First Published 1855, in Men and Women

A Toccata is a virtuoso piece of music designed to show off the skill of a keyboard, or plucked instrument, performer. It often interweaves musical expressions with each other so that voices can be heard echoing one another. How might the poem infuse different voices or characters?

- The dramatic persona has either heard, or himself played, a fast piece of music by the Venetian composer, Baldassaro Galuppi (1706-85), and this has set his mind buzzing with images of Venice.
- The young people of the city have devoted themselves to pleasure and are no longer.
- There seems to be a warning in the sad sequence of harmonies but one that the original Venetian audience must have ignored.
- Venice meets its political doom, losing its independence in 1797(to the French).
- There is a slippage between imagery relating to death and sexuality.
- Setting of the poem is contemporary i.e. set in 1850s when Browning writes it.
Points for consideration
- Can a conclusive moral judgement be made about the Venetians by a Victorian speaker? Does he have a conflicting moral code?
- In what ways is the dramatic persona narrow minded? Can we trust his viewpoint?
- Does the speaker condemn Venice or fall in love with it? Is it possible to do both?
- Is there a religious message in the poem? Do the Venetians cease to exist when they die because of their debauched lifestyles.
- Is the fall of Venice poignant or tragic (look these words up and make sure you understand the difference between the two)?
Poems for comparison

- Apparent Failure – contemporary setting
- The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church – meditation on death
- Pictor Ignotus – the moral dilemmas facing great artists
- Two in the Campagna – experiments in verse form
- A Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister – Judgemental dramatic personas
- Love Among the Ruins – decay and loss of a culture

Listen to Baldassarro Galuppi's Toccata in fa maggiore

Rebecca Horn's sculpture,