Anonymous, 18th Century
Ferry Songs of 18th-Century Venice - part 2
The Venetian Canzoni da battello or «boat songs» are quite a unique phenomenon in the musical panorama of the eighteenth century, not only for the ambiguous place that they hold - half-way between educated and popular culture - but primarily for the success that they enjoyed (thanks to their mixed cultural breeding) with a public heterogeneous both in its make-up and in its historical and geographical distribution. Between the third and fourth decades of the eighteenth century, collectors of musical souvenirs gathered the canzoni da battello together into large anthologies in manuscript (still extant in Venetian libraries). These songs in dialect composed strictly anonymously, were quickly diffused throughout Europe thanks to a popular edition by John Walsh who, in 1742, published a great number of them in London attributing them to none other than Johann Adolf Hasse and «all the celebrated Italian Masters». In actual fact, of the 46 Gondoliere contained in this collection, only one bears the signature of the «divine Saxon», while three arias col da capo, having little in common with the other two-part songs, are by Auletta, Lampugnani and Pergolesi. In any case the copies of this anthology were quickly sold and the British editor wisely decided to repeat the experiment by publishing, over the next six years, two new collections of «Venetian Ballads» which had remained unpublished in their own city. In his Teatro alla Moda, Benedetto Marcello mentions this repertoire with irony when he lists the tasks of music copyists: they must, among other things, be able to «Compose, sing, play, act, etc., reducing the greater part of opera arias to canzoni da battello». Even before the birth of opera, there was a considerable demand for music which could be performed in gondolas along the canals: aside from «official» activities (linked to religious festivities or state ceremonies), antique traditions existed which made it difficult on summer nights not to hear sounds «of voices and of diverse instruments» along the numerous water-ways of the city. A famous print of l610 illustrates one of the «freschi» (those excursions that the Venetians loved to make in gondolas gliding up and down the canals, on the pretext of searching for relief from the heat of the summer evenings). It appears that the music accompanied other, perhaps more «worldly» pleasures: there are boats in which one is entertained «with great delight by the Lady Courtesans», others in which «one dines with marvelous pleasure» on lavishly arrayed tables.