“The a capella Ideal”*

Above: this decorated lamp standard and others like it were erected in 1902 around Westminster, within the parish of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, by the vestry of St. Martin.

A contemporary newspaper review of the lamp standards ran: “Nothing more hideous in its abject tastelessness has ever been inflicted upon long-suffering Londoners. Without proportion, character, or decorative fitness, without even a rudimentary suggestion of thought or intention in design, these standards permanently disfigure one of the busiest and most important districts of London, and bear lasting witness to the incapacity of the people who are entrusted with the management of our municipal affairs.’

From: *RICHARD IRL KEGERREIS, in The Choral Journal Vol. 10, No. 5 (FEBRUARY 1970):

“To musicians the term a cappella generally indicates unaccompanied choral singing…

The term a cappella evolved from the Latin capa (cloak), particularly the capa of St. Martin of Tours (c.316-c.400). The Frankish kings revered his cloak as a holy relic…According to legend, Martin, as a young soldier, took pity on a naked and freezing beggar at the gates of Amiens. Dividing his military cloak with his sword, he gave half to the beggar; the remaining half he wrapped about his own shoulders (see picture). Later, after leaving the army, he adopted the monastic life. He became famous for healing the sick, destroying pagan temples, founding monasteries, and doing good works. The people of Tours persuaded him to become their bishop. Almost immediately after his death his tomb became a holy shrine…

The first historical sources which mention the cloak…indicate that the Merovingians possessed the cloak in about 650 and that the oath in the courts of the counts palatine was taken super cappella Martini. Capella, diminutive for capa, may indicate that the relic was only half of a cloak…

…The clergymen under the major-domo’s charge soon became known as capellani**…

Later capella referred to the place where Martin’s cloak was kept. In times of peace the capella was an oratory attached to the king’s palace. In times of war it was a tent.

…any reliquary, oratory, or palace room used for divine services became a capella…

Throughout the Middle Ages capella referred not only to a room for divine services but also to the assembly of Capellani who are involved in celebrating those services. Part of the duties of these capellani involved the presentation of chants…

During the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the word (capella) came to mean the body of singers and instrumentalists attached to a court. The kapellmeister rose in importance from a lesser cleric who led the singing to a cleric in charge of all the music for a court, the conductor of that music, and the teacher of the boy singers.

…Praetorius, in Syntagma Musicum, 1615spoke of a chorus pro capella as a particular chorus taken out of the full capella and singing in opposition to it…

Christoph Bernhard, a pupil of Schuetz, was one of the first to employ the complete phrase a capella, to designate a musical style…”

From Wikipedia:

**”The priest who cared for the cloak in its reliquary was called a cappellanu, and ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, from which the English word chaplain is derived.”

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