Sine nomine

Descant to the hymn tune SINE NOMINE. Free score with harmonized descant and optional bridge. (audio: prologue, hymnal verse, original a cappella satb verse, free harmonization, bridge, and harmonized descant. The hymnal harmonizations are RVW's.) An instrumental version will be available in August of 2021 (link to audition).Free score. 

William Walsham How's text For all the saints was published in 1864, and predates the tune with which it is today iconically paired, Ralph Vaughan William's SINE NOMINE, which appeared the 1906 English Hymnal, of which the prolific Vaughan Williams was editor and contributor. The tune wraps six unison verses around two harmonized verses, bridged with Alleluia refrains. There were originally eleven stanzas, but three of them - for the apostles, the evangelists, and martyrs - do not appear in most hymnals. The use is for a processional hymn in observance of the Solemnity of All Saints. The word saint is of French derivation, a cognate of the Latin sanctus, holy. (The Old English word for holy is hallow, as in 'hallowed be thy name,' and for the night before this feast, All Hallows Eve.)

The tune SINE NOMINE is one of four original hymnal settings by Ralph Vaughan Williams, introduced in the 1906 English Hymnal and written specifically for this text; it replaced a tune he grouped with other offenders "to an appendix at the end of the book, which we nicknamed the 'Chamber of Horrors.'" In one measure, a change in the baseline was introduced in the 1933 edition (v.1, under 'rest,' to create a suspension). Sine nomine is Latin for 'without a name,' and though this is a case of Vaughan Williams - who published the tune anonymously - trolling the future, it is nevertheless reminiscent of the lectionary for the Feast of All Saints, "And there are some who have no memorial, who have perished as though they had not lived; they have become as though they had not been born, and so have their children after them." (Ecclesiasticus 44)  The Charles Villiers Stanford tune ENGELBERG (When in our music God is glorified) was also written for this text, appearing in two years earlier in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern.

The 'soldier' metaphor

In the Anglican doctrine of the Communion of Saints, Christ's church on earth is consdered to be the Church Militant, the assembly of the faithful gathered in great numbers (lit. 'thousands', the mili of militant). The faithful that that have gone before is the Church Triumphant. These comprise a whole, the Communion of Saints, the word communion itself of Augustinian coinage meaning 'together one.' It includes all the faithful, as Walsham How makes explicit in the verse

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one, and all in thee are thine, Alleluia!

In terms of historical linguistics, there is an interesting double entendre. Before it became uniquely associated with soldiers, milito more generally meant 'one who serves,' a meaning we hear an echo of when we say to a member of the armed forces "Thank you for your service." Soldiers both serve and assemble in thousands. With the loss of verses dedicated to Apostles, Martyrs, and the Evangelists, the hymn loses the counterbalance of the Church Triumphant, the milia milium (thousands upon thousands, the countless heavenly host) who will return with Christ at the end of time.

Who (or what) is a saint?

The definition of saint, and of the Feast of All Saints, is rather a muddle. The observance emerged in the late 4th C. as a collective feast for the martyrs (on May 13); in the 8th century, Gregory III declared the date of Nov. 1 to commemorate the lives and relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world." This has a universal ring to it - all the faithful at all times and in all places, a reading largely preserved in the Reformation tradition. But in strict liturgical tradition, the Nov. 1 date became reserved for Mary, the martyrs, apostles, and saints canonized in the Roman tradition; Nov. 2 emerging as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls Day. Bishop How, the people's bishop working in London's industrial East End, considered the entire church militant seems to be the saints, all who serve as a soldier with countless others (thousands) to be saints, their status determined by faith and service alone, not the decision of a conclave of luminaries:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed, Alleluia!

---- Further reading ----

On Second Thought, James Brooks Kuykendall,  Settling Scores blog 

Discovering Music: Early 20th Century, Simon Wright,  Vaughan Williams and The English Hymnal  (British Library)

History of Hymns, C. Michael Hawn,  For All the Saints  UMC Discipleship Ministry

Etymology Online, military


Free Extended set with prologue, meditative free-harmonization, and an original a cappella verse. (This version updates the opening of the prologue.)


Free Harmonized descant only with separate choir part

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,

through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,

singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:

Alleluia, Alleluia!

– William Walsham How, 1864


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