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Like Finzi, Holloway has chosen a text by the English poet Richard Crashaw (1612–1649). Lord, what is man? was commissioned for the opening service of the 1991 City of London Festival held at St Paul’s Cathedral on 7 July. The composer wrote about this first performance in The Spectator as follows:
Something completely different happens to one’s music when it is heard in a liturgical context. No doubt the silence which has become habitual down the generations in concert halls and recital rooms contains an element of reverence for the art and of courtsey towards the artists, as well as conducing to audibility. But in a religious service music has two distinct attributes which do not belong to it in a concert. First and simplest, it is functional … a mass or a motet should, so to speak, show its listeners how to pray, and assist them in doing so. And the second, a more complex function, obviates the very idea of a listener equally with that of applause for performers and self-expression for the composer. Irrespective of the composer’s personal belief or disbelief, liturgical music, by means of humbly fulfilling an exact function aims directly up on high. It is intended to be perceived rather than listened to, just as even the most masterly ecclesiastical architecture, sculpture, painting, glass, wood and metal subsume the delights of the eye into religious contemplation.
from notes by William McVicker © 1991