Born in Verona, Donatoni started studying violin at the age of seven, and frequented the local Music Academy. Later he studied at the Milan Conservatory and, from 1948, at the Bologna Conservatory (Osmond-Smith 2001).
At least three generations of composers studied with Donatoni. Among his Italian pupils were Sandro Gorli, Matteo D'Amico, Roberto Carnevale, Giulio Castagnoli, Ivan Fedele, Luigi Manfrin, Giorgio Magnanensi, Luca Mosca, Riccardo Nova, Riccardo Piacentini, Fausto Romitelli, José Manuel López López, Pietro Borradori, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Alessandro Solbiati, Piero Niro, Claudio Scannavini, Giovanni Verrando, Nicola Straffelini and among his foreign pupils Michael Dellaira, Pascal Dusapin, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Magnus Lindberg, Katia Tiutiunnik, Javier Torres Maldonado, Billy Cowie, and Juan Trigos. See: List of music students by teacher: C to F#Franco Donatoni.
- Osmond-Smith, David. 2001. "Donatoni, Franco". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Barkl, Michael. 2018. Etwas ruhiger im Ausdruck: Franco Donatoni’s Crisis. Beau Bassin: Lambert Academic Publishing. ISBN 978-613-9-90170-8
- Luppi, Guillermo. 2016. "Shedding Some Light on Donatoni's Lumen". Perspectives of New Music 54, no. 1 (Winter): 179–95.
- Biography by David Wright
- Obituary in the Musical Times
- Recording of "Arpège", for ensemble.
- A reminiscence of Donatoni by Jeffrey Levine
- Excerpts from sound archives of Donatoni's works.
- "Franco Donatoni biography" (in French). IRCAM.
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