Over thirty years ago, Fretwork made its first recording – well, technically speaking it
was the second album to be recorded, but the first to be released – and it was called
‘In nomine’, which consisted mainly of 16th-century examples of this remarkable
While this isn’t an anniversary of that release, Fretwork wanted to look both back to that first
release and forward, to bring the genre up to date. There were several examples of
the In nomine and related forms that couldn’t be recorded in 1987, and this
album seeks to complete the project.
The form was created unwittingly by John Taverner (1490-1545). His 6-part mass,
Gloria tibi Trinitas, is based on the plainchant of that name. In the Sanctus, at the
words Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini (Blessed is he that comes in the name of
the Lord), the six-part texture is pared down to two and three parts; and then, with
the words in nomine Domini, Taverner makes, for the only time in the mass, a
complete statement of the cantus firmus, accompanied by three voices. This four-
parts section – very beautiful as it is – must have struck contemporaries as some kind
of perfection, to be used as a template, to be emulated and copied. And then those
copies were copied and changed again.
Typically, an In nomine would have the alto, or second part, playing this cantus firmus
in long slow notes of equal length. The other parts would weave counterpoint around
it, sometimes commenting upon it, sometimes ignoring it. Typically, the cantus firmus
starts and ends on the note D – but there are many exceptions to all these ‘rules’.