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Great Italian and French Composers By George T. Ferris Characters: 5247

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"La Favorita," the story of which was drawn from "L'Ange de Nigida," and founded in the first instance on a French play, "Le Comte de Commingues," was put on the stage at the Académie with a magnificent cast and scenery, and achieved a success immediately great, for as a dramatic opera it stands far in the van of all the composer's productions. The whole of the grand fourth act, with the exception of one cavatina, was composed in three hours. Donizetti had been dining at the house of a friend, who was engaged in the evening to go to a ball. On leaving the house, his host, with profuse apologies, begged the composer to stay and finish his coffee, of which Donizetti was inordinately fond. The latter sent out for music paper, and, finding himself in the vein for composition, went on writing till the completion of the work. He had just put the final stroke to the celebrated "Viens dans un autre patrie" when his friend returned at one in the morning to congratulate him on his excellent method of passing the time, and to hear the music sung for the first time from Donizetti's own lips.

After visiting Rome, Milan, and Vienna, for which last city he wrote "Linda di Chamouni," our composer returned to Paris, and in 1843 wrote "Don Pasquale" for the Theatre Italien, and "Don Sebastian" for the Académie. Its lugubrious drama was fatal to the latter, but the brilliant gayety of "Don Pasquale," rendered specially delightful by such a magnificent cast as Grisi, Mario, Tamburini, and Lablache, made it one of the great art attractions of Paris, and a Fortunatus purse for the manager. The music of this work perhaps is the best ever written by Donizetti, though it lacks the freshness and sentiment of his "Elisir d'Amore," which is steeped in rustic poetry and tenderness like a rose wet with dew. The production of "Maria di Rohan" in Vienna the same year, an opera with some powerful dramatic effects and bold music, gave Ronconi the opportunity to prove himself not merely a fine buffo singer, but a noble tragic actor. In this work Donizetti displays that rugged earnestness and vigor so characteristic of Verdi; and, had his life been greatly prolonged, we might have seen him ripen into a passion and power at odds with the elegant frivolity which for the most part tainted his musical quality. Donizetti's last opera, "Catarina Comaro" the sixty-third one represented, was brought out at Naples in the year 1844 without adding aught to his reputation. Of this composer's long list of works only ten or eleven retain any hold on the stage, his best serious operas being "La Favorita," "Linda," "Anna Bole

na," "Lucrezia Borgia," and "Lucia;" the finest comic works, "L'Elisir d'Amore," "La Fille du Regiment," and "Don Pasquale."

In composing Donizetti never used the pianoforte, writing with great rapidity and never making corrections. Yet curious to say, he could not do anything without a small ivory scraper by his side, though never using it. It was given him by his father when commencing his career, with the injunction that, as he was determined to become a musician, he should make up his mind to write as little rubbish as possible, advice which Donizetti sometimes forgot.

The first signs of the malady, which was the cause of the composer's death, had already shown themselves in 1845. Fits of hallucination and all the symptoms of approaching derangement displayed themselves with increasing intensity. An incessant worker, overseer of his operas on twenty stages, he had to pay the tax by which his fame became his ruin. It is reported that he anticipated the coming scourge, for during the rehearsals of "Don Sebastian" he said, "I think I shall go mad yet." Still he would not put the bridle on his restless activity. At last paralysis seized him, and in January, 1846, he was placed under the care of the celebrated Dr. Blanche at Ivry. In the hope that the mild influence of his native air might heal his distempered brain, he was sent to Bergamo, in 1848, but died in his brother's arms April 8th. The inhabitants of the Peninsula were then at war with Austria, and the bells that sounded the knell of Donizetti's departure mingled their solemn peals with the roar of the cannon fired to celebrate the victory of Go?to.

His faithful valet, Antoine, wrote to Adolphe Adam, describing his obsequies: "More than four thousand persons," he relates, "were present at the ceremony. The procession was composed of the numerous clergy of Bergamo, the most illustrious members of the community and its environs, and of the civic guard of the town and the suburbs. The discharge of musketry, mingled with the light of three or four thousand torches, presented a fine effect; the whole was enhanced by the presence of three military bands and the most propitious weather it was possible to behold. The young gentlemen of Bergamo insisted on bearing the remains of their illustrious fellow-townsman, although the cemetery was a league and a half from the town. The road was crowded its whole length by people who came from the surrounding country to witness the procession; and to give due praise to the inhabitants of Bergamo, never, hitherto, had such great honors been bestowed upon any member of that city."

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