What is a da capo aria?

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The da capo aria is a vocal form used primarily in the Baroque Era. It is in ternary form (ABA’). The A section is in the tonic key, and the B section is often in a minor key with the mood frequently being more reflective. In the repeat of the A section (A’), the singer would demonstrate their vocal virtuosity by improvising and ornamenting the melodic line; the singer would add trills, acciaccaturas, mordents, appoggiaturas, runs, and jumps all to show off their skill as a singer. In the end of the repeated section, it was customary to add a cadenza.

The sheet music would only include the A section and the B section, with a “Da Capo” or “D. C.” in the end, signaling the singer to go back to the A section and improvise. Sometimes, the composer would realize (write out) the ornamented A section, for example “Rejoice greatly” from Handel’s Messiah, but this is rare.

The da capo aria fell out of fashion in the classical era because the focus shifted from the virtuosity of the performer to the beauty of the music. Singers would perform what was written, with ornaments being specified by the composer and not chosen by the singer.

Examples:

“Rejoice greatly” from Handel’s Messiah

“Da tempeste” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto

“Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s Rinaldo

“Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” from the cantata by Bach

Maria Mariana  A. GCSE Music tutor, A Level Music tutor, IB Music tutor

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