La barcarola a Venezia nella prima metà dell’Ottocento

Autore: Piero Brunello
In: Venetiana. 16

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.