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The da capo aria: All you need to know about musical form for arias that was prevalent in the Baroque era

The da capo aria: All you need to know about musical form for arias that was prevalent in the Baroque era 2

All you need to know about musical form for arias that was prevalent in the Baroque era known as the da capo aria

The da capo aria (Italian pronunciation: [da (k)ˈkaːpo ˈaːrja]) is a musical form for arias that was prevalent in the Baroque era. It is sung by a soloist with the accompaniment of instruments, often a small orchestra. The da capo aria is very common in the musical genres of opera and oratorio.

According to Randel, a number of Baroque composers (he lists Hasse, Handel, Porpora, Leo, and Vinci) composed more than a thousand da capo arias during their careers.


Da capo aria Form

A da capo aria is in ternary form, meaning it is composed of three sections. The first section is a complete musical entity, ending in the tonic key, and could in principle be sung alone. The second section contrasts with the first in its musical key, texture, mood, and sometimes also tempo.

The third section was usually not written out by the composer, who rather simply specified the direction “da capo” (Italian for “from the head”) – meaning from the beginning, which meant that the first section should be repeated in full.

The text for a da capo aria was typically a poem or other verse sequence written in two strophes, the first for the A section (hence repeated later) and the second for B. Each strophe consisted of from three to six lines, and terminated in a line containing a masculine ending.

The da capo aria: All you need to know about musical form for arias that was prevalent in the Baroque era 3

Da capo aria Improvisation

The singer was often expected to improvise variations and ornaments during the third section, to keep it from being a mere repetition of the first. This was especially so for da capo arias written in slower tempos, where the opportunity to improvise, as well as the risk of dullness, were greater. The ability to improvise variations and ornaments was a skill learned by, and expected of, all solo singers.

The decline in this ability following the Baroque era is perhaps the reason why the da capo aria ultimately acquired a reputation as a musically dull form. The authentic performance movement, starting in the mid-twentieth century, restored improvisation to the performance of da capo arias, although the practice has yet to become universal even among authentic performance artists.

Famous examples

Handel’s oratorio Messiah (1742) includes two well-known da capo arias, “He Was Despised” (for alto voice) and “The Trumpet Shall Sound” (for bass). J. S. Bach’s cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51 (1730) begins with a flamboyant da capo aria for soprano, trumpet soloist, and strings.


In vocal music: The 17th–20th centuries
Most characteristic is the da capo plan, consisting of two contrasting sections of music: after the second section, the performers repeat the first, this time with more elaborate embellishments improvised by the singer. Another plan, popular in the later 18th century, is the composite design, consisting of several different…

Da capo aria Influence on Bach

In Johann Sebastian Bach: The Weimar period based on refrain (ritornello) or da capo schemes in which wholesale repetition—literal or with modifications—of entire sections of a piece permitted him to create coherent musical forms with much larger dimensions than had hitherto been possible. These newly acquired techniques henceforth governed a host of Bach’s arias and concerto movements…

Da capo aria Role in musical variations

In the musical variation, the da capo aria has the first section, a second section contrasting in melody and sometimes key and tempo, then an exact repetition of the first section, which provided a showcase for the singer’s ability to elaborate. Jazz is another style that emphasizes performance variation. The…


The da capo aria was a large-scale form in three sections (ABA), with the third repeating the first “from the capo, or head”—that is, from the beginning.

What is a da capo aria?

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.

The da capo aria: All you need to know about musical form for arias that was prevalent in the Baroque era 4
Ternary form – A B A. Based on poem in two stanzas. A section sets 1st stanza to music. Contrasting B section sets 2nd stanza. Written instruction at end of B says— Da capo ( from the head ) Tells performers to go back to the beginning. Performers repeat entire A section.

Da capo aria

The overall form of a da capo aria is A-B-A’. It is a tripartite musical structure. After the first A section, there is a contrasting B section. This is then followed by a da capo, a return “to the head” or beginning of A.

When A is sung for the second time, however (as A’), there are often many more embellishments (instances of ornamentation) than during the first statement. This new statement of A’ allows the soloist the showcase his or her vocal and improvisational skills.


It is impossible to include a complete da capo aria on this web page, so you should consult your sourcebooks on p. (?) in order to follow along with the music to The trumpet shall sound [or whatever we decide]. Notice how the B section provides a strong contrast to what has been presented in A. ALso compare how A’ differs from A through increased reliance on ornamentation.

Development of operatic styles in other Italian cities

Several other Italian cities soon developed recognizable operatic styles in the 17th century. In Rome, where wealthy prelates became ardent sponsors of opera, librettists expanded the range of subjects to include legends of saints.

Most of the Roman composers of the time, such as Stefano Landi, Domenico Mazzocchi, Luigi Rossi, and Michelangelo Rossi, followed the Florentine tradition by including vocal ensembles and choral finales (with dancing) for each act. They diverged from the Florentine style by increasing the contrast between the arias and the recitatives, allowing the arias to interrupt dramatic continuity, and rendering the recitatives more speechlike and less interesting musically.


They also used comic episodes to lighten prevailingly tragic stories (as did the Venetians) and introduced instrumental overtures and overture-like pieces preceding acts or sections of acts.

Da capo aria ternary structure

Ternary structure is a balanced construction in music frequently addressed by the letters ABA. The An addresses a melodic thought or thoughts, the B addresses new, differentiating material, and the last An addresses a re-visitation of the recognizable music heard in the launch of the piece.

This construction is significant for us to audit for two reasons. To start with, it gives the establishment of the more intricate sonata-allegro structure that creates in the Classical time frame. Second, in numerous bigger works that include four developments, for example, ensembles and string groups of four, the third development comprises of two dance developments, minuet and threesome, coordinated in ternary structure (minuet-triplet minuet).

The da capo aria: All you need to know about musical form for arias that was prevalent in the Baroque era 5

Da capo aria ornamentation

Ornamenting rococo da capo arias is significant for the generally educated vocalist. In any case, the selection of adornments ought to accomplish more than fit the influences depicted in a given piece: it ought to underline their demeanor and move the expressions of the warmth of the crowd.

In Mattheson’s Der vollkommene Capellmeister it is proposed that expository figures can be of acceptable use as trimmings. Out of the plentiful number of figures recorded by scholars related with the development of the German Musica Poetica, a couple has at the same time a full of feeling meaning and can be applied to a previous tune.

Da capo aria Handel

Two Roman composers—Mazzocchi’s brother Virgilio and Marco Marazzoli—are often cited as having created the first completely comic opera, Chi soffre speri (1639; “He Who Suffers, Hopes”). Its libretto was written by Giulio Cardinal Rospigliosi, who was to be elevated to the papacy in 1667 as Clement IX. Rospigliosi’s most famous libretto, Sant’ Alessio (1632; “Saint Alexis”), was given a setting by Landi, which required an all-male cast, including castrati in female roles—another feature of opera in Rome, where women were not permitted to sing on stage. T


he opera was successfully revived in the late 20th century, with a new breed of highly trained, virtuosic countertenors taking the roles originally intended for castrati.

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