“The singing of a popular choral society, trained by an official of the Venetian arsenal, seemed like a real lagoon idyll. They generally sang only three-part naturally harmonized folk-songs. It was new to me not to hear the higher voice rise above the compass of the alto, that is to say, without touching the soprano, thereby imparting to the sound of the chorus a manly youthfulness hitherto unknown to me. On fine evenings they glided down the Grand Canal in a large illuminated gondola, stopping before a few palaces as if to serenade (when requested and paid for doing so, be it understood), and generally attracted a number of other gondolas in their wake.
“During one sleepless night, when I felt impelled to go out on to my balcony in the small hours, I heard for the first time the famous old folk-song of the gondolieri. I seemed to hear the first call, in the stillness of the night, proceeding from the Rialto, about a mile away like a rough lament, and answered in the same tone from a yet further distance in another direction. This melancholy dialogue, which was repeated at longer intervals, affected me so much that I could not fix the very simple musical component parts in my memory. However on a subsequent occasion I was told that this folk-song was of great poetic interest. As I was returning home late one night on the gloomy canal, the moon appeared suddenly and illuminated the marvellous palaces and the tall figure of my gondolier towering above the stern of the gondola, slowly moving his huge sweep. Suddenly he uttered a deep wail, not unlike the cry of an animal; the cry gradually gained in strength, and formed itself, after a long-drawn ‘Oh!’ into the simple musical exclamation ‘Venezia!’ This was followed by other sounds of which I have no distinct recollection, as I was so much moved at the time. Such were the impressions that to me appeared the most characteristic of Venice during my stay there, and they remained with me until the completion of the second act of Tristan, and possibly even suggested to me the long-drawn wail of the shepherd’s horn at the beginning of the third act.”
Later we shall see the palace where Wagner died, which also is on the Grand Canal.
Now comes the great and splendid Foscari Palace, once also a Giustiniani home and once also the lodging of a king of France—Henry III, certain of whose sumptuous Venetian experiences we saw depicted on the walls of the Doges’ Palace. The Foscari is very splendid with its golden borders to the windows, its rich reliefs and pretty effects of red brickwork, and more than most it brings to mind the lost aristocratic glories of Venice. To-day it is a commercial school, with a courtyard at the back full of weeds. The fine lamp at its corner must give as useful a light as any in Venice.
THE GRAND CANAL. III: FROM THE RIO FOSCARI TO S. SIMEONE, LOOKING TO THE LEFT