Just Imagine

June 06, 2019

Go ahead and play with it!  Play with the sound of the word: bar ca role. That’s just the beginning of the fun.

Barcarolle comes from the French (barque) or Italian (barca) word for boat. And even before you listen to pieces of music that are known as barcarolles, you have to hear how musical the term sounds when the French pronounce it! In Italian, it’s barcaròla with an extra syllable and the chance to roll your tongue a bit

Barcarolles evoke the swaying of a boat and the singing of a gondolier. You probably know the expression: “Don’t rock the boat.” But you have to if you’re a pianist or orchestra playing a barcarolle. Without that effect, it would be like sitting in a gondola that was being transported on a trailer. Somehow the magic would be lost.

Barcarolles for the piano include those by Frédéric Chopin, Charles-Valentin Alkan, Gabriel Fauré and Alexander Glazunov. Franz Liszt’s suite Venezia e Napoli opens with a barcarolle. It’s Liszt’s piano version of a song by his contemporary Giovanni Battista Peruchini titled “La biondina in gondoletta” (The blond girl in the little gondola). Liszt actually called the piece “gondoliera.” Jacques Offenbach’s barcarolle from the opera Les contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann), which had been a part of an earlier opera by the composer known as Die Rheinnixen (The Rhein Nixies), is probably the most famous barcarolle of all. It was popularized in recent times by its appearance in Roberto Benigni’s 1997 film Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella).

I suggested to listeners last week that a barcarolle could serve as a quick and economical moment of floating relaxation or visit to Venice. I suggested closing one’s eyes while listening and choosing to imagine the floating effect, the travel effect or both. But I added the warning that those who were driving while listening to Classic Mornings were the gondoliers! They needed to keep their eyes open!

For years I asked listeners to imagine the sound of an instrument which inspired Vivaldi in writing his Concerto for Strings in B flat major, RV 163, which he called “Conca.”  I learned years ago that it’s known as the Bohemian weather trumpet, made from a shell or conch. 

I simply guessed back then that the instrument could play only 2 notes, given that Vivaldi based each of the 3 movements of the concerto on the same 2 notes. The new recording of Vivaldi’s music with Accadmia Bizantina (Naïve 30570), which I talked about in my previous blog post, puts an end to imagining what a conca sounds like. We get to hear it (with a bit of seaside ambience) before and after the concerto. 

There’s still a bit of imagining left – such as how Vivaldi actually responded when he first heard it.  Did he chuckle with delight by the prospect of writing such a concerto? I did when I realized what he had done with the 2 musical notes in the 3 to 4 minute concerto!

Have you ever imagined yourself as a patron of the arts? Now you’re the one who’s chuckling and saying: “Not me! Those are people who give thousands or millions of dollars to arts organizations.”  Well, just so you know, a significant portion of Illinois Public Media’s annual budget – more than 2 million dollars – comes from thousands and thousands of listeners who contribute $40, $52, $60, $75, $100, and $250.  It’s more like an entire community that’s serving as a patron of the arts for everybody who lives in that community!

You can indeed be a patron of the arts, supporting the classical music on WILL – and at an important time. June 30th marks the end of our fiscal year. By then, all of the money for next fiscal year’s programs has to be in the bank. If you’ve made a contribution this year, thank you! If you haven’t had the chance, please consider doing that today or by June 30th. You may give online at willpledge.org or by calling 217-244-9455.

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These programs are partially sponsored by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

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