Donizetti had seen the "pièce de sauvetage" La grâce de Dieu newly given in Paris by Adolphe-Philippe d'Ennery and Gustave Lemoine. The pièce avoided strong dramatics, playing with subtlety on moral matters, and Donizetti believed that the subject would thus be acceptable to the aristocratic and conservative audience he had to satisfy. Christmas Eve of 1841 (the day he began work on the new opera) he wrote to his brother-in-law:
Non andar cercando nella storia il soggetto di Vienna. Sono ragazzi che partono dalla Savoia per Parigi onde guadagnar pane. V'è chi è buono e chi è cattivo. Una ragazza sta più volte per lasciarsi sedurre, ma, ogni volta, sente Ia canzone del paese, e pensa al padre, alla madre e resiste... Poi non resiste più... il seduttore vuole sposare un'altra. Poi essa diviene pazza (auff); poi torna al paese con un povero ragazzo che la fa camminare a forza di suonarle la canzone: se no s'arresta... Muoion quasi di fame tutti e due; il seduttore arriva... non ha sposato. La ragazza rinviene, ché a sentire... la donna rinviene subito. Non dirmene male, perché ho visto la pièce a Parigi. È corta e mi serve a proposito.
As Donizetti anticipates in his letter, he and Rossi made many changes to the subject. The most important: Linda is no longer Carlo's lover. In the second act she is merely a guest in his palace, and successfully defends her virtue. Because of the happy ending to a plot of dishonour and madness, the libretto was set in the "semi-serio" genre, already archaic in 1842, but suitable for an old-fashioned "comédie larmoyante". The Marquis became a buffo role according to the requirements of an "opera semi-seria". In this way the worst sides of his character could be softened: in Vienna it was impossible to represent an aristocrat as a degenerate! Despite this modification, Donizetti had troubles with censorship at Naples a year later... he even had to add a scene in which the Marquis mends his ways and promises to marry Linda!
Donizetti worked at Milan in the house of Countess Appiani, using the same room, bed, table and ink-bottle as Bellini had used while working on La Sonnambula . He began at the end of December 1841. In a letter dated March 4, 1842 he wrote: "My work for Vienna is fully composed, arranged, revised etc. I send it today to Vienna for the setting of the orchestral parts. The première will take place in one month".
Before the première Donizetti made many alterations during the rehearsals. He heavily modified the overture: he had wanted only a short prelude, but the Viennese public expected an elaborate piece, so he adapted the first movement of a string quartet he had composed on 1836. He also shortened many of the recitatives because so much of the audience did not understand Italian; however he noted these places with "non taglio in Italia" (not to be cut in Italy). Finally, he suppressed the 4th scene of Act II (a short scene with Linda alone, between the scenes with the Marquis and Carlo's arrival): this was definitive, and the scene was never restored in later productions.
The Italian opera season at the Kärntnertortheater began with a near flop in Mercadante's La Vestale. Donizetti hoped to rescue the season with his Linda, and his hopes were not disappointed. Its success was immediate and overwhelming. The performers were all first rate, and Donizetti wrote to his publisher Giulio Ricordi (24 May): "All of the singers deserve to be praised. But Tadolini is a singer, is an actress - she is everything! (...) Her mad scene surpasses any other I have written before for mad women".
His triumph reached its peak on 3 July with his appointment as Kapellmeister and Hofkomponist of Emperor Ferdinand 1st. On 13 July he wrote to his brother-in-law:
Eccomi Imperial Regio Compositore di camera, e direttore dei concerti privati di S.M.I.R. austriaca con mille lire austriache al mese, restando sei mesi a Vienna e sei a spasso: posto che avea Mozart. Eccomi non più zingaro, ma in ispada e cappa...
The first performance outside Vienna was in November 1842 at Paris. Linda was sung by the soprano Fanny Tacchinardi (the creator of the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor). Donizetti wrote for her the aria "O luce di quest'anima". He also added Pierotto's first aria ("Cari luoghi") and extended the roles of Carlo and the Prefetto. This revision was later staged in the Italian theatres and became the definitive version of Linda di Chamounix.