The term a cappella is one of the more familiar Italian terms we run into in the music world. When applied to vocal music, a cappella simply means “without instrumental accompaniment.” But you may find the derivation of the term interesting. The literal meaning of a cappella in Italian is “as in the chapel,” or “in the style of the chapel.”
And what has the chapel got to do with it? Well, it turns out that the term a capella was first used during the Renaissance, in the 1500's, to describe the unaccompanied vocal music that the great Italian composer Giovanni Palestrina and his contemporary colleagues composed for the Church. In the chapel, in the church. And eventually the term came to be applied in the secular domain, as well. A capella. Without accompaniment. It’s always interesting, isn’t it?.. how a term can take on a kind of independent identity, divorced from its origins and from its literal meaning.
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.