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Adriano Banchieri’s Boat from Venice to Padua

Paolo Fabbri

Born in Bologna in 1568, Tommaso Banchieri changed is first name to that of

“Adriano” upon His entering the Olivetan order of the Benedictine monks as a
novice (1589). Having taken his solemn vows the following year, he spent a period
of time in various monasteries of his order in central and northern Italy and in 1607
settled in one called St. Michael at Bosco near Bologna where he remained until his
death in 1634.
He published the first edition of the Barca di Venetia per Padova in 1605 at the
Venetian printer Ricciardo Amadino; at the time he was living in Venice at the
monastery of S. Elena. One must assume these circunstances influenced the pseudo-
theatrical frame of a madrigalian collection like this one, and the “ambiente” that
serves as its background. Viewed against his own precedents of this genre o
polyphonic theatre (La Pazzia Senile – Senile Madness, 1598; Studio Dilettevole –
Delightfull Study, 1600; Il Metamorfosi Musicale – Music Metamorphosis, 1601; Il
Zabaione Musicale – Musical Eggnog, 1604), and those of its other initiators, i.e.
Alessandro Striggio, Orazio Vecchi, Giovanni Croce, then, in his Barca di Venetia per
Padova Banchieri indulges once again that particular taste of his for the poetically-
stylistically-musically most disparate assortments that had already brought forth
very curious results in his progamme of Il Zabaione.
Such a kaleidoscope of sound has in the Barca, however, been admirably
linked thanks to the most classic of narrative and dramatic expedients (well-proven
in the collections of novellas from Boccacio and Chaucer on), namely, that of the
travel-frame capable of trying together the most varicoloured personalities and
In regard to the first edition, the second one of 1623 – besides minor, if
sometimes not little, significant modifications and the provision of a “basso continuo
(if desired) for spinet and chitarrone” – accentuates its hybrid nature by a different
distribution of the “serious” madrigalian presences setting lyrical poetry written in
Tuscan. Instead of their being made the heart of the collection with five consecutive
numbers they have been distributed in sequences of 2 and 2 madrigals plus one aria

– interpolated, though, by texts also in Tuscan but written in popular style: set off
against the scholarly and artful madrigalian polyphony in which the lover pre-
supposed by these verses expresses himself are, at repeated intervals, the courtesan
Rizzolina and “the student Orazio, her favourite” with their strophic canzonette and
their airy strambotti a solo, accompanied by the other voices who imitate the lute
(and even the bursting of a string). Moreover, the regular madrigals of 1605 have,
in 1623, been replaced by pieces explicitly conceived to represent the manner of
famous composers of the period: Gesualdo da Venosa, Marenzio, Domenico Spano,
Enrico Radesca.
The regional and international plurality of the vernacular stock characters so
beloved by the theatre of the time (and who appear here, too, on the stage in more
one many-faceted variant and when called for, with their individual ties that
characterize them: the Venetian, often stuttering, the student, the Jew, Cola
Francesco, Cecco Bimbi, Petronio) – this plurality is here enriched by shrewd
parodies of cultured musical “dialects”, which also serve as precious clues to
particular stylistic attitudes within that great madrigalian stream of the 16/17th
Thus scholarly techniques of how to intertwine polyphonic structures with a
cyclically recurring tenor are cleverly pressed into service for a «Clamour of
Fishermen» and for caricatures of drinking toasts in which the cantus prius factus is
made of the cries of the fishmongers of the Rialto and the howls of a drunken
The imaginary Punch-and-Judy show becomes animated owing to the
pliability of the compositional script: now drawn in full detail as a musical sketch or
genre painting, now deft and sparse, suitable for the most dynamic parts of the text,
and able to highlight the various characters by the flash of one single personalized
line of melody or by the contrast of small vocal groups in dialogue or, again, by a
general interruption of everyone present signalled by the rapid chords of a call to
Such vivacity, such carnival spirit might seem completely remote from the
seriousness and the pathos-laden aristocratic style of Marenzio eloquently
represented [...] by some madrigals from the Settimo Libro for five voices (1595) set
to texts by Battista Guarini, and from the ample cycle of the Sesto Libro (of the same
year) which is set to a capitol a terza rima by Luigi Transillo. But even though it
constitutes a unicum within his production, one should not forget that it is precisely
Marenzio who is the unexpected author of that most bizarre quodlibed which
combines five voices with different texts corresponding to just such “Commedia”
types (Girometta, Franceschina, Zanni, Il Magnifico, and the German), - enlarged,

in turn by Orazzio Vecchi’s addition of four other characters, and published in the
Selva di varia ricreazione (1590) – Treasury of various amusements.
Many of these reappear reunited by Banchieri in his Barca seems like an
incarnation in sound of the boat described by Tommaso Garzoni in the Piazza
universal di tutte le prodessioni dell’universo (1585), with just such soldiers, harlots,
students, jews, and merchants aboard, and where they also “narrate fables, spin tall
yarns and tell stories, sing, play and laugh”.
By His adding to the other passengers a sol-faing “music teacher of Lucca”
one likes to imagine that Banchieri had fondly meant to commemorate Giuseppe
Guami who had almost certainly during his stay at the monastery of SS. Bartolomeo
e Ponziano, made of him, an accomplished organist and composer.

Translation: Lisel B. Sayre

Adriano Banchieri: Barca di Venetia per Padova, Ensemble Clément Janequin, Dominique Visse,
Harmonia Mundi,