Sinfonia in nomine

string orchestra (2000)

Duration: ca. 13 minutes

The 'In Nomine' was  the most popular kind of English instrumental music in the 16th century.  Over 150 works of this name by 58 composers exist, mostly for viol consort or keyboard, and their popularity lasted well into the 17th century.

The musical source for the ‘In Nomine’ had  puzzled experts on Elizabethan music until about fifty years ago  because, contrary to expectations, the words associated with the plainchant melody on which the pieces were all based did not begin with ‘In nomine’ but  ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’.

It was eventually realized that the name ‘In Nomine’ referred not to a self-contained piece of music by that name but  to the Benedictus section from the Sanctus of the mass ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’ (1528?) by the great English composer John Taverner (c.1490-1545), where the text begins ‘in nomine Domini.......’.    Taverner’s mass uses the Sarum plainchant melody ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’ as its musical foundation, its ‘cantus firmus’.    Musically, the instrumental ‘In Nomine’ was based on this much-admired section of  the ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’ mass, with the plainchant sometimes used  as a ‘cantus firmus’ basis in these new pieces, and sometimes melodically.  Taverner's himself wrote instrumental arrangements of this section of his Mass which he called ‘In Nomine’.

The Sinfonia ‘In Nomine’  for string orchestra is a work in four movements (played without a pause).  Like the 16th century pieces, it uses the ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’ plainchant in a number of ways.  It is heard in its original form part way through the first movement, played by the violins, cellos and basses, while the solo cello also plays a free variation on this same material.  In movement two, the low strings and violins state very slow moving versions of this material against faster  repeated patterns in the other strings. 

The third movement uses the material in the way a Renaissance composer might; the violins, violas and solo cello play a 3-part canon over top of the ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’ melody, here played  as a ‘cantus firmus’ by the pizzicato bass.  The fourth movement is a ‘quodlibet’,  a piece made up of music from different disparate sources used simultaneously, in this case material (including fragments of the ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’ melody) from the previous three movements.