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A barcarole (from French, also barcarolle; originally, Italian barcarola or barcaruola, from barca 'boat' [1]) 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 in 6/8 meter at a moderate tempo.[2]

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".[3]

Notable examples[edit]

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, 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).[3] The traditional Neapolitan barcarole "Santa Lucia" was published in 1849.

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" among Phyllis, 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.[3]

Other notable 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 "Barcarolle" 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 a series of thirteen for solo piano by Gabriel Fauré.[3]

In the 20th century, further 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, unpublished); 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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  1. ^ "Barque" in English shares the same ethymology
  2. ^ Randel, Don, ed. (1986). The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-61525-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d Brown, Maurice (1980). "Barcarolle". In Sadie, Stanley. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan. ISBN 1-56159-174-2.