Giuseppe Donizetti 
The Life of a Pasha
By Emre Aracı
GIUSEPPE Ambrogio Donizetti was born in Bergamo on 6 November 1788, as the first child of Domenica Nava and Andrea Donizetti, and spent his childhood in a cramped, decrepit basement flat of two dark rooms in a tenement house outside the old city walls near the Borgo Canal, in rather financially restrained conditions, as once vividly described by Gaetano. His musical skills were at first cultivated by his uncle Giacomo Corini and later shaped by Johann Simon Mayr, who was the maestro di capella at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore. Their correspondence continued even after Giuseppe's departure for Constantinople. Twenty four years later, Mayr was one of the first recipients of the manuscript score of Giuseppe's military march Mahmudiye, for approval, which was specially composed for Mahmud II in 1829.
Financial difficulties experienced by the Donizetti family was undoubtedly the key factor in Giuseppe's decision in accepting the lucrative offer which came from the Ottoman court. He was to be paid 8000 francs for the job, a significant amount even in the 1820s and much higher than Gaetano's income at the time. However, despite the financial reward, his family were greatly opposed to the idea at first. 'I have heard and with great astonishment of my brother Giuseppe's resolution' wrote Gaetano in a letter to his father and continued worrying about a lack of places for prayer:
'I will never applaud such a decision, and it must be that the 8000 francs have blinded him, but you should make him consider that if he finds things don't go well there, he will find it more difficult to find employment in Italy [...] I highly disapprove of such a resolution, [...] I don't want to become a millionaire, for the little I earn satisfies me, and I live without debts and am very happy. Perhaps he desires too much...'
Gaetano's letter further highlights the complex problems posed by the prospect of his brother living in a country ruled by Islamic law and more significantly his becoming a servant to the Khalif of the entire Muslims. Yet in reality the situation for Giuseppe could not have been more different, for he was not only to find himself among a vibrant Christian community, but there were plenty of Christian shrines for him to attend in Pera for prayer. Besides, a large number of Christian officers were being recruited for the Ottoman military service from various European academies of war and therefore the likelihood of he and his wife Angela feeling isolated in an alien environment was nil. They also found great patronage at court and among high-ranking officers. A sign of their comfortable and well-established status is also apparent from the fact that in later years Giuseppe even tried to encourage Gaetano to move to Constantinople, which the latter flatly refused. The Donizettis were so well-liked in the Ottoman capital that when fire broke out near their house Ahmet Fethi Pasha, the sultan's brother-in-law, ordered all the houses surrounding the maestro's home to be razed to the ground in order to prevent the flames reaching the building.
Constantinople in the 1820s was an Eastern city, rapidly developing on Western lines through the determined leadership of Mahmud II, which appropriately won him the title of 'Peter the Great of the Ottoman Empire'. Modern buildings in European architecture were beginning to dominate the skyline of the city, while new military schools of medicine, science and music were being established. For the first time, in 1827, a batch of Turkish students were sent to Paris for education. The first Ottoman official newspaper, Takvim-i Vekayi, began circulation in 1831, and a new postal system was inaugurated in 1834. Mahmud's keen regeneration programme also covered the forms of official dress and, as a result, new headgear, the crimson fez, was adopted for all civil servants and military personnel, as well as new tight frock coats and trousers, as opposed to the turban and baggy shalvar. But, most importantly, in the bloody uprising of 1826, known as the Vaka-i Hayriye (the Auspicious Incident), Mahmud succeeded in extinguishing the corrupt corps of the once elite janissaries, which had for some time become the major obstacle in the reform movement, and founded a completely modern army, which also incorporated European style military bands.
Perhaps the most important and original piece of music the regimental bands in the Ottoman Empire were taught to play was Giuseppe's military march for Mahmud II. This was unprecedented, since never before in Ottoman history had a sultan a personal march composed for him by a European musician which not only received official approval but was also accepted and, to a certain extent, treated as national anthem. It was to a certain extent, because, unlike a permanent national anthem, the official march of the Ottoman Empire changed on the accession of a new sultan. When Abdulmecid (1839-61) succeeded to his father's throne in 1839, Giuseppe Donizetti composed a new march, which came to be known as Mecidiye'. Dedicating military marches to Ottoman rulers at this time seems to have become a vogue among European composers, which included some eminent names as well as lesser-known figures. Gaetano Donizetti, having finally succumbed to Turkish charm and Rossini , for example, were among a number of composers who dedicated military marches to Abdulmecid, and when Franz Liszt performed before him in the summer of 1847, during his Oriental trip, he used themes from Giuseppe's Mecidiye in a grand paraphrase for the piano which was specially composed to please the Ottoman ruler.
Private performances of Italian opera were also very popular at the court of Abdulmecid, Constantinople had boasted a number of theatres since the early 1830's, sustaining a high standard of performance for a long time, where the latest operas of Donizetti and Verdi were performed by some highly distinguished artists. Theatre companies would be invited to the palace to perform for His Majesty's pleasure, when Giuseppe Donizetti would often be on duty by his side, ready to give explanations about the work.
Having just been created a commander of the Order of Mecidiye and thus receiving one of the highest honours of the Ottoman Empire, after years of distinguished service, Giuseppe Donizetti died on 17 February 1856, aged sixty-seven. But his death was certainly not the end for the Donizettis in Constantinople. A further two generations of his family after him remained in Turkey for some considerable time, including his widow Angela who was also buried at St Esprit Cathedral in Istanbul with her husband. In 1921, following the end of the World War I, the last member of the family finally left Istanbul indefinitely for Naples, thus bringing the family's presence in Turkey to an end. Today, what remains of the family's archive from their Ottoman sojourn is preserved at the Topkapi Palace Museum Library in Istanbul, the contents of which were discovered by chance in the 1970s, when an unclaimed bank safe was opened after fifty years under the Turkish state law.
Although small in size, the collection, which awaits deserved attention from international scholarship, is still an important testimony to the presence of the Donizettis in Constantinople for nearly a century.
Giuseppe Donizetti was not the only European musician engaged in Turkey for the purposes of musical reform, although what he did at the time was clearly rather pioneering. In the following century when the young Turkish republic under Atatürk's direction also pursued a music policy along Western lines it was again under the guidance of Western experts. This time, however, it involved names such as Paul Hindemith, Bela Bartok, Eduard Zuckmayer, Licco Amar, Carl Ebert and Ernst Praetorius. Today their legacies continue to live on at the state conservatories in Turkey.
Copyright Musical Times Publications, Ltd. Autumn 2002.
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.
8. For biographical sources on Giuseppe Donizetti, see Francois Joseph Fetis: Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie generate de la musique (Paris, 1833-44); A. Bacolla: "Giuseppe Donizetti e la musica in Turchia", in Piemonte (Torino, 1 June 1911) (also translated into French by Giuseppe Donizetti [grandson] as "La musique en Turquie et quelques traits biographiques, sur Giuseppe Donizetti Pacha" (Constantinople, 1911). Back
9. In a letter to Mayr written on 15 July 1843, Gaetano recorded: 'I was born underground in Borgo Canale - you went down by a cellar stairs to which no suspicion of light ever penetrated' (Weinstock, p.5). Back
10. Entitled "Marcia favorita del gran Sultano Mahmud II"; the manuscript sent to Mayr is at the Fondazione Gaetano Donizetti, Bergamo. Back
11. Verzino: Contributo ad una biografia di Gaetano Donizetti, p.14.Back
12. Ashbrook, p.92; Zavadini, letter no.37. Back
13. 'Because I don't want to go to Constantinople, Giuseppe writes me a very troublesome letter' wrote Gaetano to Antonio Vaselli on 20 February 1844 (Weinstock, p.216). Zavadini lists this letter as Vienna, 29 February 1844 according to the postmark; see Zavadini, letter no.547 Back
14. Letter from Gaetano to Dolci (Vien: November 1844); Zavadini, letter no.600. Back
15. Bernard Lewis: The Emergence of Modern Turkey (Oxford, 1961), p.76. Back
16. It seems that among students educated in Paris some even received musical training according to a report published in the The Musical World in London: 'A young Turk, who had acquired his education at Paris, played among other pieces one of Beethoven's sonatas with variations, which enraptured the assembly and drew down thunders of applause' (The Musical World (6 June 1839), p.91). Back
17. Hans Christian Andersen who visited Constantinople in 1841 heard the Mecidiye March during a Friday procession of Sultan Abdulmecid to the mosque: `In general, pieces from Rossini's William Tell were played, but suddenly they were broken off, and the strains of the young Sultan's favourite march were heard. This march had been composed by the brother of Donizetti, who has been appointed bandmaster here'. Trans. HW Duleken, in The complete illustrated stories of Hans Christian Andersen, "Mahomet's Birthday - A scene in Constantinople" (Chancellor Press, 1889), p. 835. Back
18. In a letter to Dolci dated 18 February 1841, Gaetano wrote: 'I received from the great Sultan, in return for an Imperial march I composed, the Order of Thourat [Nişan-i Iftihar] like my brother. Napoleon belongs to two centuries, I to two religions' (Ashbrook, p.252; Zavadini, letter no.356). Back
19. Rossini composed a Marcia militare for Sultan Abdulmecid in 1852, for which he received the Ottoman Order of Nişan-i Iftihar. The Musical World reported the new composition in the following fashion: '"Will you be kind enough to give that to the Sultan?" said he to the Sultan's attache. "What is the price?" asked the latter. "Nothing - I am only too happy that I am able to do anything that can please his Highness." Knowing the Sultan's taste for military music, Rossini had composed a new march' (The Musical World (31 July 1852), vol.30, no.31, p.485). Back
20. Entitled Grande paraphrase de la marche de J. Donizetti the work was published by Schlesinger of Berlin the following year, together with a simplified version. For further details on Liszt's stay in Constantinople, see Emre Araci: "Franz Liszt at the Ottoman court", in International Piano Quarterly (Winter 2001), pp.14-19. Back
21. Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris (7 December 1851), vol. 18 no.49, p.400. Back
22. In 1831 Giuseppe was awarded the Order of Nisan-i Iftihar. A colour drawing and a description of the 'Order of Thurat' bestowed upon Giuseppe Donizetti by Sultan Mahmud II is in the Biblioteca Civica 'Angelo Mai', Bergamo (Specola Doc.936). He was made a cavalier of the Order of Mecidiye in 1854, and a Commendatore of the same order in 1856. Back
23. See Emre Aracı: "Reforming zeal", in The Musical Times (September 1997), pp. 12-15. Back