Gaetano Donizetti

Gaetano Donizetti
(Portrait by Giuseppe Rillosi)

Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (Italian:  [doˈmeːniko ɡaeˈtaːno maˈriːa donidˈdzetti] ( About this sound  listen); 29 November 1797 – 8 April 1848) was an Italian composer. Along with Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini, Donizetti was a leading composer of the bel canto opera style during the first half of the nineteenth century. Donizetti's close association with the bel canto style was undoubtedly an influence on other composers such as Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). [1]

Donizetti was born in Bergamo in Lombardy. Although he did not come from a musical background, at an early age he was taken under the wing of composer Simon Mayr [2] who had enrolled him by means of a full scholarship in a school which he had set up. There he received detailed training in the arts of fugue and counterpoint. Mayr was also instrumental in obtaining a place for the young man at the Bologna Academy, where, at the age of 19, [3] he wrote his first one-act opera, the comedy Il Pigmalione, which may not have ever been performed during his lifetime. [4]

Over the course of his career, Donizetti wrote almost 70 operas. An offer in 1822 from Domenico Barbaja, the impresario of the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, which followed the composer's ninth opera, led to his move to that city and his residency there which lasted until the production of Caterina Cornaro in January 1844. [5] In all, Naples presented 51 of Donizetti's operas. [5]

Donizetti as a schoolboy in Bergamo

Before 1830, success came primarily with his comic operas, the serious ones failing to attract significant audiences. [6] However, his first notable success came with an opera seria, Zoraida di Granata, which was presented in 1822 in Rome. In 1830, when Anna Bolena was premiered, Donizetti made a major impact on the Italian and international opera scene and this shifted the balance of success away from primarily comedic operas, [6] although even after that date, his best-known works included comedies such as L'elisir d'amore (1832) and Don Pasquale (1843). Significant historical dramas did appear and became successful; they included Lucia di Lammermoor (the first to have a libretto written by Salvadore Cammarano) given in Naples in 1835, and one of the most successful Neapolitan operas, Roberto Devereux in 1837. [7] Up to that point, all of his operas had been set to Italian libretti.

Donizetti found himself increasingly chafing against the censorial limitations which existed in Italy (and especially in Naples). From about 1836, he became interested in working in Paris, where he saw much greater freedom to choose subject matter, [8] in addition to receiving larger fees and greater prestige. From 1838 onward, with an offer from the Paris Opéra for two new works, he spent a considerable period of the following ten years in that city, and set several operas to French texts as well as overseeing staging of his Italian works. The first opera was a French version of the then-unperformed Poliuto which, in April 1840, was revised to become Les martyrs. Two new operas were also given in Paris at that time.

As the 1840s progressed, Donizetti moved regularly between Naples, Rome, Paris, and Vienna continuing to compose and stage his own operas as well as those of other composers. But from around 1843, severe illness began to take hold and to limit his activities. Eventually, by early 1846 he was obliged to be confined to an institution for the mentally ill and, by late 1847, friends had him moved back to Bergamo, where he died in April 1848.

Early life and musical education in Bergamo and Bologna

The youngest of three sons, Donizetti was born in 1797 in Bergamo's Borgo Canale quarter located just outside the city walls. His family was very poor and had no tradition of music, his father Andrea being the caretaker of the town pawnshop. Simone Mayr, a German composer of internationally successful operas, had become maestro di cappella at Bergamo's principal church in 1802. He founded the Lezioni Caritatevoli school in Bergamo in 1805 for the purpose of providing musical training, including classes in literature, beyond what choirboys ordinarily received up until the time that their voices broke. In 1807, Andrea Donizetti attempted to enroll both his sons, but the elder, Giuseppe (then 18), was considered too old. Gaetano (then 9) was accepted. [9]

Johann Simone Mayr, circa  1810

While not especially successful as a choirboy during the first three trial months of 1807 (there being some concern about a difetto di gola, a throat defect), Mayr was soon reporting that Gaetano "surpasses all the others in musical progress" [10] and he was able to persuade the authorities that the young boy's talents were worthy of keeping him in the school. He remained there for nine years, until 1815.

However, as Donizetti scholar William Ashbrook notes, in 1809 he was threatened with having to leave because his voice was changing. In 1810 he applied for and was accepted by the local art school, the Academia Carrara, but it is not known whether he attended classes. Then, in 1811, Mayr once again intervened. Having written both libretto and music for a "pasticcio-farsa", Il piccolo compositore di musica, as the final concert of the academic year, Mayr cast five young students, among them his young pupil Donizetti as "the little composer". As Ashbrook states, this "was nothing less than Mayr's argument that Donizetti be allowed to continue his musical studies". [11]

Donizetti as a schoolboy

The piece was performed on 13 September 1811 and included the composer character stating the following:

Ah, by Bacchus, with this aria / I'll have universal applause. / They'll say to me, "Bravo, Maestro! / I, with a sufficiently modest air, / Will go around with my head bent... / I’ll have eulogies in the newspaper / I know how to make myself immortal. [12]

In reply to the chiding which comes from the other four characters in the piece after the "little composer" 's boasts, in the drama the "composer" responds with:

I have a vast mind, swift talent, ready fantasy—and I'm a thunderbolt at composing. [12]

The performance also included a waltz which Donizetti played and for which he received credit in the libretto. [13] In singing this piece, all five young men were given opportunities to show off their musical knowledge and talent.

The following two years were somewhat precarious for the young Donizetti: the 16-year-old created quite a reputation for what he did do—which is regularly to fail to attend classes—and also for what he did instead, which as to make something of a spectacle of himself in the town. [14]

However, in spite of all this, Mayr not only persuaded Gaetano's parents to allow him to continue studies, but also secured funding from the Congregazione di Carità in Bergamo for two years of scholarships. In addition, he provided the young musician with letters of recommendation to both the publisher Giovanni Ricordi as well as to the Marchese Francesco Sampieri in Bologna (who would find him suitable lodging) and where, at the Liceo Musicale, he was given the opportunity to study musical structure under the renowned Padre Stanislao Mattei. [14]

In Bologna, he would justify the faith which Mayr had placed in him. Author John Stewart Allitt describes his 1816 "initial exercises in operatic style", [15] the opera Il pigmalione, as well as his composition of portions of Olympiade and L'ira d'Achille in 1817, as two being no more than "suggest[ing] the work of a student". [15] Encouraged by Mayr to return to Bergamo in 1817, he began his "quartet years" as well as composing piano pieces and, most likely, being a performing member of quartets where he would have also heard music of other composers. [15] In addition, he began seeking employment.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Gaetano Donizetti
azərbaycanca: Qaetano Donizetti
беларуская: Гаэтана Даніцэці
Bahasa Indonesia: Gaetano Donizetti
македонски: Гаетано Доницети
Bahasa Melayu: Gaetano Donizetti
Nederlands: Gaetano Donizetti
Napulitano: Gaetano Donizetti
norsk nynorsk: Gaetano Donizetti
Plattdüütsch: Gaetano Donizetti
português: Gaetano Donizetti
Simple English: Gaetano Donizetti
slovenčina: Gaetano Donizetti
slovenščina: Gaetano Donizetti
српски / srpski: Гаетано Доницети
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Gaetano Donizetti
українська: Гаетано Доніцетті
Tiếng Việt: Gaetano Donizetti