Not rock ‘n’ roll but barcarolle

In a metaphor taken from dogs, we say of someone that “His bark is worse than his bite,” but in light of the previous post about embark I’d like to change that to “His bark is smaller than his boat.” I can do that because in addition to the bark that means ‘the noise a dog makes’ and the bark that means ‘the covering of a tree trunk,’ English has a bark that is akin to Spanish barca and barco. This English bark, now the least familiar of the three, means ‘a small sailing ship.’ English took the word from Old French barque, borrowed from Old Italian barca, which had come down from the identical Latin word that has also passed into Spanish.

The Italian barca gave rise to barcaruolo ‘a gondolier,’ and from that came barcarola ‘a song sung by a gondolier.’ Spanish has adopted the word unchanged, and English, turning to the minimally altered French borrowing, renders the word barcarole or barcarolle. A barcarola/barcarole, as the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica noted, is ‘a musical term for the songs sung by the Venetian gondoliers, and hence for an instrumental or vocal composition, generally in 6-8 time, written in imitation of their characteristic rhythm.’ That rhythm, of course, originally matched the pace of a gondolier as he rowed his barca through the canals of Venice. One famous musical piece of this type is Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp minor, Op. 60, which I invite you to hear and see played by Artur Rubinstein.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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