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Biography of

Gaetano Donizetti

29 nov 1797 (Bergamo) - 8 apr 1848 (Bergamo)
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Gaetano Donizetti.

Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (29 November 1797 – 8 April 1848) was an Italian composer from Bergamo, Lombardy. Donizetti's most famous work is Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), although arguably his most immediately recognizable piece of music is the aria "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'elisir d'amore (1832). Along with Vincenzo Bellini and Gioachino Rossini, he was a leading composer of bel canto opera.



Gaetano Donizetti.

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 with no tradition of music, his father being the caretaker of the town pawnshop. Nevertheless, Donizetti received some musical instruction from Johann Simon Mayr, a priest at Bergamo's principal church (and also himself a composer of successful operas).

Donizetti was not especially successful as a choirboy, but in 1806 he was one of the first pupils to be enrolled at the Lezioni Caritatevoli school, founded by Johann Simon Mayr, in Bergamo through a full scholarship. He received detailed training in the arts of fugue and counterpoint, and it was here that he launched his operatic career. After some minor compositions under the commission of Paolo Zanca, Donizetti wrote his fourth opera, Zoraïda di Granata. This work impressed Domenico Barbaia, a prominent theatre manager, and Donizetti was offered a contract to compose in Naples. Writing in Rome and Milan in addition to Naples, Donizetti achieved some success (his 75 operas written in the space of just 12 years were usually popular successes, but the critics were often unimpressed), but was not well known internationally until 1830, when his Anna Bolena was premiered in Milan. He almost instantly became famous throughout Europe. L'elisir d'amore, a comedy produced in 1832, came soon after, and is deemed one of the masterpieces of the comic opera, as is his Don Pasquale, written in 1843. Shortly after L'elisir d'amore, Donizetti composed Lucia di Lammermoor, based on the Sir Walter Scott novel The Bride of Lammermoor. It became his most famous opera, and one of the high points of the bel canto tradition, reaching stature similar to Bellini's Norma.

After the success of Lucrezia Borgia (1833) consolidated his reputation, Donizetti followed the paths of both Rossini and Bellini by visiting Paris, but his opera Marino Falerio suffered by comparison with Bellini's I puritani, and he returned to Naples to produce his already-mentioned masterpiece, Lucia di Lammermoor. As Donizetti's fame grew, so did his engagements, as he was further hired to write in both France and Italy. In 1838, he moved to Paris after the Italian censor objected to the production of Poliuto (on the grounds that such a sacred subject was inappropriate for the stage); there he wrote La fille du régiment, which became another success.

As a conductor, he led the premiere of Rossini's Stabat Mater.

Donizetti's wife, Virginia Vasselli, gave birth to three children, none of whom survived. Within a year of his parents' deaths, his wife died from cholera. By 1843, Donizetti exhibited symptoms of syphilis. After being institutionalized in 1845, he was sent to Paris, where he could be cared for. After visits from friends, including Giuseppe Verdi, Donizetti was sent back to Bergamo, his hometown. After several years in the grip of insanity, he died in 1848 in the house of the noble family Scotti. After his death Donizetti was buried in the cemetery of Valtesse but in the late 19th century his body was transferred to Bergamo's Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore near the grave of his teacher Johann Simon Mayr.

Donizetti is best known for his operatic works, but he also wrote music in a number of other forms, including some church music, a number of string quartets, and some orchestral works.

He was the younger brother of Giuseppe Donizetti, who had become, in 1828, Instructor General of the Imperial Ottoman Music at the court of Sultan Mahmud II (1808–1839).


Gaetano Donizetti

Donizetti was a prolific composer. He composed about 75 operas, 16 symphonies, 19 string quartets, 193 songs, 45 duets, 3 oratorios, 28 cantatas, instrumental concertos, sonatas, and other chamber pieces.


  • Maria Stuarda (30 December 1835, Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Marin Faliero (12 March 1835, Théâtre-Italien, Paris)
  • Lucia di Lammermoor (26 September 1835, Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Belisario (4 February 1836, Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
  • Il campanello di notte (1 June 1836, Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • Betly, o La capanna svizzera (21 August 1836, Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • L'assedio di Calais (19 November 1836, Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Pia de' Tolomei (18 February 1837, Teatro Apollo, Venice)
  • Pia de' Tolomei [rev] (31 July 1837, Sinigaglia)
  • Betly [rev] ((?) 29 September 1837, Teatro del Fondo, Naples)
  • Roberto Devereux (28 October 1837, Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Maria de Rudenz (30 January 1, 1838 Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
  • Gabriella di Vergy [rev] (written: 1838; August 1978 recording, London)
  • Poliuto (written: 1838; premiere: 30 November 1848, Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Pia de' Tolomei [rev 2] (30 September 1838, Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Lucie de Lammermoor [rev of Lucia di Lammermoor] (6 August 1839, Théâtre de la Renaissance, Paris)
  • Le duc d'Albe (written: 1839; premiere: 22 March 1882, Teatro Apollo, Rome) (Il duca d'Alba)
  • Lucrezia Borgia [rev] (11 January 1840, Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Poliuto [rev] (Les martyrs) (10 April 1840, Paris Opera (Salle Le Peletier)
  • La fille du régiment (11 February 1840, Opéra-Comique, Paris)
  • L'ange de Nisida (1839; ?)
  • Lucrezia Borgia [rev 2] (31 October 1840, Théâtre-Italien, Paris)
  • La favorite [rev of L'ange de Nisida] (2 December 1840, Paris Opera (Salle Le Peletier)
  • Adelia (11 February 1841, Teatro Apollo, Rome)
  • Rita (Deux hommes et une femme) (written: 1841; premiere: 7 May 1860, Opéra-Comique, Paris)
  • Maria Padilla (26 December 1841, Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Linda di Chamounix (19 May 1842, Kärntnertortheater, Vienna)
  • Linda di Chamounix [rev] (17 November 1842, Théâtre-Italien, Paris)
  • Caterina Cornaro (18 January 1844, Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Don Pasquale (3 January 1843, Théâtre-Italien, Paris)
  • Maria di Rohan (5 June 1843, Kärntnertortheater, Vienna)
  • Dom Sébastien (13 November 1843, Paris Opera (Salle Le Peletier)
  • Dom Sébastien [rev] (6 February 1845, Kärntnertortheater, Vienna)

Choral works

  • Ave Maria
  • Grande Offertorio
  • Il sospiro
  • Messa da Requiem
  • Messa di Gloria e Credo
  • Miserere (Psalm 50)

Orchestral works

  • Allegro for Strings in C major
  • L'ajo nell'imbarazzo: Sinfonia
  • Larghetto, tema e variazioni in E flat major
  • Roberto Devereux: Sinfonia
  • Sinfonia Concertante in D major (1818)
  • Sinfonia for Winds in G minor (1817)
  • Sinfonia in A major
  • Sinfonia in C major
  • Sinfonia in D major
  • Sinfonia in D minor
  • Ugo, conte di Parigi: Sinfonia


  • Concertino for Clarinet in B flat major
  • Concertino for English Horn in G major (1816)
  • Concertino in C minor for flute and chamber orchestra (1819)
  • Concertino for Flute and Orchestra in C major
  • Concertino for Flute and Orchestra in D major
  • Concertino for Oboe in F major
  • Concertino for Violin and Cello in D minor
  • Concerto for 2 Clarinets "Maria Padilla"
  • Concerto for Violin and Cello in D minor

Chamber works

  • Andante sostenuto for Oboe and Harp in F minor
  • Introduction for Strings in D major
  • Larghetto and Allegro for Violin and Harp in G minor
  • Largo/Moderato for Cello and Piano in G minor
  • Nocturnes (4) for Winds and Strings
  • Quartet for Strings in D major
  • Quartet for Strings no 3 in C minor: 2nd movement, Adagio ma non troppo
  • Quartet for Strings no 4 in D major
  • Quartet for Strings no 5 in E minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 5 in E minor: Larghetto
  • Quartet for Strings no 6 in G minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 7 in F minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 8 in B flat major
  • Quartet for Strings no 9 in D minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 10 in G minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 11 in C major
  • Quartet for Strings no 12 in C major
  • Quartet for Strings no 13 in A major
  • Quartet for Strings no 14 in D major
  • Quartet for Strings no 15 in F major
  • Quartet for Strings no 16 in B minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 17 in D major
  • Quartet for Strings no 18 in E minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 18 in E minor: Allegro
  • Quintet for Guitar and Strings no 2 in C major
  • Solo de concert
  • Sonata for Flute and Harp
  • Sonata for Flute and Piano in C minor
  • Sonata for Oboe and Piano in F major
  • Study for Clarinet no 1 in B flat major
  • Trio for Flute, Bassoon and Piano in F major

Piano works

  • Adagio and Allegro for Piano in G major
  • Allegro for Piano in C major
  • Allegro for Piano in F minor
  • Fugue for Piano in G minor
  • Grand Waltz for Piano in A major
  • Larghetto for Piano in A minor "Una furtiva lagrima"
  • Larghetto for Piano in C major
  • Pastorale for Piano in E major
  • Presto for Piano in F minor
  • Sinfonia for Piano in A major
  • Sinfonia for Piano no 1 in C major
  • Sinfonia for Piano no 1 in D major
  • Sinfonia for Piano no 2 in C major
  • Sinfonia for Piano no 2 in D major
  • Sonata for Piano in C major
  • Sonata for Piano in F major
  • Sonata for Piano in G major
  • Variations for Piano in E major
  • Variations for Piano in G major
  • Waltz for Piano in A major
  • Waltz for Piano in C major
  • Waltz for Piano in C major "The Invitation"



  • "Ah, by Bacchus, with this aria I shall receive universal applause. People will say to me, “Bravo maestro!”
I, in a very modest manner, shall walk about with bowed head; I’ll have rave reviews…I can become immortal…
My mind is vast, my genius swift...
And at composing, a thunderbolt am I."
(From a poem composed by 14-year-old Gaetano Donizetti)
  • "Donizetti, when asked which of his own operas he thought the best, spontaneously replied, 'How can I say which? A father always has a preference for a crippled child, and I have so many.'" (Louis Engel: "From Mozart to Mario", 1886)

See also


  • William Ashbrook: Donizetti and his Operas, Cambridge:Cambridge University Press 1982. Ashbrook also wrote an earlier life entitled Donizetti in 1965.
  • Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Volume 7, London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 2001, pp. 761–796. The 1980 edition article, by William Ashbrook and Julian Budden, was also reprinted in The New Grove Masters of Italian Opera, London: Papermac, 1984, pp. 93–154.
  • Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Volume 1, London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1997, pp. 1201–1221.
  • Egidio Saracino (ed), Tutti I libretti di Donizetti, Garzanti Editore, 1993.
  • Herbert Weinstock, Donizetti, London: Metheun & Co., Ltd., 1964. (UK publication date).
  • Giuliano Donati Petténi, Donizetti, Milano: Fratelli Treves Editori, 1930
  • Guido Zavadini, Donizetti: Vita - Musiche- Epistolario, Bergamo, 1948
  • John Stewart Allitt, Gaetano Donizetti – Pensiero, musica, opere scelte, Milano: Edizione Villadiseriane, 2003
  • John Stewart Allitt, Donizetti – in the light of romanticism and the teaching of Johann Simon Mayr, Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element Books, 1991. Also see Allitt's website
  • Annalisa Bini & Jeremy Commons, Le prime rappresentazioni delle opere di Donizetti nella stampa coeva, Milan: Skira, 1997
  • John Black, Donizetti's Operas in Naples 1822-1848, London: The Donizetti Society, 1982
  • James P. Cassaro, Gaetano Donizetti - A Guide to Research, New York: Garland Publishing. 2000
  • Leopold M Kantner, ed., Donizetti in Wien, papers from a symposium in various languages (ISBN 3-7069-0006-8 / ISSN 156,00-8921). Published by Primo Ottocento, available from Edition Praesens.
  • Philip Gossett, "Anna Bolena" and the Artistic Maturity of Gaetano Donizetti, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985
  • Egidio Saracino Ed., Tutti i libretti di Donizetti, Milan: Garzanti, 1993
  • Marcello Sorce Keller, "Gaetano Donizetti: un bergamasco compositore di canzoni napoletane", Studi Donizettiani, III(1978), 100- 107.
  • Marcello Sorce Keller, "Io te voglio bene assaje: a Famous Neapolitan Song Traditionally Attributed to Gaetano Donizetti", The Music Review, XLV (1984), no. 3- 4, 251- 264. Also published as: "Io te voglio bene assaje: una famosa canzone napoletana tradizionalmente attribuita a Gaetano Donizetti, La Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana, 1985, no. 4, 642- 653.

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