Lege Artis Medicinae

[Donizetti's ailment: mood disorder, Barbaja, or luetic derailment?]

JANKA Zoltán1, SZAKÁCS Réka1

OCTOBER 20, 2019

Lege Artis Medicinae - 2019;29(10)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33616/lam.29.042

[The occurrence of specific forms of mood disorders is significantly higher among eminent creative persons, thus the talent and creative skills show some connections or may have common roots with mood swings. This phenomenon can be observed among composers as well. Our paper briefly summarizes several aspects of Gaetano Do­ni­zetti’s life (1797-1848), and some characteristic features of his operas. After his musical studies and initial successes Donizetti was hired by the opera impresario Domenico Bar­baja who pressed him under contract to write operas in a considerable number. Do­ni­zetti’s personal tragedy was that his wife and three children have died young. He composed more than 70 operas, wrote the librettos for some of them, had drawing skills, and a sense for theatre Gesamtkunst. His composing technique was incredibly fast, partly due to the external pressure (es­pecially by the impresario Barbaja). Beside the feverish speed (hypomania) he suffered of episodes with genuine fever, headache, and nausea. From 1845 onward full apathy, depression (occurred already earlier), and paralysis (progressiva?) developed hindering any creative power and meaningful interpersonal contact, so he was admitted to a closed mental facility. His illness was considered syphilis, but prevailing bipolar mood disorder may strongly be presumed today which is supported by early emerging creativity and hypomanic signs, transient mood swings, the composing technique, his multimodal talent, the abundance of his works (output of 3-4 operas a year), the vein (mood) streaming from the operas (’maddening scenes’ alongside lax and sparkling characters) and by certain circumstances (he was able to write opera buffas during his greatest personal tragedies). To all these com­ponents there can certainly be added an exogenous environmental pressure factor: Domenico Barbaja, the ’prince’ (and taskmaster) of opera impresarios. ]

AFFILIATIONS

  1. Szegedi Tudományegyetem, Általános Orvostudományi Kar, Pszichiátriai Klinika

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