Da capo is an Italian word found in music that is translated as “from the head/beginning”. You will often see it as the abbreviation D.C. written just above the stave as part of a phrase such as DC al Fine.
In music, it is a simple direction that means that you should repeat the piece of music from the beginning. However, there are 3 different variations on where you should go/stop after this as follows:
- DC al Fine
- DC al Segno
- DC al Coda
Let’s have a look at each of these in turn.
DC al Fine
D.C. al fine is an extension that means “from the head/beginning to the end”. It is an abbreviation of Da capo al fine (“Da capo” means “From the Head” and “al fine” means “to the end”).
It is a very simple instruction – D.C. al Fine means that you should repeat the piece of music from the beginning until you reach the word “Fine”.
Have a look/listen to this example of it in the context of the following piece:
DC al Segno
The 2nd variation of the phrase is also really simple.
You will also sometimes come across the phrase “D.C. al Segno” or “Da Capo al Segno”. This means that you should repeat the music from the beginning (D.C./Da capo), but this time you carry on playing until you reach the following sign (Segno):
DC al Coda
The 3rd variation of the phrase is a little more complicated.
“D.C. al Coda” (Da Capo al Coda) instructs a performer to repeat the music from the beginning of the piece (Da Capo) until they reach an instruction that says “al Coda” or “To Coda” or the following coda symbol:
At this point, the performer should jump to the point in the music where the word “Coda” or the 2nd coda symbol is written. The coda (literally translated as “the tail”) is an ending section that composers sometimes write and is played to finish off a piece of music.
Have a look/listen to this example:
Da Capo Aria
The Da Capo Aria was an extremely popular form of composition found in operas and oratorios, particularly in the Baroque period.
Written in ternary form and sung by a soloist with instrumental accompaniment, the da capo arias consisted of 2 contrasting sections.
At the end of the second section the performers would repeat the first section again. However, the singer would often add in ornaments and embellishments during the repeat of this 1st section.
Have a look/listen to this example called “He was despised” from G.F. Handel’s Messiah.
The gentle A section clearly contrasts with the much more dramatic B section. You can also hear the embellishments added in the repeat of the A section in this wonderful performance by Jake Jozef Orlinski: