Dramatic Vocalise Database

Herbert Howells (1892–1983)

Sine Nomine: A Phantasy, Op. 37 (1922)

“Voices are used wordlessly throughout in Herbert Howells’s fantasy Sine Nomine for soloists chorus orchestra and organ, written in 1922 before the composer had heard Daphnis et Chloé and before Flos Campi. Howells’s finely-attuned lyricism and the sensuousness of his textures (and his exquisitely self-critical editorial finish) denote a temper arguably more French than English, and pieces such as the Paradise Rondel for orchestra work the elfin impressionistic vein of the coda to the third movement of the Pastoral [Rhapsody]. Moreover, Frank Howes has written intriguingly of Howells’s ‘impressionistic’ polyphony—its vaguely imitational impulse may stem from the Tudor madrigal or Jacobean consort music, but the voice-leading is blurred, the lines indeterminate and soft-drawn, the sum-total of texture a complex seen mistily through a haze of water or light. Harmony is a result of the effortless interweaving of a myriad coloured strands, fluid, self-generating, kaleidoscopic—a sonority conceived almost in terms of a highly resonant cathedral acoustic. It is understandable that Howells’s preferred media are voices, organ and strings, for these have the warmth, vibrancy and suppleness he finds essential to the achieving of his inimitable sense of flow.”1

Although the opening is reminiscent of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, following the entrance of the solo tenor, the piece sounds more like the pastoral movement from Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia espansiva,” especially with the later addition of the solo soprano.



Sine Nomine: A Phantasy, Op. 37


1 Christopher Palmer, Impressionism in Music (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973), 176 n. 4.