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A barcarole (from French, also barcarolle; originally, Italian barcarola, from barca 'boat') is a folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers, or a piece of music composed in that style. In classical music, two of the most famous barcaroles are Jacques Offenbach's "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour", from his opera The Tales of Hoffmann; and Frédéric Chopin's Barcarole in F sharp major for solo piano.


A barcarole is characterized by a rhythm reminiscent of the gondolier's stroke, almost invariably a moderate tempo 6/8 meter.[1]

While the most famous barcaroles are from the Romantic period, the genre was well-enough known in the 18th century for Burney to mention, in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771), that it was a celebrated form cherished by "collectors of good taste".[2]


The barcarole was a popular form in opera, where the apparently artless sentimental style of the folklike song could be put to good use: in addition to the Offenbach example, Paisiello, Weber, and Rossini wrote arias that were barcaroles, Gaetano Donizetti set the Venetian scene at the opening of Marino Faliero (1835) with a barcarole for a gondolier and chorus, and Verdi included a barcarole in Un ballo in maschera (i.e., Richard's atmospheric "Di’ tu se fidele il flutto m’aspetta" in Act I).[2]

Arthur Sullivan set the entry of Sir Joseph Porter's barge (also bearing his sisters, cousins and aunts) in H.M.S. Pinafore to a barcarole, as well as the Trio "My well-loved lord and guardian dear" between Phyllis, and Earl Tolloller and the Earl of Mountararat in Act I of Iolanthe. Schubert, while not using the name specifically, used a style reminiscent of the barcarole in some of his most famous songs, including especially his haunting Auf dem Wasser zu singen ("to be sung on the water"), D.774.[2]

Other barcaroles include: the three "Venetian Gondola Songs" from Mendelssohn's Songs without Words, Opp. 19, 30 and 62; the "June" barcarole from Tchaikovsky's The Seasons; Charles-Valentin Alkan's barcarole from the Op. 65 Troisième recueil de chants; Béla Bartók's "Barcarolla" from Out of Doors; several examples by Anton Rubinstein, Mily Balakirev, Alexander Glazunov, Edward MacDowell, and Ethelbert Nevin; and the collection of thirteen for solo piano by Gabriel Fauré.[2]

In the 20th century, examples include: Agustín Barrios's Julia Florida; the second movement of Villa-Lobos's Trio No. 2 (1915) (which contains a Berceuse-Barcarolla); the first movement of Francis Poulenc's Napoli Suite for solo piano (1925); George Gershwin's Dance of the Waves (1937); Ned Rorem's three Barcaroles for piano, composed in Morocco (1949); the first movement of Nikolai Myaskovsky's Piano Sonata no. 8, op. 83 (1949); "The Kings' Barcarole" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide (1956); and "Agony" from Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.

Performed by Adam Cuerden

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See also[edit]


  1. ^ Randel, Harvard Dictionary of Music
  2. ^ a b c d Brown, Maurice: New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980)


  • The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Randel. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-674-61525-5
  • Brown, Maurice, "Barcarolle", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2