HomeChicago Chorale spotlights a century of a cappella music

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Although the designation “a cappella” has come to signify singing without instrumental accompaniment in common usage, the Italian phrase means literally, “of the chapel.”

The significance of that etymology is that 19th century musicologists who were unaware of the common earlier performance practice of doubling vocal lines with instruments in church music made the false assumption that a cappella music of the past had been performed without instrumentation.

As a result, not only did the phrase become synonymous with unaccompanied vocal music, but a new body of such music began to develop that was deliberately conceived as extending a tradition that never firmly existed.

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