A cappella [alla cappella] (It.: ‘in the style of the church [chapel]’).
- William C. Holmes
[alla cappella] (It.: ‘in the style of the church [chapel]’).
Normally, choral music sung without instrumental accompaniment. Originally (c1600) the term was used to distinguish works composed in the older polyphonic style of the Renaissance from those written in the newer concertato style of the early Baroque. During the 19th century the Roman Catholic Church idealized 16th-century polyphony and the works of Palestrina in particular. Noting that no instrumental parts were included in the sources containing this music, and unaware that instruments were often used during the Renaissance to double or substitute for vocal parts, musicians came to believe that a cappella referred to unaccompanied choral singing (see Chorus §4). Since that time, the term has become synonymous with ‘unaccompanied singing’, both religious and secular.
The spelling capella is occasionally found; Giovanni Gabrieli marked sections for chorus alone ‘capella’, and J.J. Fux (Gradus ad Parnassum, 1725) referred to ‘Stilus à Capella’.