The Malta Independent 17 December 2018, Monday

Robert Samut

Malta Independent Sunday, 4 September 2005, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

Last year’s tsunami disaster in South East Asia reminded many of a similar, albeit more contained, disaster in the Mediterranean in 1908. The earthquake in Messina had also affected the Maltese Islands, as it had caused widespread damage and left many dead and injured.

Like in recent times, a number of Maltese went to help the injured and one that had excelled in his medical support was Prof. Robert Samut, the composer of the Malta’s National Anthem. This heroic figure led a very active life, dedicated to the service of medicine and his fellow-countrymen. The name of Robert Samut is enshrined in the Constitution of these islands.

Robert Samut, who was one of those who gave Malta its national identity, was born at Lion House, Floriana, on 12 October 1869. He studied medicine at

the Royal University of Malta and at Edinburgh University where he graduated M.B. and Ch.M. and also obtained a medal for his exceptional ability in anatomy.

From his very youth he had shown that he was musically inclined and at one time had wanted to study music; but his father did not approve, and Robert took up his career in medicine, following in the footsteps of his two elder brothers who were already well-known doctors.

His love for the arts was apparent because he played the piano like a virtuoso, sang in a sweet tenor voice and painted some very fine pictures. He was a man of many talents, and whatever he did, was done to a certain degree of perfection.

On his return from Edinburgh, he was appointed Professor of Physiology and Bacteriology at the Royal University of Malta. He was also nominated specialist of Pathology at the Central Civil Hospital in Floriana. (now Police Headquarters).

In 1897 Prof. Samut joined the King’s Own Malta Regiment of Militia as Lieutenant Surgeon. He was promoted to Captain in 1900 and Major in 1909.

Immediately following the terrible earthquake at Messina in 1908, he rushed to that devastated city to give his help. His invaluable service was recognised when he was awarded the Red Cross Diploma, and also by the King of Italy who created him Cavaliere Ufficiale della Corona d’Italia.

Meritorious service

In 1915, during the First World War, he was posted to Cyprus with his regiment where he was given command of the Forest Military Hospital in Limassol. His work was highly acclaimed and mentioned in various dispatches and he received the General Service Medal.

Also in 1915, following the death of his brother, Prof. Carmelo Samut, he was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Pathology at the Royal University of Malta in addition to the two posts he already had. It was this position that eventually was to cause his death. He had been asked to carry out an autopsy on a woman who had died of a strange illness and for some unknown reason he was infected.

Even though Prof. Robert Samut was more than busy with these positions, he still used to pay house visits to his patients. In the period following the First World War, and even more so the events that led to the 1917 Sette Giugno riots, many of the Floriana residents were very poor and he used to treat them free of charge.

It was during this period that the national anthem was born. Back in Edinburgh he had once been asked to sing the Maltese anthem, and the fact that Malta did not have one, induced him to so something about it.

The National Anthem

He jotted down some simple notes, and forgot about them due to pressure of work. One day in the early 1920s, Dr Albert Laferla, the Director of Elementary Schools, asked him to compose a hymn for schoolchildren, Robert remembered his notes and after looking them up he composed the present hymn.

Dr Laferla then took the music to the national poet Dun Karm (Mgr Karm Psaila, D.Litt. (Hon. Causa), who wrote the verses. It is reported that Dun Karm had said this was not the usual practice as normally music was composed to the verses and not vice-versa. Nevertheless, a beautiful prayer to God from the Maltese people saw the light of day.

The hymn was subsequently donated to the people of Malta.

In 1922 Prof. Samut was promoted Lt Colonel, but by now he was feeling the effect of the virus he got from the autopsy and his health was failing. He became an invalid and suffered his sickness in patience till his death. His daughter Elsa, the youngest of his brood, remembers him sitting in a wicker armchair in front of Lion House and used to cuddle him and keep him company.

In the meantime, the ball he had started rolling was gathering momentum. On 3 Saturday February 1923, the Innu Malti was played for the first time in public during a concert at the Manoel Theatre.

For a number of years the anthem was played only during 8 September celebrations. Then, in 1936, the King’s Own Band Club commissioned Mro V. Ciappara to prepare a full score for the band, and played the hymn on 8 September of the same year. Other bands soon followed its example.

In 1938 an English translation prepared by Miss. M. Butcher appeared in the Times of Malta.

But Prof. Samut was not to see the growth of his music. He was taken to Australia in the hope that a long sea voyage might benefit his health but it proved to be quite the contrary. Thus after only a short stay in that colony he returned to Malta and lived for a number of years in Sliema, with one of his daughters.

He died peacefully at the age of 64, just after noon, on 26 May 1934 (nearly 71 years ago) and was buried in the Portelli chapel at the Addolorata cemetery.

All the people of the islands soon accepted the Innu Malti and it was customary for it to be played on all occasions in conjunction with the English national anthem. Later, with the acquisition of Self Government the Innu used to be played when the Prime Minister was present.

The 1964 Independence Constitution, Chapter One (The State), Section 4 states that the National Anthem of these islands is the Innu Malti. This was also confirmed by the “Republic” Constitution. Thus finally, this music, written with the passion of a patriot, a hymn made into a prayer by a national poet, was crowned with the highest success. Eventually, an Act of Parliament laid down the exact format of the music and how it should be played. All this heralded a new era for these historic islands, an era which the Maltese had been fighting for many centuries. History is built gradually, but surely one of the foundation stones of the Malta’s future history is the music of Robert Samut.

Background

In the 1960s I became very interested in the life of Prof. Samut, especially as he used to live in one of the most beautiful houses of Floriana. I met as many of his living relatives as possible, including the Cassar Torregiani, the Zammit Tabona and the von Brockdorff families. But the most important meetings of all was when I paid a number of visits to his daughter Elsa, then Bonavia, who lived across the road from Capua Home, in what was then Victoria Avenue. I had recorded a number of interviews, which were complied into an interesting and important radio programme. Unfortunately, I do not know whether these recordings have survived or not.

One of my most treasured possessions is a silver cigarette box that carries the inscription: “To Francis Said from the children and grandchildren of the late Prof. R. Samut, MB. Ch.M.

On 26 May 1968, Dr Giorgio Borg Olivier, Prime Minister of independent Malta, in the presence of the Governor General and Lady Dorman, His Grace Mgr Michael Gonzi, and many other personalities, unveiled a marble plaque on the façade of Lion House to commemorate the birthplace of Prof. Samut. A leaflet, designed by the great artist Emvin Cremona was also printed for the occasion.

As befits this true Maltese gentleman, his name will forever be engraved in the history of these islands.

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