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donizetti1.jpg (8904 bytes)If you are looking for an answer to Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia opera that is Guiseppe Donizetti Paşa, Un Italiano in Turchia.

Guiseppe Donizetti was born in Bergamo on 6 November 1788, the elder brother of Gaetano Donizetti, the famous opera composer. His first music teacher was his uncle Gorini. He applied to enter the Pra school of music, but was rejected because he had passed the age limit. A teacher at the at the school, the German composer Mayr, was so sorry to see the boy’s talent wasted that he gave him private lessons. In 1808 Donizetti was called up into the army and became a flutist in the band of the Seventh Regiment. He participated in all Napoleon’s wars in Austria and Spain. When the emperor abdicated at Fountainebleau and was exiled to the Island of Elba, Donizetti was one of the small band whose members volunteered to accompany him. In Elba he married Angela Tondi. He remained with Napoleon when he secretly returned to France and was with him at the Battle of Waterloo. After Napoleon’s defeat and confinement on St. Helena in 1815 Donizetti returned to Italy.

Meanwhile in Turkey Sultan Mahmud II had been biding his time before crushing the reactionaries who opposed radical reform in the country. In 1826 the time came and he destroyed the Janissary Corps, establishing a modern army in its place. The janissary wehter band was replaced by a western style military band made up young men from the Imperial Palace School, and a Frenchman named Mangnel appointed as the band’s conductor. Mangnel proved unequal to the task, however, and Commander in Chief Hüsrev Paşa asked the Marquis Grappolo, Sardinian ambassador to Istanbul, to help find a replacement. Donizetti’s name was put forward by the Council of Turin, and he was accepted for the post on 7 November 1827. He arrived in Istanbul on 17 September 1828 and was received by the sultan. He set to work immediately and quickly established the Imperial Band.

donizetti1.gif (8789 bytes)At that time the Hamparsum notation was used in Turkey (see picture to the left), and Donizetti first set about learning this system so as to teach the musicians the western notation system. With the help of an English naval captain, Adolphus Slade, who was then serving in the Ottoman Empire, new instruments were imported from Europe. In just five or six months Donizetti had trained his band so well that they were ready to perform before the sultan.

During all this time Doizetti and the new band were with the new army, as was Mahmud II, who spent the winter of 1828-1829 at the army barraks in Rami west of Istanbul, and the summer of 1829 at the army encampment on Tarabya Meadows beside the Bosphorus. By the time of their first royal performance, the band had learnt a repertoire consisting largely of compositions by Rossini.

donizetti2.jpg (7341 bytes)Donizetti composed the Mahmudiye March for Mahmud II, and after his death composed the Mecidiye March for his son Sultan Abdülmecid, who came to the throne in 1839 (in 1847) Franz Liszt composed a paraphrase based on the Mecidiye March and presented it to the sultan). Donizetti was presented with a diamond studded tobacco box bearing Abdülmecid’s monogram as a reward for his composition. In 1841 Donizetti was promoted to the rank of colonel and given the decoration reserved for infantry officers, a sword and the title of paşa. He subsequently received a third class Nişan-ı Ali medal.

Meanwhile Donizetti received various awards for his music in Europe. The king of Sardinia presented him with a decoration and a watch, and the French government with the Legion d’Honneur.

Donizetti Paşa lived in a large house in Asmalı Mescid allocated by the government, and towards the end of his life gave up conducting the band although he remained its impressario. He lived in Istanbul until his death on 12 February 1856, and was given a magnificent military funeral.

donizetti3.jpg (18363 bytes)Donizetti Paşa’s younger brother Gaetano was proud of his successful musical career in Turkey, although he was sad at the separation that this entailed. He always referred to Donizetti Paşa as Il Turco, both in conversation and in letters. Donizetti Paşa may have been overshadowed by his brother’s reputation in Europe, but in Turkey he is the one who is best remembered, not so much for his compositions but his key role in introducing western music side by side with classical music.

It is ironic that the tradition of western martial music which Donizetti introduced had itself been strongly influenced by Turkish military music. Turkish armies had had military bands since the middle ages and possibly earlier, and many of their percussion instruments had been borrowed by the west over the centuries. The bass drum, for example, was known as the Turkish drum and was played in Turkish style until well into the 19th century. The period of greatest impact was the 18th century, when bands modeled on the janissary bands were first established in Europe, and European rulers sent their bandmasters to study the art of military music in Istanbul.

An italian in Istanbul - DONIZETTI PAŞA
By Mehmed Reşit Erol