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Lord, what is man?

author of text
Caritas Nimia or The Dear Bargain

Robin Holloway (b1943) was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral before studying composition privately with Alexander Goehr. He went to King’s College, Cambridge, and during his time as an undergraduate, on a visit to the Darlington Summer School of Music, heard Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques which made him ‘jump out of his skin’! He later went on to publish his doctoral thesis on Debussy and Wagner. Holloway has been constantly in demand as a composer since the late 1960s.

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


The English Anthem, Vol. 2
CDA66519Archive Service


Track 10 on CDA66519 [10'06] Archive Service

Track-specific metadata for CDA66519 track 10

Recording date
4 July 1991
Recording venue
St Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. The English Anthem, Vol. 2 (CDA66519)
    Disc 1 Track 10
    Release date: February 1992
    Deletion date: April 2016
    Archive Service
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