Barcarole (seven mad gods who rule the sea) —1994

Barcarole was commissioned by the American Dance Festival, where it received its world premiere, with choreography by Stephen Pelton.

Program Note

Barcarole (seven mad gods who rule the sea) resulted from my ‘artistic blind date’ with San Francisco choreographer Stephen Pelton at the American Dance Festival. We began with the image of shipwrecked people, drawing on Joseph Conrad’s “Youth” and, in particular, Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” from which we chose the work’s epigraph. Early on we decided to use a barcarole (a boat song of the Venetian gondoliers) as the central musical idea for our collaboration. At our first rehearsal together we played Mendelssohn’s barcarole Songs Without Words, Op. 19 , No. 6, as counterpoint to one of Stephen’s choreographic images: a young woman lying face down, washed ashore, unconscious, then awakening, numb and cold, barely moving, slowly regaining feeling in her limbs. We were struck by the simple beauty of this marriage of music and movement. After that rehearsal, I focused solely on Mendelssohn’s barcarole, taking it apart and putting it back together over and over again its atoms forming the substance and texture of all the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms in Barcarole. Mendelssohn’s boat song is heard in full at the end, drifting in from a faraway place and time, a distant memory.

Barcarole is dedicated to my father, Thomas E. Maggio, who loves sailing, ships (both model scale and actual size), and the sea. As I was writing this piece, I remembered one sunny afternoon in my childhood when he and I ventured not too far off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in a little sailboat. There were gale force winds, and though the actual danger was slight, I recall being very frightened as we tossed about in what seemed to be giant waves. Again and again, the sail caught a gust of wind and swung around, the boat flipped suddenly, my father and I tumbled in to the water, then bobbed up to the surface for air. Rita Felciano (San Francisco Bay Guardian) described Barcarole as “a haunting meditation on death.” I’ve come to hear it as also a haunting meditation on life, survival, holding on , and remembering.

“If I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?”

from The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, 1898


I. Calm

II. Sea

III. Storm—Barcarole


…the most ambitious…and was received with enthusiasm…Maggio’s score was the most dynamic and effective.

Tracie Fellers, The Herald Sun

It is a very fine piece, colorful and expressive. It easily stands alone as a musical experience, without the choreography. A very important release from a young composer who bears watching.

American Record Guide