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(i) The da capo aria.

The da capo form dominated the Italian aria by the beginning of the 18th century,
but there was then still some fluidity in its relationship to the words. There is
usually a binary construction of the setting of the first part of the text, although
arias from this date tend to be so short that this binary structure often consists only
of two periods with a half cadence, rather than a modulation, at the end of the first
(and the second often repeated); see Penso far ci che brami in
ScarlattisEraclea (1700). The text of this, the A part of the ABA da capo structure,
usually consists of two to four lines of verse. If a couplet, it was nearly always
repeated completely in the second part of A(which was in binary form), but with
quatrains sometimes only the second couplet was repeated. The middle or B section
of the aria was often treated exactly like the A section, even occasionally using the
motto beginning, which remained popular in the early years of the century an
example is Saper tu vuoi in Eraclea. In many arias of this period
the A and B sections of the aria are equal in length and musical weight, but in others
(for example Chi lascia la sua bella,Eraclea) A is as much as twice as long as B,
and when the text of B consists of a quatrain it is seldom repeated in full. The
accompaniment of arias in this period also tended towards diversity. The continuo
aria continued into the 1720s but became increasingly rare. In the works of
conservative composers at the beginning of the century, independent ritornellos in
several parts following a continuo aria are still occasionally found; and arias in
which the voice is accompanied only by continuo, but with instruments playing
between the phrases, are quite common. More individual textures, such as the
accompaniment of the voice in unison and octaves or with several instruments
weaving contrapuntal parts above the voice as lowest sounding part, also had
periods of vogue. A considerable variety of instruments in combination or solo
were used.
By the 1720s longer arias were favoured, but not to such an extent as to destroy the
intimacy of the relationship between music and text. This might be called the
classic moment in the development of the da capo aria, especially as it was
accompanied by the rise to prominence of a generation of composers including
Vinci, Hasse and Pergolesi who were to be regarded as the originators of the
modern style of 18th-century music, as well as by the appearance of a poet,
Metastasio, who provided a body of aria poetry that was to be the main source for
composers and the model for other poets until near the end of the century.

Metastasio codified a number of emerging conventions for the da capo aria,

including its role as some kind of emotional climax to a scene (usually followed by
the exit of the character delivering the aria) and the principle of presenting
contrasted affective types in successive arias. Aria texts are normally in two poetic
stanzas generally of equal length (quatrains are less common than often assumed)
and similar rhyme scheme; each stanza normally ends with a cadential verso
tronco (with the accent on the final syllable). The standard musical setting,
although traditionally expressed ABA (where A and B have the first and second
stanzas respectively), can more usefully be seen as a five-part form AABAA, with
each part delineated by ritornellos, henceRARARBRARAR (see Table 1, section
1.a). In its mature form, the aria begins with an instrumental introduction varying in
length but usually self-contained with a full close in the tonic, then a statement of
the first stanza of the poem moving from tonic to dominant (or, in a minor key, to
the relative major); the voice usually enters with the material heard at the beginning
of the ritornello. A further ritornello in the secondary key, usually shorter, leads to
the second setting (A) of the first stanza. As in instrumental binary forms, this
might begin with the opening vocal phrase transposed to the new key, or a
transformation of it. A moves sooner or later back to the tonic; in longer arias, A
will be developmental, and material previously heard in the new key in A will tend
to reappear in the tonic in A. A third ritornello in the tonic brings the section to a
close (it will also close the aria after the da capo). The second stanza (set in
the B section) is usually stated only once, with or without internal repetitions, and it
is often in a contrasting key and/or style. The music usually develops material from
the A section but the accompaniment is often reduced, while particular dramatic
effects could be achieved by having the B section in a different metre and tempo.
This section commonly moves through several related keys, often ending in the
minor or on a Phrygian cadence preparing for a return to the tonic key and the
introductory ritornello. The first section is then repeated. Fioriture often appeared
in both statements of the final line of the first stanza; cadenzas could be inserted at
the ends of both sections, and the da capo provided an opportunity for the singer to
add ornamentation.
Metastasio and many critics, particularly those who held that the opera belonged to
the tragic genre, compared the function of the aria with that of the chorus in Greek
tragedy. This accounts for the large number of aria texts in his works and those of
his imitators that might be said to trope the action sententiously or imagistically (as
in the so-called SIMILE ARIA) rather than forming a direct part of it. Such a
function for the aria helped justify it for critics of a primarily literary orientation,

but it was seen as a grave defect by reformers later in the century, who began to
form a concept of the opera in which music was to take a more central role in the
drama. Dramatic arias, however, are by no means lacking in Metastasios work as a
The da capo form was so universal, and its affective types so stereotyped, that arias
could be transplanted from opera to opera, whether by the impresario, librettist or
composer, or at the behest of singers (hence the suitcase aria). However, a
dramatic effect could be won by playing on its very predictability. Handel was a
master of this technique. Thus the opening ritornello could be dropped if the
dramatic situation suggested that the singer should begin impetuously without one.
In some remarkable, and much rarer, cases the dramatic situation might cause the
aria to be interrupted before its completion, as in Apollos Mie piante correte in
Handels early cantataApollo e Dafne, where the second section has hardly begun
before it breaks off into recitative, and there is no da capo; or Sauls aria A serpent
in my bosom warmd in Saul (1739), where the second section stops abruptly as
Saul hurls his javelin. In Micahs aria Return, O God of Hosts inSamson (1743)
the return to the first section includes the chorus, while the second section of Why
do the nations in Messiah (1742) is followed not by a return to the first but by a
chorus, Let us break their bonds asunder. A recitative could be substituted for the
middle section (Elviras Notte cara, in Act 2 of Floridante, 1722) or could be
interpolated between the second section and the return to the first, as in Cleopatras
Vadoro, pupille in Giulio Cesare (1724) or Susannas If guiltless blood
in Susanna (1749).
During the 1730s and 40s the music of the A section of the da capo aria continued
to expand in length. The text, however, did not; and that led to a weakening of the
closeness of their previous union. The text had now to be much more repeated, in
whole or in part, and this tended to dissolve it into the music. Perhaps partly for this
reason, a chronological survey of Metastasios arias reveals that while in his earlier
work he had used a considerable variety of metres and stanza lengths, in his later
ones arias in quatrains of settenario (seven-syllable) verse increasingly
predominate. Even by the 1720s the first two solos each occasionally have a second
statement of all or most of the text as a coda-like appendage to the main statement,
with music that is an extension or reinforcement of the new key in the first or the
return to the original one in the second. This became the standard format for the da
capo aria, as a result of which the first stanza could be heard eight times in a
complete performance of an aria, the second usually only once; by mid-century

composers often set the middle section in a contrasting tempo and metre (for
example a moderate 3/8 if the main section was an Allegro in common time, as it
usually was) as if to emphasize it and relieve the sameness. The aria and the opera
seria in general underwent increasing criticism after the middle of the century, both
from those who felt that musical expansion was now out of hand in the arias and
that the old balance should be restored, and from those, including Gluck and
Calzabigi, who wanted an altogether new relationship.
(ii) The dal segno aria.
By the middle of the century, however, a tendency to retrenchment had set in with
regard to aria form. At first this was entirely mechanical, replacing the da capo with
the dal segno, that is, the indication of a return not to the beginning of the piece but
to a point marked by a sign within it. The dal segno (or da capo al segno) had
been used earlier, with the sign placed at the first vocal entry, to eliminate the
repeat of the opening ritornello or part of it (see Table 1, section 1.b). But from
about 1760 composers used the sign to shorten the repeat of the A section
substantially (see Table 1, section 1.c). Often it was placed at the beginning of the
second solo, as in Al destin che la minaccia (Mitridate, Mozart, 1770). Where the
second solo began in the dominant, however, composers sometimes preferred to
write out the beginning of the first solo after the middle section (with or without an
intervening orchestral passage), indicating by the sign a return to that point in the
second solo where the music had originally returned to the tonic in preparation for
closure, as in Dopo un tuo sguardo (Adriano in Siria, J.C. Bach, 1765). If the
second solo had begun with new material, a similar procedure might be used to
create a rounded form by providing a recapitulation of the first solo adjusted to
remain in the tonic, as in Disperato mar turbato from Adriano (AABA); but just as
often only the second solo was retained (AABA), as in Cara la dolce fiamma
(Adriano). Occasionally the setting of the opening words after the middle section
would be different from either the first or the second solo though closely related
rhythmically and melodically (AABA); an example is Son quel fiume from
Jommellis Fetonte(1768). There were also dal segno arias in which the first
couplet of text never returned. When the final section was severely shortened, the
formal proportions of the aria were so radically changed that the middle section had
the effect of an episode within the second part of a binary structure.