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Donizetti Pascià, the “Turkish brother” at the Ottoman court
The fame of Gaetano Donizetti has overshadowed, and not surprisingly, the activity of his older brother Giuseppe, also a musician. Giuseppe Donizetti, however, deserves to be known and remembered for his noteworthy and decidedly off-the-beaten path professional path.
Giuseppe Donizetti was in fact for 28 years general manager of imperial music at the Ottoman court of Constantinople, where he lived from 1828 until his death in 1856. He was also the author of the first national anthem, and contributed to the spread of Western music in the Ottoman Empire .

Representative of that large group of active Italian musicians, especially from the eighteenth century, up to the most distant capitals and cities of Europe and then of the world, his path is part of the wider phenomenon - not yet sufficiently investigated as a whole - of a widespread international presence, at various levels, of Italian artists, writers, men of culture and business that has given rise to multiple influences and cultural exchanges.

Giuseppe was born in Bergamo in 1788, the eldest son of Andrea Donizetti and Domenica Nava, of very modest means. He trained as a tailor, a profession common at the time in Lombardy, but he also studied music with his uncle Giacomo Carini. When Giovanni Simone Mayr, famous opera composer and maestro di cappella at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, established the Charitable Music Lessons, he attempted to enroll, but since he was already 17 years old, he could not be admitted due to having exceeded the age limit. (The school was instead attended by little Gaetano, who was then nine years old.) However, Mayr, struck by the boy's talent, generously gave him private lessons.

In 1808, at the age of 20 - also driven by economic difficulties - Giuseppe was able to enlist in the Napoleonic army by registering as a "Musician and Tailor". He served as a flutist and bandmaster of the VII Regiment in the campaigns against Austria and in Spain, and was among those who followed Napoleon into exile on Elba. He was still in the service of Napoleon's forces in all the battles of the 'Hundred Days', except Waterloo.

In 1815 he married a local girl in Portoferraio. In the same year, having defeated Napoleon, he left military service in France and returned to Italy. In October he enlisted in the army of the Kingdom of Sardinia and Piedmont, continuing his career as a military musician. In 1821 he became head of music and director of the band of the First Regiment of the Casale Brigade.

Thanks to its visibility on the international military scene, the Marquis Groppallo, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sardinia to Constantinople, reported it to Sultan Mahmud II (1785-39). The sultan, in office since 1808, was a reformer, and had initiated a process of profound renewal of the Ottoman Empire. He introduced numerous administrative, fiscal and military reforms, and favored Westernization in various fields, including the cultural sphere.

Among many innovations, the army was also reorganized on the Western model, including the establishment of a new military band. It was therefore necessary to hire a renowned European musician able to instruct and organize her. Furthermore, in the context of the wider process of Westernization, Mahmud wanted to promote the teaching of European music to members of the royal family and the court.

Thus it was that in 1828, through the ambassador Groppallo, Donizetti received the invitation from the sultan to settle in Constantinople as General Instructor of Imperial Ottoman Music, with the offer of a substantial compensation of 8,000 francs.

Donizetti accepted, and arrived on the Bosphorus, he took up his post on September 17, 1828. From Italy he had brought with him the musical instruments needed by a European-type military band. He also had some Italian musicians with experience in military bands and talent in teaching music. It was in fact possible for him to organize the new formation and give a concert in the presence of the sultan only a month after his arrival.

Istanbul will be a second home for Giuseppe Donizetti, who spent the rest of his life there, so much so that Gaetano, who became one of the most famous composers in Europe, called him "my Turkish brother".

He settled with his wife in Pera (today Beyoglu), the European quarter and ancient Genoese colony, in a small building in the Asmalimescit area, inhabited by a cosmopolitan community with an Italian majority.

Upon the death of Sultan Mahmud II, Donizetti's career continued under his successor Abdul Mejid I (1823 - 1861). In the turbulence of the first half of the nineteenth century, his path traced a significant cultural trajectory between Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

Donizetti reformed the sultan's military music on the Western model and taught in the Serail and the Harem, and several personalities who in various ways influenced the subsequent developments of music in the Ottoman territories also studied with him. The military band he founded and directed is the origin of the current Presidential Symphony Orchestra of the Republic of Turkey. Donizetti also composed the first national anthem of the Ottoman Empire, the march Mahmudiye (1829), a royal anthem written for Mahmud II.

He became interested in Turkish culture, particularly exploring Ottoman music, and collected transcriptions of both popular melodies and cultured compositions. His teacher seems to have been the great dervish musician Ismail Dede Efendi (1778-1846).

He contributed to the diffusion of Italian opera and European music in the multicultural context of the 'Stamboul' of those years: he worked actively in the creation of the opera seasons in Pera, where he then took over the direction of the Naum Theatre, and took care of the organization of the palace concerts, hosting some of the greatest virtuosos of the time including the Austrian pianist Leopold von Meyer, the famous British harpist and composer Parish Alvars, and a celebrity of the first magnitude such as Franz Liszt.

On that occasion Liszt dedicated to him the Grande Paraphrase de le marche de Donizetti composed pour Sa Majesté le Soultan Abdul Mejid-Khan (1847), which was published in Berlin the following year.

Giuseppe Donizetti carried out his role with great competence and modesty, qualities that earned him the appreciation and friendship of both Sultans and a brilliant career full of certificates of esteem and honors. He first had the rank of colonel and the title of Bey, was then promoted to general and awarded the title of Pasha by Sultan Abdul Mejid for his merits as teacher, organizer and director.

Upon his death, on February 12, 1856, the sultan ordered the funeral with military honors. The coffin was accompanied by the execution of a march composed by Abdul Mejid himself in homage to his great Italian master. Giuseppe Donizetti was buried in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Spirit (now a cathedral), where his tomb can still be visited.

Another Italian, Callisto Guatelli (1819 - 1900), was appointed his successor. A native of Parma, after having worked in various theaters, he settled in Constantinople in the 1840s. He became director of the Naum Theater, and from 1848 double bass player in the sultan's court orchestra. Like Donizetti, Guatelli was also named Pasha and spent the rest of his life in Istanbul.

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