Gaetano Donizetti's Eighteenth String Quartet (Autograph)

Maurizio Tomasi,

Included in this zip archive there are the score and the solo parts of the eighteenth string quartet by Gaetano Donizetti (Bergamo, 1797 - Bergamo, 1848).

The source text used for this edition was [1]. This seems to be a very rare edition; I found only a microfilm at the Public Library of Bergamo "Angelo Maj".

The original autograph is likely to be kept in one of the libraries in Bergamo (either the "Angelo Maj" Public Library or into the Conservatorio "G. Donizetti"). However, I have been not able to determine where it is now. The Public Library and the Library of the Conservatorio "G. Donizetti" are reorganizing their archives, and such an information is difficult to find at the moment (Spring 2003).

In the preface of [1], the editor states that the autograph of quartet nr. 18 was reproduced unabrigedly ("non ho potuto che attenermi scrupolosamente ai manoscritti autografi lasciando al criterio e al buon gusto degli esecutori la cura di segnare legature, staccati e segni dinamici"). This explains the many errors in the score. If you look at the .ly files in the zip archive you will find some comments starting with [R] which suggest some corrections.

An unknown hand already corrected most of these errors in the source text used to prepare the microfilm. In the majority of cases I reported these corrections in the comments, excluding only those which "pushed too far".


The score was reproduced unabrigedly, except for a few minor details. These are: stem/slur/tie directions (determined algorithmically by Lilypond), number of bars per staff, number of staves per page. Also, note that Donizetti noted tremoli in the last movement (e.g. bar 163 Violin II) using empty note heads, while in such cases (a pair of eighth notes repeated three times) Lilypond prints filled note heads by default.

Historial Notes

Gaetano Donizetti (Bergamo, 1797 - id., 1848) is one of the greatest italian operists of the first half of XIX century. His most successful works are "L'elisir d'amore", "Lucia di Lammermoor" (after "The Bride of Lammermoor" by W. Scott), "Linda di Chamounix" and "Don Pasquale".

Donizetti studied composition with Johann Simon Mayr (Mendorf, 1763 - Bergamo, 1845), a german composer which settled in Bergamo in 1789 [2]. Mayr was the founder of a musical association which aimed to publicize the works by the most important Viennese composers, namely Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. He also wrote musical essays about these subjects, like "Brevi notizie istoriche della vita e delle opere di G. Haydn" ("Brief historical facts about life and works by J. Haydn"). The "Angelo Maj" Library in Bergamo keep a collection of manuscripts owned by Mayr which casts some light on his musical taste: among the others, symphonies nn. 1,2,3,4,8 by Beethoven, Médée by Cherubini, Haydn's string quartets op. 64, Mozart's string quintets KV. 515, 516, 593 and 614.

Thanks to the so-called "lezioni caritatevoli" ("charitable lessons") held for free by Mayr for musically gifted children with no means, Donizetti began to study music at the age of 9. In 1815 Mayr, having sought the spark of genious in his pupil, sent Donizetti to the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, where he studied counterpoint for two years with father Stanislao Mattei (1757-1825). In 1817 Donizetti, having achieved firm basis in counterpoint, returned to Bergamo and began to write his first operas, helped by Mayr's suggestions. Even through long separations, Donizetti and Mayr remained friends for their whole life.

Donizetti composed the first sixteen quartets between 1817 and 1821, when he returned to Bergamo after his studies in Bologna. Donizetti wrote these works with no aim to publish them; they were used for domestic soirées whom Mayr often joined too. These quartets are generally considered to be scholastic works, and clearly show the influence of Haydn and Mozart. Only the fifth string quartet in E minor has gained some popularity, since today it is Donizetti's most performed quartet. The seventeenth and eighteenth string quartets were composed in 1825 and 1836 respectively.

Apart from the eighteen "official" string quartets, Donizetti wrote another quartet in C major which is partially lost and it is therefore not counted in the catalogue of his works. Another string quartet in A minor was left unfinished after 122 bars.

The eighteenth string quartet was composed in 1836, when Donizetti was in Napoli to organize the premiere of the "Campanello" (1st June), the "Betly" (August) and the "Assedio di Calais" (19th November), all to be performed at the S. Carlo Theatre. Because of repeated cholera epidemics, the public autorithies disposed various quarantines which forced impresari to close theaters. Donizetti probably wrote the quartet in E minor during these periods of forced rest.

These were particularly hard times for Donizetti, which faced the death of many relatives in less than two years [3]: his father, Andrea (9th December 1836), his mother Domenica Nava, (10th February, 1837), and his beloved wife, Virginia Vaselli (30th July 1837), which died in childbirth at the age of 28. Some of his grief might be found in the first movement of this quartet.

Since no autograph of the single parts survive (unlike the majority of the other quartets), it is likely that this piece was never played during Donizetti's life. However, he reused the first movement in the ouverture of "Linda di Chamounix".

It is interesting to search for similarities between this quartet and the great Viennese string quartets by F. J. Haydn and Mozart. Worth of mention is the beginning of the Adagio: the first three chords are equal, with respect to notes, tempo marking and key, to the first bars of the "Adagio Cantabile", from the string quartet op. 76 n. 1 in G major by Haydn.

Maurizio Tomasi, July 2003