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Composed: 1846

About this Piece

“I should like now to finish my violoncello sonata, barcarolle and something else I don’t know how to name,” wrote Chopin in a letter of December 1845. Working through debilitating illness and the grinding conclusion of his unhappy relationship with the writer George Sand, Chopin published in the following summer his Barcarolle, Op. 60 and the “something else” known eventually as the Polonaise-FantaIsie, Op. 61—consecutive towering masterpieces of his final years. 

Drawn from two Italian words, barca or boat, and rollo or rower, the barcarolle was a beloved 19th-century cliché: the gently rocking romantic songs of Venetian gondoliers. Chopin’s Barcarolle is anything but that. Working with a broad 12/8 time signature, Chopin’s watery undulations begin calmly, but upon their return in the final third of the piece, build like the immense swells of the open ocean—no moonlit canal scene here, but a relentless and dramatic escalation. —Grant Hiroshima