What does "Capella" mean?

Discussions relating to performance, interpretation, score preparation, musica ficta etc.
Posts: 42
Joined: 04 Jan 2011 00:21

What does "Capella" mean?

Postby cjshawcj » 31 May 2013 17:01

I am embarking on some Venetian style motets, published in Nuremberg, 1615. The parts for Choir 3 (3rd choir of 4; 4 parts of 18) are individually and peculiarly entitled "Capella" (e,g.: XIV. VOX 3. chorus. Capella). I have not previously encountered this direction in partbooks works, although I have reasonable experience of working with original polychoral sources.

Does this mean "a capella". If so , the presumption must be that other choirs may be supported/replaced by instruments whereas this one should not. This is not the main narrative choir, carrying all the liturgical content. The frontispiece contains none of the blurb soliciting the use of instruments.
Or perhaps it is a directional location: this choir is being located in a side-chapel to ensure a cori spezzati effect?
Or perhaps there is a third meaning to this caption?

Both informed answers and uninstructed opinions are solicited, with thanks.

Site Admin
Posts: 2667
Joined: 05 Mar 2006 19:57
Location: Rome, Italy

Re: What does "Capella" mean?

Postby choralia » 05 Jun 2013 20:49

Totally uninstructed opinion: Venetian sacred polyphony was different with respect to the other Italian schools because of the use of instruments (and not only voices), and because of the specific layout of St. Mark's Basilica, with two choirs physically located at opposite positions.

So, in this context, I would assume that the most likely interpretation of the "Capella" indication would be "this part is to be sung by the choir located in the chapel", where maybe "the chapel" was a conventional name of the location for the smaller choir, or for the choir located in the lesser prominent position.

Just my two cents, though.


Posts: 42
Joined: 04 Jan 2011 00:21

Re: What does "Capella" mean?

Postby cjshawcj » 21 Jul 2013 16:23

Wotcher Max,

Sorry to take so long to thank you for your input: I was hoping to deal with all replies at once and didn't realise that the silence would be deafening.
I too think that an indication of geographical dispersal is the best bet, but still remains to be proven.

I think I'm going to have to resort to the editorial technique adopted by others in this matter (see various CPDL editions, esp. G. Gabrieli): ignore/suppress the problem, and hope it goes away.

Posts: 28
Joined: 01 Dec 2010 04:03
Location: North Vancouver BC, Canada

Re: What does "Capella" mean?

Postby D-fished » 07 Sep 2013 17:59

Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum vol. 3, bk. III, ch. 2 provides a series of definitions of capella (p. 124 in the Kite-Powell translation).

1. In imperial chapels of Austria and other Catholic countries, a separate choir was drawn from the various choirs and placed in a separate location. I'm not quite sure of his meaning here, but it seems to suggest that a large body of musicians doubling the parts in each of the chori spezzati was placed separately as a ripieno group when all the choirs came together. The capella in this sense could consist of instruments doubling the singers in the choirs, again, placed not with them but somewhere else.

2. (With reference to Gabrieli) a purely vocal choir of four parts (or one in which all the parts are sung even if doubled instrumentally), as distinct from other choirs that might consist of a single singer and instruments, or a singer with organ or theorbo. He uses the term in his own setting of Puer natus in Bethlehem which comprises an instrumental group (capella fidicinum), a solo choir of two sopranos and bass (with organ or theorbo—not notated but specified in his performance instructions), and an SATB chorus pro capella that joins in the ritornelli. He even gives direction that the capella parts be copied out two or three additional times for a large group of singers. He also refers to this as the principal choir.

3. The entire assemblage of an instrumental and vocal choir in which the instruments (placed separately) are not wholly necessary and may be omitted.

From your description it sounds like definition (2) applies.

Posts: 42
Joined: 04 Jan 2011 00:21

Re: What does "Capella" mean?

Postby cjshawcj » 12 Oct 2013 15:46

Good knowledge!

Many thanks for the erudite heads up, and apologies for the tardy acknowledgement.

Return to “Musical questions”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests