A term referring to choral music without instrumental accompaniment. During the Renaissance the performances of the sistine choir in Rome were considered exemplary; and since the use of instruments was forbidden by its statutes, the term came to be used for any performance in a manner similar to those in the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine tradition of unaccompanied voices stems from the monophonic, purely vocal style of plainchant. Although musical historians of the 19th century believed that all music before 1600 was a cappella, they ignored the vast amount of evidence, especially that of paintings, to the contrary. Even in liturgical performance the older procedure was to double vocal lines with instruments of disparate tone colors, thus enhancing the individuality of the parts and accenting the music's polyphonic character. The a cappella practice is related to polyphony in what is called the "Palestrina style," a term referring not only to works of G. palestrina but also to imitations of his style, e.g., the stile antico of the baroque era. Though the concertato style with instruments became widespread during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Sistine Choir continued its a cappella tradition, thus furnishing a performance model for the revival of liturgical polyphony in the 19th century (see caecilian movement).
Bibliography: k. g. fellerer, The History of Catholic Church Music, tr. f. a. brunner (Baltimore 1961). j. handschin, "Die Grundlagen des A-capella-Stils," Hans Häusermann und der Häusermannsche Privatchor (Zurich 1929). p. h. lÁng, Music in Western Civilization (New York 1941). g. reese, Music in the Renaissance (rev. ed. New York 1959). w. apel, Harvard Dictionary of Music (Cambridge, Mass. 1958).
[l. j. wagner]
a cap·pel·la / ˌä kəˈpelə/ • adj. & adv. (with reference to choral music) without instrumental accompaniment: [as adj.] an a cappella Mass | [as adv.] the trio usually performs a cappella. ∎ [as adj.] relating to or concerned with such music: the English a cappella tradition.