Gaetano Donizetti Biography


Birthday: November 29, 1797 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Bergamo, Italy

Gaetano Donizetti was an Italian composer best known for composing operas in the bel canto style. Born to a poor family from Bergamo, Gaetano had no family history in music. He was enrolled at a music school run by esteemed German composer Simone Mayr, who had faith in Gaetano’s abilities even after some initial hiccups. Gaetano’s father wanted him to become a church musician but Gaetano was way more interested in composing operas. He exhibited exceptional talent in the field and composed operas such as Anna Bolena, L'elisir d'amore and Don Pasquale among many others. He was known to work across genres and achieved huge success among the masses and the critics. He travelled across cities such as Rome, Venice, Milan, Paris and Naples and composed some of the best operas of his time. Apart from performing his own operas, Gaetano also worked on other opera composers’ works. Throughout his career, he composed 70 operas and 20 string quartets. He also composed some religious songs and cantatas. He also served as the court musician of Ferdinand I during the final years of his life before passing away from neurosyphilis.

Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In November

Also Known As: Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti

Died At Age: 50


Spouse/Ex-: Virginia Vasseli

father: Andrea Donizetti

mother: Domenica Nava

siblings: Francesco Donizetti, Giuseppe Donizetti

Born Country: Italy

Composers Italian Men

Died on: April 8, 1848

place of death: Bergamo, Italy

Notable Alumni: Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini

Diseases & Disabilities: Bipolar Disorder

More Facts

education: Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini

Childhood & Early Life

Gaetano Donizetti was born Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti, on November 29, 1797, in Bergamo, which is in present day Lombardy, Italy. He was born as the youngest child among three, to Andrea Donizetti and Domenica Nava. Gaetano’s family was very poor as his father was only a caretaker of a small pawnshop in town. Gaetano also had no musical history in his family and, his exposure to music came a little late when he was around 9 years old.

In 1805, a famed German composer named Simone Mayr opened a music school in the locality. Andrea wanted to enrol his sons into the school to study music but only Gaetano was accepted as he was the youngest at 9.

Gaetano had a throat defect which acted as a hurdle in him becoming a choirboy while he attended music school. For the first three months, Gaetano was about to be expelled from the school due to this reason but Simone managed to convince the authorities about the extraordinary talents of the young boy and thus, Gaetano remained in school for 9 more years.

Mayr developed the nascent musical ability in Gaetano and the latter excelled at it. With the help of Mayr, Gaetano enrolled at the Liceo Filarmonico at Bologna and began his training as a professional musician. There he was trained in fugue and counterpoint. He was excelling at religious choir music and his father hoped that Gaetano would join a church and help his family struggling through poverty. But Gaetano was more interested in the theatrical compositions.

In Bologna, Gaetano finally excelled and proved unshakeable faith in his abilities right. He composed an opera titled Il pigmalione in 1817. Around the same time, he composed some portions of the operas titled Olympiade and L'ira d'Achille. Thus, his reputation soared as an opera composer

Continue Reading Below

Gaetano’s time in Bologna significantly shaped his musical ambitions. He spent as much time there as he could and returned to Bergamo in 1818. Upon his return, he took multiple big and small jobs as a composer and made acquaintances with many esteemed people from the music industry.

One of the most significant of those associations was the one with Bartolomeo Merelli, who was his old school friend. Without any commission, Gaetano began writing the composition titled Enrico di Borgogna. Soon enough he found an opera house in Venice that accepted it and agreed to stage it. The performance took place in the newly decorated Teatro San Luca, which was met with a somewhat lukewarm review initially but went on to achieve major success.

The success of the opera invited some small commissions towards Gaetano, but nothing too significant. As a result, Gaetano moved back to Bergamo and became composing operas. He wrote at least one dozen operas during the next decade, but his best was yet to come as most of his work was labelled as above average at best.

In the next few years, Gaetano worked across Italy in Rome, Naples and Milan where he composed most of his successful operas. In 1821, he was commissioned to compose an opera in Rome, the resulting opera was titled Zoraida di Granata. After some difficulties initially, it was performed in Rome in January 1822 and became a massive success. Many publications hailed Gaetano as the new strong talent in Italian musical theatre.

He owed a great deal of success to his teacher Mayr, whose letter of recommendations made it easier for Gaetano to get opportunities. At just 24 years of age, Gaetano was already being recognized as one of the most brilliant opera composers in Italy.

Shortly after the performance of Zoraida di Granata he moved to Naples where he was going to spend a major chunk of his life. He was offered a job not only to compose new operas but also to prepare performances by other composers. A few weeks later, he completed writing another successful opera titled La zingara. It ran for many consecutive weeks and played a big role in the advancement of Gaetano’s reputation not only in Italy but all over Europe.

To further cement his success as an opera composer, came Anna Bolena in 1830. The opera was performed in Milan and was yet another majestic success. For his next project, he collaborated with the famous theatre poet named Felice Romani who wrote the libretto for his next opera titled The Elixir of Love. It was a charming comedy and became an instant classic. Lucrezia Borga was yet another successful opera which resulted from their collaboration.

Paris was the Mecca for opera composers in those years and it was the next logical step for Gaetano as well. He had another reason for the big move. His ambitious opera titled Poliuto was banned by the King of Naples. The reason given for it was that such a sacred subject was not suited to be performed on stage. In Paris, Poliuto was retouched and was performed as Les Martys in 1840. 

In the early 1840s, Gaetano also left Paris and moved to Switzerland. He kept moving between Paris, Milan, Vienna and  Naples for work. He also made frequent stops at Bergamo in between. Over the next few years, he produced back to back successful works such as Maria Padilla and Linda di Chamounix.

Due to his soaring reputation, he caught the attention of Ferdinand I, the emperor of Austria. In his presence, Gaetano performed the opera titled Stabat Mater. The emperor liked his work and he was asked to stay in Vienna for at least the next six months as the official court composer to the emperor.

Gaetano was also offered the position of director at Liceo, but he declined the offer. He was much more interested in his operatic career. By the early 1840s, his health had begun deteriorating. One of his last great operas was titled Dom Sebastien. The opera, however, was badly reviewed by the press. It was a big success among the public, like most of his other operas.

Personal Life & Death

Gaetano Donizetti married Virginia Vasseli in 1828. She was the sister of one of his closest friends from Rome. She passed away in 1837 while giving birth to their first child.

Gaetano suffered from neurosyphilis, which impacted his domestic life. It was said that all three stillbirth deaths of three of his children were due to his condition.

By the mid-1840s, Gaetano’s condition had severely deteriorated. He was admitted to a private mental asylum in Paris after frequent bouts of insanity. His devoted Nephew, Andrea, took him back to his hometown of Bergamo. There, Gaetano passed away on April 8, 1848. He was 50 years old at the time of his death.

See the events in life of Gaetano Donizetti in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Gaetano Donizetti Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Ludovico Einaudi Biography
Ludovico Einaudi
Vincenzo Bellini Biography
Vincenzo Bellini
Giuseppe Verdi Biography
Giuseppe Verdi
Francesca Caccini Biography
Francesca Caccini
Niccolo Paganini Biography
Niccolo Paganini
Giovanni Gabrieli Biography
Giovanni Gabrieli
Giuseppe Tartini Biography
Giuseppe Tartini