The autograph of Lucia at the Angelo Mai library
The Angelo Mai Library and Donizetti
by Marcello Eynard
The Angelo Mai Civic Library is one of the richest and most frequented of Italy’s historical preservation libraries. It opened in the second half of the eighteenth century on the testamentary bequest of Cardinal Giuseppe Alessandro Furietti, and has since been owned and administered by the Municipality of Bergamo.
Essentially dedicated and equipped for historical, literary, musical and artistic research, the library preserves noteworthy book and archive collections of various kinds and origins. Since 1928, it has been housed by Palazzo Nuovo, whose façade of Zandobbio marble forms the north-east side of the square of Piazza Vecchia.
In its first decades of life, the library was greatly enriched with acquisitions of the libraries of convents, monasteries and the chapter of the cathedral suppressed after 1797, and with considerable donations from private citizens. As a constant point of reference for the preservation of books and documents, the city library received a further impetus on the favourable choice of the municipality, in 1843, to relocate it to the prestigious setting of Palazzo della Ragione.
Biblioteca Angelo Mai, Salone Furietti
Numerous further acquisitions, by donation, purchase and legal deposit, brought the civic library, named, since 1954, after the illustrious palaeographer Cardinal Angelo Mai, to possess a patrimony of over 720,000 printed volumes, as well as an extraordinary collection of archival collections.
The many precious collections include 9,380 manuscripts dated from the ninth century onwards, 2,140 specimens from the fifteenth century, 12,000 from the sixteenth century, 11,200 newspapers and journals, 22,000 parchments from the medieval and renaissance, among which several imperial and royal diplomas, as well as various prints and drawings, maps and geographical charts, photographs, correspondences, and the archives of individuals and families.
The library also contains over 16,000 manuscript and printed-form musical scores, in addition to the more than 30,000 preserved at the Gaetano Donizetti Musical Library, as a detached section of the Angelo Mai Library.
Portrait of a young Donizetti, engraving, 19th century
The quantity, but also the quality and often the rarity of the preserved music, is due, for the most part, to the indefatigable activity of the musician Johann Simon Mayr (1763-1845), or Giovanni Simone Mayr, a Bavarian naturalized as a citizen of Bergamo. Mayr was choirmaster at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and Donizetti’s teacher. As well as creating, in 1806, and expanding the school of music library for the promotion of “charitable music lessons” for the poor boys of Bergamo, he also cultivated a rich private library, including treatises, methodologies and scores, destined, in the long-term, to become the public patrimony of the civic library.
Since the nineteenth century, Bergamo’s Civic Library has been a leading reference for the acquisition and preservation of music, documents and memorabilia regarding Donizetti. After the foundation, in 1905, of the Donizetti Museum, thanks to the precious legacy of the Scotti family, in whose home Donizetti spent the last months of his life, many of the materials of the Civic Library were transferred to the museum, on the initiative of the preservationist Guido Zavadini, in order to formally constitute a dedicated Donizetti Collection.
Score frontispiece with an autograph of Lucia di Lammermoor
This collection, together with the historical section of the library of ‘charitable music lessons’, attended by Donizetti, is now available to scholars for consultation at the Donizetti Library. Here, we can find numerous musical materials autographed by Donizetti, including piano and string quartet compositions, sacred music and opera scores, including that of Parisina, Gabriella di Vergy, and the second act of L’Elisir d’amore. Among the Donizetti autographs preserved by the Angelo Mai Library is the precious score of Lucia di Lammermoorì acquired in 1985 thanks to the liberal and magnanimous funding of the Perolari family.
Among its activities to promote the value of the preserved musical materials, the library offers thematic didactic interventions, within the framework of an ample and articulated educational programme.
Until 31st January 2019, the atrium and portrait room are dedicated to the Donizetti exhibition entitled “Donizetti ‘Giovine di Belle Speranze’: La formazione di un talento nella Bergamo di primo Ottocento (Donizetti ‘Young Hopeful: The formation of a talent in early nineteenth century Bergamo).
The documents preserved at the Angelo Mai Library can be consulted during public opening hours:
Monday to Friday, 8.45am-5.30pm
Saturday, 8.45am to 1pm
The Donizetti Library observes the following opening hours:
Mondays and Fridays, 2.30-5.30pm
Wednesdays, 9am to 12.30pm
as well as by appointment.
For more information, consult the library’s website.