For about a hundred years, roughly from 1650 to 1750, the principal type of aria in opera, and also in the oratorios and cantatas of such composers as Bach and Handel, was the da capo aria.
Da capo is Italian for “from the beginning,” and a da capo aria has three sections: an opening section, a contrasting second section, and a repeat, “from the beginning,” of the first section. In actual practice, though, the third section was never a literal repeat of the first. It was the section in which singers would use the opening material as a kind of skeleton, one they would flesh out with all sorts of musical embellishments. These musical embellishments eventually got out of hand, though, and as emotional expression started losing out to flashy personal display, the da capo aria began a steep decline in popularity. More on the aria tomorrow.
I’m Miles Hoffman, and this has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.