The Barkarole is a boatman of the Venetian Gondolieri. Furthermore, the term has been used since the 19th century for instrumental as well as vocal compositions of European art music, which are based on the shape of the former barcarols. This means that they are calm and moderate, and should remind of the gondoliers’ wave and rudderry rhythm. The clock, mostly 6/8 or 12/8 time, more rarely also 2/4 time, gives a powerful rhythm.
The term is derived from the Italian barca, which can be translated by boat or barge. The bark is a mastless ship, the term generally being used for smaller vessels. Barken leaders are the ones who control such a boat. Gondolieri lead gondolas, that is, barken, which is why their songs are called barcarole. The translation therefore refers to the meaning of the word.
Barkaroles are usually in the 6/8 or 12/8 bar, whereby there are also barcars in the 2/4 bar. One of the oldest barcarols is the famous song Un pescator dell ‘onda, which has also made the way into the modern age. The following is a modern interpretation. The moderate, swinging rhythm is clear.
The above example illustrates the principle of the traditional barkarole, that is, the Schifferlied. The rhythm gives a strong motion, which is reminiscent of the moving movements on the water in a bark. The principle was adapted by the art music in the 19th century and can be seen mainly as a vocal composition in the arias of operas, even if there are known instrumental pieces.
Note: The interpretation is predominant in minor, whereby such a piece was mainly accompanied by guitar, zither and bandole. However, there are numerous deviations from this rule.
Barcarole in the opera
As has been described, it has succeeded in bringing the former Schifferlied into the arias of well-known operas, thus achieving European art music. For example, the French composer Frédéric Chopin and the German Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy wrote instrumental barracks.
A very well-known example for the adaptation in the opera is the opening of the fourth act of the opera Hoffmann’s tales by Jacques Offenbach. From this one there is on the one hand the vocal composition as well as on the other hand an instrumental version. Below is the vocal interpretation of the barcarole after Offenbach.
In this example too, the rhythm of the song becomes clear. The singing of Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca is about a similar rhythm as the previous example, which was more of a folkloric painting. Both examples are forms of barkarole – once as a classical interpretation and then a variation of the art music as a vocal composition.
Short overview: The most important thing about Schifferlied at a glance
Barkaroles are originally the songs of the Venetian gondolieri, which is why they are also known as boat and gondola dinghies. They are usually based on a 6/8 or 12/8 stroke and imitate the wave and rudder movements due to their weight.
This song form was adapted in the 19th century by the art music. There are instrumental as well as vocal compositions. The first purely instrumental barcarols are the Gondellieder in Mendelssohn’s songs without words (Youtube). Vocal interpretations can be found in numerous opernaries. The opening of the fourth act in the opera Hoffmann’s tales is well-known.
Note: “Barcarole at night” was a hit of American singer Connie Francis. This song reached the first place of the singlecharts in Germany in 1963.