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 Goito.
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.”
The future author of “Norma” and “La Sonnambula,” Bellini, took his first lessons in music from his father, an organist at Catania.*
* Bellini was born in
1802, nine years after his
contemporary and rival, Donizetti, and died in 1835,
thirteen years before.
He was sent to the Naples Conservatory by the generosity of a noble patron, and there was the fellow-pupil of Mercadante, a composer who blazed into a temporary lustre which threatened to outshine his fellows, but is now forgotten except by the antiquarian and the lover of church music. Bellini’s early works, for he composed three before he was twenty, so pleased Barbaja, the manager of the San Carlo and La Scala, that he intrusted the youth with the libretto of “Il Pirata,” to be composed for representation at Florence. The tenor part was written for the great singer, Rubini, whose name has no peer among artists, since male sopranos were abolished by the outraged moral sense of society. Rubini retired to the country with Bellini, and studied, as they were produced, the simple touching airs with which he so delighted the public on the stage.