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.