Barcarola

Il canto del gondoliere nella vita quotidiana e nell’immaginazione artistica

A cura di Sabine Meine con la collaborazione di Henrike Rost
Collana: Venetiana, 16
Pubblicazione: Marzo 2015
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La canzone da gondola veneziana, o barcarola, è strettamente legata alla storia di Venezia. A partire dalla metà del Settecento e sino al Novecento, la Barcarola si è sviluppata anche a livello strumentale e in ambito operistico, sino a divenire un genere europeo. In questo modo si è progressivamente allontanata dal contesto originario, contribuendo così alla diffusione dell’immaginario di Venezia in tutta Europa.

Al centro di questo volume vi sono canzoni da battello e barcarole, cantate nelle serenate sul Canal Grande, come anche quei canti dei gondolieri circonfusi di leggenda, che avrebbero ripreso alcune stanze della Gerusalemme liberata del Tasso. Attraverso le testimonianze di Rousseau e di Goethe, il topos del “gondoliere che canta” diviene una componente fondamentale dell’immagine di Venezia che si va diffondendo in tutta Europa. Anche compositori come Mendelssohn, Rossini e Wagner hanno trovato ispirazione nei canti veneziani e in quelli da gondola. La barcarola si è sviluppata tuttavia pure nel contesto cittadino: considerata “canzone veneziana” da Giovanni Battista Perucchini (1784-1870) fino ad Antonio Buzzolla (1815-1871). La storia della barcarola in laguna appare dunque strettamente legata alla vita musicale veneziana e alla quotidianità delle associazioni musicali, delle accademie e dei salotti, ma fa parte anche della storia della città.

La barcarola a Venezia nella prima metà dell’Ottocento
Piero Brunello

La barcarola a Venezia nella prima metà dell’Ottocento
During the early decades of the nineteenth century, the barcarole – as sung by night on gondolas on the Grand Canal and performed with piano accompaniment in salons – became a veritable symbol of Venice. An important factor in the increasing production of barcaroles was tourism. The 1830s saw the opening of bathing facilities on the Venetian lagoon; these offered summer attractions alongside the winter theatrical season. The first printed book of Venetian Ballads – music and lyrics – was published in London between 1742 and 1748: production further intensified during the first half of the nineteenth century, when music publishing flourished in Italy and in Europe at large. The repertoire is most frequently denoted by terms such as barcarola, canzonetta and arietta (sometimes accompanied by the subtitle romanza); in Venice, songs were popularly called canzonette. Whereas, in the early eighteenth century, composers of canzoni da battello (“boat songs”) were usually anonymous (and, presumably, poorly-educated), by the end of the century the authors were men of letters and professional composers. Barcaroles were composed by Venetian poets and musicians; the genre, however, was also practised by famous European composers such as Beethoven, Mayr, Rossini, and Liszt. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the barcarole was widely known in all social environments. By the early 1850s, however, the eighteenth-century literary style peculiar to the genre had begun to lose favour among the higher classes; the indecency of subjects and the fickleness of the women as depicted in barcaroles were incompatible with the romantic ideals portrayed, in particular, in contemporary opera. Higher classes tend to draw boundaries between themselves and the lower classes when they perceive a threat to their social status: in this case, was the fear of social turmoil in the wake of the 1848 rebellion a factor? Ambivalence, however, continued in the relationship between the higher and the lower classes. In Verdi’s Ballo in maschera (1859), count Riccardo, disguised as a fisherman, enters the cave of the sorceress Ulrica and sings a barcarole. Nineteenth-century Venetian historiographers argued – in opposition to Daru – that the stability of the Serenissima was based on the idea of unity and concord between different social levels, in particular the patriciate and the lower classes: in a city where Venetian dialect (the language of the barcaroles) was spoken in all social environments, such assertions represented not only an historical judgement but also a political project.


Serenate, barcarole, marinaresche: la Venezia musicale nell’immaginario turistico dell’Ottocento
Alessandra Di Vincenzo

Serenate, barcarole, marinaresche: la Venezia musicale nell’immaginario turistico dell’Ottocento
During the nineteenth century, social changes brought about a new idea of tourism: travelling was no longer a costly educational and cultural experience reserved for a small and privileged elite but, increasingly, an enjoyable and relatively inexpensive pastime for the wealthy classes. Beginning in the 1830s, awareness of the role of tourism as an economic resource was growing in Venice. This led to the construction of new hotels and the earliest bathing facilities, accessible not only to the richest visitors but also to bourgeois tourists in search of culture and recreation. Important resources were also identified in local cultural traditions. Of particular interest, in musical terms, was the serenata sull’acqua or “floating serenade”, itself closely associated with the traditional feasts and regattas as a symbol of the ancient link between Venice and water. In the present study, the principal musical characteristics of the different types of serenade are identified. Also discussed are the musical repertoires, which include not only operatic excerpts (overtures, arias and choruses) but also some “barcarole”, “marinaresche” and “serenate” of evidently local flavour.


La canzone da gondola veneziana come ricordo musicale di viaggio nell’Ottocento
Henrike Rost

La canzone da gondola veneziana come ricordo musicale di viaggio nell’Ottocento
In the nineteenth century, Italy functioned as a place of longing for northern, particularly German artists, poets and musicians, with its promise of insouciance and sensuality. Above all for composers, study trips to Italy brought new experiences and inspiration. Rome was highlight of the tour, but Venice was also an important station. Barcaroles were composed by many non-Italian composers during the nineteenth century, and typically formed part of the horizons of travellers to Venice. The gondola song, a musical emblem of Venice, played an important role in the contemporary portrayal and commercialization of the city for foreign visitors and much contributed to the spread of stereotyped ideas on Venice throughout Europe. At the same time, composers regularly expressed their impressions and memories of Italy through music, thus creating souvenirs for themselves and those who remained at home. During the 1830s and 40s, for example, certain gondola songs were created with a view to perpetuating memories of Venetian sojourns: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Venetianisches Gondellied op. 19b, no. 6 (composed in Venice in October 1830), Ferdinand Hiller’s Il desiderio of 1842 (from his Sei pezzi per canto op. 23) and, in all likelihood, Maurizio Strakosch’s arietta Lina (1845). Time and place of composition characterize these pieces as “musical souvenirs” based on a common image or cliché of Venice. The majority of barcaroles were undoubtedly created with an eye to commercial success – examples are Mendelssohn’s Venetianisches Gondellied op. 57, no. 5 (1843) or Buzzolla’s Un ziro in gondola (1847). The Venetian composer Antonio Buzzolla dedicated no less than two of his Ariette veneziane to Ferdinand Hiller’s wife, the singer Antonietta Hiller, for whom, as can easily be imagined, they functioned as souvenirs of her time in Italy. The lover’s “nocturnal invitation” to his beloved to escape with him to sea on a gondola forms the poetic basis of the compositions discussed in the present study. The lyrics are obviously inspired by a well-trodden thematic model, much appreciated by the public and commercially successful. The gondola ride also evoked a certain erotic freedom. Its success throughout Europe may be due to a combination of clever commercial strategies and the widespread image of Venice reflecting the expectations, longings and desires of nineteenth-century travellers.


Ninette e gondolieri nei salons d’Europa. Osservazioni sparse sulla barcarola (veneziana?) e qualche cenno su Rossini e Perucchini
Carlida Steffan

Ninette e gondolieri nei salons d’Europa. Osservazioni sparse sulla barcarola (veneziana?) e qualche cenno su Rossini e Perucchini
The barcarole is one of the mainstays of the vocal repertoire in musical salons during the first half of the nineteenth century. Yet it has no precise definition as a poetic or musical genre. In the early 1800s the term “barcarola” had no clear terminological meaning in Italy; Venice possessed no local musician or publisher of the calibre of Guillaume Cottrau, creator of the Neapolitan canzonetta. Giovan Battista Perucchini (1784-1870) and Antonio Buzzolla (1815-1871) were recognized specialists in the genre of the canzone veneziana. In particular, the amateur composer and pianist Perucchini was at the centre of a surprisingly wide network of international contacts – such as would contribute significantly to disseminating the “sound of Venice” (true or perceived) in salons throughout Europe. Devoid of explicitly Venetian compositional elements, the Venetian barcarole provided a key reference to the Italian musical landscape for non-Italians. The network of relationships can be reconstructed through contemporary travel literature. In this specific context, this paper presents some emblematic cases, all listed in Giovanni Ricordi’s catalogue of 1855. The “barcarola veneziana” Co’ pensieri malinconici is a setting by the Danish composer Henrik Rung of a text by Pietro Pagello. The poetic text was included, among others, in Jules François Lecomte’s travel guide Venise (Paris, 1844). Also emblematic by virtue of its reception in northern countries is Vieni, la barca è pronta by the Paduan poet Jacopo Crescini, set by Saverio Mercadante in Les soirées italiennes (Paris, 1836) and Gaetano Donizetti in Matinées musicales (Paris, 1841). In 1852, the text was set by Giacomo Bortolini, a specialist in Venetian vernacular poetry. Its popularity until the end of the century is illustrated by numerous references in the Revue contemporaine (Paris, 1853), Teatri, arte e letteratura (Bologna, 1853), Armand de Pontmartin’s short story Le chercheur de perles (Paris, 1854), Giuseppe Lorenzetti’s vaudeville Il giovedì grasso di Venezia (1866) and Camillo Boito’s short story Il maestro di setticlavio (1891). Rossini’s Soirées musicales (Paris, 1835) contains various musical evocations of the peninsula with shades of local colour; images of the lagoon occur in Regata veneziana and the barcarole La gita in gondola. Author of both texts is Carlo Pepoli, himself a specialist in poetry for the salon song repertory. In 1858, Rossini set a longer and more developed description of the regatta to a text by the Venetian author Francesco Maria Piave.


I gondolieri cantavano davvero il Tasso?
Daria Perocco

I gondolieri cantavano davvero il Tasso?
Both as pageantry and competitive events, regattas have fascinated Venetians and foreigners for centuries. Heroes are the gondoliers, celebrated since the Renaissance both as champions and as exemplary citizens of the Repubblica Serenissima. Over the centuries, innumerable poetic compositions have extolled the skills of the competitors, the enthusiasm of participants in general and the incredible scenes on the Grand Canal, specially decorated for occasions that were offered to the Signori (for whom they were conceived) and Venetians alike. Literary sources concerning regattas are here used to narrate the “constructed image” of the gondoliers and illustrate their response to this collective characterization. Paradigmatic, by way of summary, is the following question: did the gondoliers really sing Tasso?


Artificio e natura: alcune osservazioni sull’Aria del Tasso di Giuseppe Tartini
Ivano Cavallini

Artificio e natura: alcune osservazioni sull’Aria del Tasso di Giuseppe Tartini
A penchant for folk music is recurrent in Giuseppe Tartini’s œuvre. In particular, four movements from his violin sonatas are based on the well-known theme of the Aria del Tasso, which attracted the attention of Rousseau and Goethe during their stay in Venice. Central to his work as composer and theorist is the idea of closeness to nature – far from the “bare” transcription of gondoliers’ songs in the way of a musicographer interested in ethnology. For Tartini, following the so-called musica naturalis of the ancient Greeks and the “music of the nations”, the term popolare is equivalent to “simple”, and “simplicity” is the main feature of nature. In his writings, the concept of nature frequently occurs in opposition to artificioso, i.e. artificial and unspontaneous. It undergoes a remarkable change of meaning between 1754 and 1767. In line with the scientific methods established by Descartes and Newton, the Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienza dell’armonia of 1754 stresses the mathematical foundations of harmony both with reference to the ancient numerical basis of acoustics and to empirical acoustics after Rameau. Tartini thus defines harmony as a natural phenomenon, imbued with a universal value as the basis of both traditional and “national” music. While acknowledging the different “shape” of traditional and art musics, he believes that both are dominated by the ratio of harmony, in the same way as different languages can be governed by the same grammatical structure (where ratio is synonymous with sensus). On the contrary, the Commercio di lettere sui principj dell’armonia (letters addressed to the mathematician Giordano Riccati) revises earlier ideas as the result of a perceived incompatibility between art and traditional music (or the so-called “music of the nations”). Tartini accepts the diversity of cultures within the framework of a parallel “second nature”, thus identifying otherness as an emerging category. In this sense, “harmony” cannot embody two separate musical domains or explain their otherness. This dualism implies a clash between ratio and sensus. At the same time, Tartini’s interest shifts to the virtual opposition between “nature” and “nurture”. The 1760s thus mark a turning point for Tartini in representing nature through the diatonic genus. In his quest for a unifying quid, he recognizes the diatonic genus of Greek music as a common archetype in folk song, ancient melody and art music. His De’ principj dell’armonia musicale contenuta nel diatonico genere of 1767 considers the diatonic mode as the pivotal genus that significantly remains uncorrupted in time and space. Though Tartini does not support these assertions with aesthetic theories, his anthropological point of view notably undermines the earlier concept of nature subordinated to rationalism. In this sense, he anticipates the modern debate on “folk” and its definition.


Echi di Tasso. Wagner a Venezia tra proiezioni e realtà
Sabine Meine

Echi di Tasso. Wagner a Venezia tra proiezioni e realtà
Among the self-elected Venetians who continue to fuel the myth of the gondoliers and their marvellous singing is Richard Wagner; perpetuated from the times of Rousseau and Goethe, this myth recurs in sublimated form even in Tristan. The romantic and decadent image of musical loneliness in the nocturnal silence of the Grand Canal emerges from the writings of Wagner and his cultural milieu, as also from compositions here analysed in the context of his death in Venice: an example is Franz Liszt’s La Lugubre Gondola. Contrasting with this myth are the vitality of musical life in Venice and its commercial aspects, as documented in contemporary newspapers by the programmes of serenate on the Grand Canal and concerts in Piazza San Marco, often attended by Wagner. In this context, the tradition of the barcarole takes its place alongside the well-known melodies of Wagner’s operas.


La barcarola e il “pittoresco”: dalla tradizione settecentesca all’opera italiana del primo Ottocento. Alcuni casi e alcune considerazioni
Licia Sirch

La barcarola e il “pittoresco”: dalla tradizione settecentesca all’opera italiana del primo Ottocento. Alcuni casi e alcune considerazioni
From the early eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, the barcarole acquired specific grammatical and semantic features. Its use in early nineteenth-century Italian opera is here analyzed with reference to its “picturesque poetics” (with examples). Though opera has a significant visual element, its aesthetic role is realized through music. Both Rousseau and recent scholars argue that music’s power lies in expression rather than imitation or description – «l’art du musicien consiste à substituer à l’image insensible de l’objet celle des mouvemens que sa présence excite dans le cœur du contemplateur». Music links images, memories and emotions from the subjective sphere of an artist to objective referential elements. Beginning in the eighteenth century, English and Scottish landscapes are sonically represented in Glees and in W. Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonius (1725). Canzonettas to texts by P. Rolli, Canzoni da battello (1740-1750c.), barcaroles and notturnos provide further examples of “picturesque music” from southern Europe. Barcarole alla veneziana in 6/8 and 2/4 with simple melodies and texts in Venetian dialect appear as early as 1740: settings of Metastasio’s Grazie agli inganni tuoi by Leo and Rodario (I-VEc) are two examples of a spontaneously picturesque language. A recurrent, descending melodic formula stressing the opening beat suggests the motion of oars in the water. The mythical gondolier’s song of Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata was believed to have displayed these characteristics. For Rousseau and the early nineteenth century alike, the sound of the canzonetta portrayed not only a “watery” landscape but also its people. “Local colour” is created in Rossini’s Accours dans ma nacelle (Guillaume Tell, 1829) and Verdi’s Tutta calma è la laguna (I due Foscari, 1844). The song of the gondoliers imbues these scenes with the traditions and history of Venice, linking environment, nature and culture, the dangers of a mariner’s life and the dangers of life itself. Thus the “barcarole-gondolier formula” contrasts the mythical world of the Mediterranean to Wagner’s nordic Romanticism.


La canzone da battello veneziana dai salotti europei ai repertori dei gondolieri: uno sguardo etnomusicologico
Paola Barzan

La canzone da battello veneziana dai salotti europei ai repertori dei gondolieri: uno sguardo etnomusicologico
From an historical point of view, the phenomenon of the Venetian boat song is in many ways difficult to define. Popular songs for entertainment, sung on boat trips or during the Venetian carnival, enjoyed extraordinary success in salons throughout Europe beginning in the 1740s, only to disappear within a few decades. The texts, almost entirely in Venetian dialect, are far from homogeneous; themes regard public and private aspects of the city’s daily life and include an amazing range of situations, feelings and fantasy – a compendium of eighteenth-century Venice in images and sounds. The hybrid nature of this genre, with its low-high and oral-written cultural dynamics, makes it interesting in terms of performative, anthropological and contextual studies, and as a means of understanding the development of the Venetian song to this day. Historical sources (writings by Venetian and non-Venetian musicians, Grand Tourists and other writers) and modern witnesses (gondoliers, tourists, folk and classical singers, musicologists, ethnomusicologists) are used to reconstruct the history of the Venetian boat song in compositional and performative practice from its period of greatest splendour to its subsequent disappearance and recuperation in more recent times. Though boat songs were sung as serenades on gondolas in the eighteenth century, there is no direct evidence that they belonged to the gondoliers’ repertoire. It is, however, clear that this “pop of the ages” gave rise to a discrete level of economic activity, culminating in a number of publications by the farsighted Walsh and the subsequent dissemination of the repertoire in the salons of Europe. While this fueled European interest in the musical identity of Venice and its inhabitants, in particular the singing gondolier, it also gave rise to increased formalization, diminished variety and an uncharacteristic and stereotyped stylistic rigidity. The recovery and interpretation of eighteenth-century boat songs bears the signs of their later publication in printed collections, sometimes with thoroughgoing rearrangement of an original repertoire preserved only in relatively inaccessible manuscript form. Faced with tourist demand and the lack of an authentic oral transmission, modern gondola singers include few Venetian songs in their repertoire – and still fewer boat songs. Necessary, in this context, is an approach which breaks with earlier stereotypes and reconciles the boat song to contemporary tastes, emphasizing the dual nature – folk and popular – of the repertoire.


Canzoni da battello per flauto
Marco Rosa Salva

Canzoni da battello per flauto
The library of Zavičajni Muzej Poreštine in Poreč, Croatia, preserves a small collection of musical manuscripts dating from the mid-eighteenth century. The manuscripts are part of the legacy donated to the city of Poreč by count Stefano Carli in 1813. Carli lived mostly in Koper (Capodistria); his brother was the Istrian economist and historiographer Gian Rinaldo, author of the musical treatise Osservazioni sulla musica antica e moderna inspired by Giuseppe Tartini. The collection includes a large volume of opera arias, many sonatas for harpsichord, trios for two violins and cello by Domenico Gallo, anonymous cantatas, and three little books of music for recorder. The recorder was a popular musical instrument in Venice during the first decades of the eighteenth century, but its use quickly decreased after 1730c. It was nevertheless used for didactic purposes by noble amateurs until the end of the century. The three books for recorder contain dances, sonatas and duets without basso continuo and transcriptions of about thirty canzoni da battello. The pieces are generally short and easy to play; difficult keys, high notes and ornamental passages are avoided. Other manuscripts in Venice (Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Museo Correr, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana) are related to this repertoire, preserving recorder transcriptions of operatic arias, songs and dances. All the songs were transposed for alto recorder. Most of them retain just the titles of the original compositions but, in a few, the entire text appears under the music. Concordances regard other Venetian manuscripts and the collections of Venetian ballads printed by John Walsh (1742-1748); there are also some unica. A Minueto di Faustina is the transformation of a canzone da battello copied in vocal score (with a text in Venetian dialect and an instrumental bass) in another manuscript of the same Poreč collection. The canzone itself is the reduction of an aria in Metastasio’s Olimpiade, sung by Faustina Bordoni in the 1738 production at the S. Giovanni Grisostomo theatre, Venice. Though, on this occasion, most of the music was by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, this particular aria is by Bordoni’s husband, Johann Adolf Hasse. The Querini Stampalia library preserves a fragmentary transcription of the same aria for alto recorder. Another piece related to the Venetian barcarola repertoire is Tasso o sia aria della notte (in ms. 3376 of the Poreč collection). This is an example of the Aria del Tasso alla veneziana, a tune employed in singing octaves of Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. The melody (devoid of text) is copied twice, first as a recorder solo, then as a duo without bass (with addition of a simple second voice); it is similar to Tartini’s Sonata XII, preserved in the Archive of the Basilica Antoniana, Padua.

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