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date: 27 January 2020

da battello (lit. ‘for the boat’).free

  • Sergio Barcellona

In the first half of the 18th century this expression—associated with the term ‘canzone’, ‘aria’, ‘arietta’, or ‘canzonetta veneziana’—referred to strophic songs for solo voice and basso continuo songs in Venetian dialect, in AABB musical form. Initially this repertoire was used for ‘freschi’ (nocturnal gondola rides), which explains the origin of the term.

Lyrical texts, written by amateurs often belonging to the aristocracy and Venetian nobility, were mostly lover’s serenades, but also humorous or satirical songs related to the Carnival. Musical borrowings were quite common and heterogeneous, since they came from oral tradition or opera arias, as Benedetto Marcello satirized in Il Teatro alla moda (1720) and as it has recently been confirmed.

From the 1710s to the 1760s hundreds of anonymous songs ‘da battello’ were collected in manuscript anthologies and most of them were later published by John Walsh in the three volumes of Venetian Ballads (London, 1742, 1746, and 1748), attributed to Johann Adolf Hasse and ‘All the Celebrated Italian Masters’.

In the second half of the 18th century the European circulation of the sources of the manuscripts, the success of Walsh’s editions, and the prestige of this vocal repertoire attest that the ‘canzoni da battello’ were enjoying international success in salon performances too, as musical product sought by ‘good taste collectors’. Such wide appeal was witnessed by Rousseau (Dictionnaire de Musique, 1768), Quantz (Essai d’un méthode pour apprendre à jouer de la flûte traversière, 1752), and Burney (The Present State of Music in France and Italy, 1772).

The term ‘barcarola’—often associated with the ‘canzone da battello’ named after Rousseau’s definition in his Dictionnaire (see Barcarolles)—had never been used in the Italian sources of the first half of the century. Instead, it indicated different repertoires belonging to the Romantic era, which shared the same origin as the early 18th-century songs.


  • S. Barcellona and G. Titton: Canzoni da battello (1740–1750) (Rome, 1990)
  • P. Barzan: ‘La canzone da battello veneziana dai salotti europei ai repertori dei gondolieri: uno sguardo etnomusicologico’, Barcarola. Il canto del gondoliere nella vita quotidiana e nell’immaginazione artistica, ed. S. Meine and H. Rost (Rome, 2015), 139–55
  • M. Rosa Salva: ‘Canzoni da battello per flauto’, Barcarola: il canto del gondoliere nella vita quotidiana e nell’immaginazione artistica, ed. S. Meine and H. Rost (Rome, 2015), 157–71
  • S. Barcellona: ‘Da Baffo a Rousseau: la diffusione europea delle canzoni da battello’, Fonti musicali italiane, vol.22 (2017), 91–113
  • S. Barcellona: ‘La “Canzone da battello” veneciana en el siglo XVIII: entre tradición oral y repertorio internacional’ (PhD diss., U. of Cantabria, 2018)