Giuseppe Donizetti 
Giuseppe Donizetti at the Ottoman court
By Emre Aracı
'HE LOVES Constantinople, to which he owes everything; I love Italy because to that country, after my debt to Mayr, I owe my existence and my reputation', wrote Gaetano Donizetti in a letter to his close friend Antonio Dolci in the autumn of 1838. He was referring to his elder brother, Giuseppe, who had become, in 1828, Instructor General of the Imperial Ottoman Music at the court of Sultan Mahmud II (1808-39).
After his native Italy, Constantinople had indeed become a second home for the elder Donizetti, for he lived there for the rest of his life, some twenty-eight years, until his death in 1856. Today he is buried in the vaults of the historic St Esprit Cathedral, near the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, on the European side of the city, in what was once the epicentre of a thriving Christian community, better known as Pera. Yet many contemporary visitors to Istanbul, including enthusiasts of Italian opera, would pass that very spot completely oblivious of this fact. Giuseppe Donizetti Pasha, as he was called in the Levant, played a significant role in the introduction of European music to the Ottoman military. He also taught music at the palace to the members of the Ottoman royal family, the princes and the ladies of the harem, composed the first national anthem of the Ottoman Empire, supported the annual Italian opera season in Pera, organised concerts and operatic performances at court, and played host to a number of eminent virtuosi who visited Constantinople at the time, such as Franz Liszt, Parish Alvars and Leopold de Meyer.
Yet the life and career of the Turkish brother -- fratello Turco Gaetano called him - has always been overshadowed - quite understandably - by the international fame and stature of his obviously more talented junior. Unfavourable comparisons as a result were not, it seems, uncommon. Gaetano himself, for a start, did not hesitate to dismiss his brother's achievements, once remarking: 'I do not want to play the fool like my brother, the Bey, who, after having earned more than I perhaps, stays there in ancient Byzantium.' Having duly noted the 'variegated and interesting career' of the 'most important musician-functionary at the faraway court of Mahmud II', Herbert Weinstock concluded that of all the three Donizetti brothers 'much more of a figure was to be cut in the world by the [famous Gaetano]'. Yet all of this should certainly not mount into a valid excuse to prevent us from looking further into Giuseppe's achievements in the Levant. He was perhaps not a great composer like his brother, but was still an important pedagogue and bandmaster who went down in the history of Turkish music as the founder of European tradition.
It is rather ironic that being elder brother to a celebrity composer, at the same time, appears to have brought some advantages for Giuseppe, and far from eclipsing him into oblivion, secured for him a place in posterity. This is quite clear from the evidence in contemporary as well as modern sources. Francois Joseph Fetis, for example, in his celebrated Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie generale de la musique, did not hesitate to include Giuseppe's name, while the editors of the revised second edition of the New Grove dictionary of music and musicians have decided to resurrect an earlier entry which had been dropped in previous editions. Since a number of other European musicians resident at the Ottoman court who were equally important to Giuseppe Donizetti, including Calisto Guatelli , were excluded from these sources, and since the entries introduce him first and foremost as the `elder brother of Gaetano', it is obvious that Giuseppe was included merely to complete the larger musical portrait of the Donizetti family. Similarly, most European travellers who went to Constantinople and saw him in charge of the military bands there wrote in their accounts of meeting the famous Donizetti's `elder brother', while other foreign musicians were often left out. The fact that any source material on Giuseppe, his letters and diaries, have at all survived today is also due to their relevance to Gaetano Donizetti studies.
Copyright Musical Times Publications, Ltd. Autumn 2002.
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1. Johann Simon Mayr (1763-1845). Back
2. Letter from Gaetano to Dolci (Paris, 13 November 1838), in William Ashbrook: Donizetti (London, 1965), p.225. For the original see: Guido Zavadini: Donizetti: vita, musiche, epistolario (Bergamo, 1948), letter no.316. Back
3. In search of a director for the Imperial Military Music School in Constantinople, the Ottoman Minister of War, Husrev Pasha, contacted a number of foreign delegations, including the embassy of the Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia in Constantinople. The Foreign Ministry in Turin recommended Giuseppe Donizetti, and the Sardinian Ambassador, Marchese Gropallo, communicated this to the Ottoman authorities. According to a ministerial dispatch dated 7 November 1827, Giuseppe Donizetti was officially appointed 'Istruttore Generale delle Musiche Imperiali Ottomane'. He did not arrive in Constantinople until the autumn of 1828 (See: Giuseppe Donizetti [grandson], ed: Ricordi di Gaetano Donizetti, Esposti Nella Mostra Centenaria Tenutasi in Bergamo, Nell'Agosto-Settembre 1897 (Bergamo, 1897), p.54. Back
4. Letter from Gaetano to Dolci (Paris, 13 November 1838), in Ashbrook, p.225; Zavadini, letter no.316. Back
5. Herbert Weinstock: Donizetti and the world of opera in Italy, Paris and Vienna in the first half of the nineteenth century (London, 1964), p.4. Back
6. See Francesco Belotto's article in The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians (second edition), vol.7, pp.497-98. Back
7. Calisto Guatelli was born in Parma on 26 September 1819. He entered the Ducal Music School in 1830 where he studied the double bass with Francesco Hiserich and singing with Antonio de Cesari. After graduating in 1848 he became choirmaster at the Teatro Carlo Felice and on the invitation of Giuseppe Donizetti moved to Constantinople. After Giuseppe's death he succeeded him in his post and continued to live in Constantinople until his death in 1900. He is a composer of a number of military marches and made arrangements of traditional Turkish songs. See Franz Pazdirek: Universal-Handbuch der Musik-- literatur aller Zeiten and Volker (Vienna, 1904-10), p.274. Back