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De mezo mondo unito, e de quel Bogia
Missier Pluton no l'ha bu mai paure:
Some of the elder gondoliers will, however, take up and continue a stanza of their once familiar bard.
On the 7th of last January, the author of Childe Harold, and another Englishman, the writer of this notice, rowed to the Lido with two singers, one of whom was a carpenter, and the other a gondolier. The former placed himself at the prow, the latter at the stern of the boat. A little after leaving the quay of the Piazzetta, they began to sing, and continued their exercise until we arrived at the island. They gave us, amongst other essays, the death of Clorinda, and the palace of Armida; and did not sing the Venetian, but the Tuscan
The carpenter, however, who was the cleverer of the two, and was frequently obliged to prompt his companion, told us that he could translate the original. He added, that he could sing almost three hundred stanzas, but had not spirits (morbin was the word he used) to learn any more, or to sing what he already knew: a
must have idle time on his hands to acquire, to repeat, and said the poor fellow, “look at my clothes and at me, I am starving.” This speech was more affecting than his performance, which habit alone can make attractive. The recitative was shrill, screaming, and monotonous, and the gondolier behind assisted his voice by holding his hand to one side of his mouth. The carpenter used a quiet action, which he evidently endeavoured to restrain ; but was too much intersted in his subject altogether to
repress. From these men we learnt that singing is not confined to the gondoliers, and that, although the chant is seldom, if ever, voluntary, there are still several amongst the lower classes who are acquainted with a few stanzas.
It does not appear that it is usual for the performers to row and sing at the same time. Although the verses of the Jerusalem are no longer casually heard, there is yet much music upon the Venetian cauals; and upon holidays, those strangers who are not near or informed enough to distinguish the words, may fancy that many of the gondolas still resound with the strains of Tasso. The writer of some remarks which appreared in the Curiosities of Literature must excuse his being twice quoted; for, with the exception of some phrases a little too ambitious and extravagant, he has furnished a very exact, as well as agreeable, description.
“In Venice the gondoliers know by heart long passages from Ariosto and Tasso, and often chant them with a peculiar melody. But this talent seems at present on the decline : at least, after taking some pains, I could find no more than two persons who delivered to me in this way a passage from Tasso. I must add, that the late Mr. Berry once chanted to me a passage in Tasso in the manner, ás. he assured me, of the gondoliers.
“There are always two concerned, who alternately sing the strophes. We know the melody eventually by Rousseau, to whose songs it is printed ; it has properly no melodious movement, and is a sort of medium between the canto fermo and the canto figurato ; it approaches to the former by recitativical declamation, and
to the latter by passages and course, by which one syllabe is detained and embellished.
"In entered a gondola , bsy moonlight; one singer placed himself forwards, and the other aft, and thus proceeded to St. Georgio. One began the song: when he had ended his strophe, the other took np the lay, and 60 continued the song alternately. Throughout the whole of it, the same notes invariably returned, but, according to the subject matter of the strophe, they laid a greater or a smaller stress, sometimes on one, and someti
on another note, and indeed changed the enunciation of the whole strophe as the object of the poem altered.
On the whole, however, the sounds were hoarse and screaming: they seemed, in the manner of all rude uncivilized men, to make the excellency of their singing in the force of their voice: one seemed desirous of conquering the other by the strength of his lungs; and so far from receiving delight from this scene (shut up as I was in the box of the gondola), I found myself in a very unpleasant situation.
“My companion, to whom I communicated this circumstance, being very desirous to keep up the credit of his countrymen, assured me that this singing was very delightful when heard at a distance. Accordingly we got out upon the shore, leaving one of the singers in the gondola, while the other went to the distance of some hundred paces. They now began to sing against one another, and I kept walking up and down between them both, so as always to leave him who was to begin his part. I frequently stood still and 'hearkened to the one and to the other. VOI. VII.
“Here the scene was properly introduced. The strong declamatory, and, as it were, shrieking sound, met the ear from far, and called forth the attention; the quickly succeeding transitions, which necessarily required to be sung in a lower tone, seemed like plaintive strains succeeding the vociferations of emotion or of pain. The other, who listened attentively, immediately began where the former left oft, answering him in milder or more vehement notes, according as the purpot of the strophe required. The sleepy canals, the lofty buildings, the splendour of the moon the deep shadows of the few gondolas, that moved like spirits hither and thither, increased the striking peculiarity of the scene; and amidst all these circumstances it was easy to confess the character of this wonderful harmony.
“It suits perfectly well with an idle solitary mariner, lying at length in his vessel at rest on one of these canals, waiting for his company, or for a fare, the tiresomeness of which situation is somewhat alleviated by the songs and poetical stories he has in memory.
He often raises his voice as loud as he can, which extends itself to
a vast distance over the tranquil mirror, and as all is still around, he is, as it were, in a solitude in the midst of a large and populous town.
Here is no rattling of carriages, no noise of foot passengers: a silent gondola glides now and then by him, of which the splashing of the oars are scarcely to be heard.
“At a distance he hears another, perhaps utterly unknown to him. Melody and verse immediately attach the two strangers; he becomes the responsive echo to the former, and exerts himself to be heard as he had heard the other. By a tacit convention they alternate rerse for verse; though the song should last the whole night through, they entertain themselves without fatigue; the hearers, who are passing between the two, take part in the amusement.
This vocal performance sounds best at great distance, and is then inexpressibly charming, as it only fulfils its design in the sentiment of remoteness.
It is plaintive, but not dismal in its sound, and at times it is scarcely possible to refrain from tears. My companion, who otherwise was not a very delicately organized person, said quite unexpectedly: e singolare come quel canto intenerisce, e molto più quando lo cantano meglio.
"I was told that the women of Libo, the long row of islands that divides the Adriatic from the Lagouns, * particularly the women of the extreme districts of Malamocca and Palaestrina, sing in like manner the works of Tasso to these and similar tunes.
“They have the custom, when their husbands are fishin out at sea, to sit along the shore in the evenings and vociferate these songs, and continue to do so with great violence, till each of them can distinguish the responses of her own husband at a distance." 2
The love of music and of poetry distinguishes all classes of Venetians, even amongst the tuneful sons of Italy. The city itself can occasionally furnish respectable audiences for two and even three opera - houses at a time ; and there are few events in private life that do
I The writer meant Lido, which is not a long row of islands, but a long islands : littus, the shore.
2 [Curiosites of Literature, vol. ii. p. 156. edit. 1807; and Appendix xXlX. to Black's Life of Tasso.]