for his professional support, kind patience and profound insights that enlighten mysterious horizons.
There is something special and unique in that which Mro. Chev. Pawlu Grech has imparted to me over the long formative years in which he has been my music teacher and mentor. It is neither knowledge nor a method, but something far more important and fundamental. It is an approach, a subtle way of mentally standing before and moving towards a musical idea or work to discover and develop its inner aesthetic potential, mindful of but unburdened by tradition or convention. For this alone, the effect of Chevalier Maestro Grech’s teaching on me as a musician and, more broadly, as a self-conscious being has been as profound as it has been liberating.
Lil Maestro Pawlu Grech mhux biss inqisu kompozitur u muzicist ta’ kapacitajiet straordinarji izda ukoll ghalliem li kapaci jifhem il-potenzjal tal-istudenti tieghu u jigwidhom fuq livell personali skont l-inklinazzjonijiet taghhom. Tul dawn l-ahhar ghoxrin sena, Pawlu kien indispensabbli fil-karriera tieghi. Permezz ta’ kuncetti diversi li ta’ spiss kellimni dwarhom, waqt il-sezzjonijiet li ikollna flimkien, huwa fetahli orizzonti godda fil-linja tal-hsieb artistiku li jien, minn naha tieghi, spiss gharaft napplikahom kif jaqbilli fix-xoghlijiet tieghi. Ghalhekk, inhossni onorat li kelli x-xorti nistudja fit-tul ma Pawlu Grech: bniedem ta’ esperjenza internazzjonali kbira li qatt ma fittex il-popolarita’ f’din id-dinja mimlija superficcjalita’. Fuq livell uman Pawlu huwa bniedem gentili u sincier ghall-ahhar u li mieghu dejjem taf fejn int. Grazzi dejjem Pawlu - nawguralek sahha u sliem.
What I can say about Maestro Pawlu Grech is that I used to enjoy each session as each one was an insight to methods of learning and practicing. He used to talk about his experience abroad, especially his sessions with Hans Keller which were very inspiring. What I know about 20th century music, history of art, and composition is the fruit of these sessions; l feel enriched as a teacher of history of music and theory.
I have known Maestro Chevalier Pawlu Grech since the early 1990’s when under his guidance I have done my first steps in serious music composition. He has always carried out his duties as a teacher in the most professional of manners. He has a natural ability to handle and explain thoroughly even the most difficult of topics in several areas of Music. I could also notice his immense preparation of the subject matter and the superlative pedagogical skills. As a music teacher myself, I consider Maestro Grech as an inspiration, role model and a mentor to whom I will always be indebted.
Meeting Mro Pawlu Grech and receiving artistic tuition from him, left an indelible mark not only on my artistic training - it altered the very way I perceive the creative process and the whole discipline of pedagogy. This apprenticeship took place from his own artistic studio just a few blocks away from my parental home. The pedagogy which he offered and carefully nurtured in his students was unique, stemming from his rich, classical training in art and music. Mro Grech carefully nurtured in his students the ability to look at themselves at work…a teaching method that did not just focus on the ‘drawn’ but on ‘seeing’…how to see and to translate what we perceive in visual terms. Drawing, reflecting and talking about art was never separated from his musical-rhythmic sensibilities. His studio was strewn by an array of plants, cactuses and unique stones - nature thus occupied a vital role in his studio. After all, the workings of the artistic process are not man-made they mirror how nature creates and re-creates itself. Mro Pawlu Grech gently opened the door for me to perceive this, - an apprenticeship to which I am still so very grateful for. A lesson which though so essential to the making of art, reaches far beyond the scope of art.
We were blessed to have met Pawlu Grech many years ago. Silvio was one of his first students just a short while after Pawlu returned from his prolific career in Italy and England. A mutual and professional friendship was instantly built between the two. Silvio had courses with Pawlu in counterpoint, orchestration, composition, and history of music. Years later Ramona was coached by Maestro Grech in pianoforte technique and interpretation where she studied a varied repertoire ranging from the baroque to the contemporary. Thanks to Maestro Chevalier Pawlu Grech’s dedication and commitment as our mentor and friend, our love and passion for music and the arts has flourished. We publicy thank Mro.Grech for sharing with us his wealth of musical expertise and wisdom.