The liturgical season of "Ascensiontide" is one of the shortest in the Church Year. It runs from Ascension Thursday, and through the following week, culminating on Whitsun Eve. Uploading this piece today on the Sunday after Ascension, puts it just about where it belongs.
Basil Harwood (1859-1949) was born on 11 April 1859. He went up to Charterhouse in 1874 and left in 1876 having won an Exhibition to Trinity College, Oxford where he initially studied Classics and Modern History. He then studied for a further two years, 1881–1882.
In 1883, he became organist of St. Barnabas Church, Pimlico completing his Sonata in C# Minor here in 1885. After this success, he then moved to Ely Cathedral in 1887. His final appointment was as organist at Christ Church, Oxford and as precentor of Keble College, Oxford from 1892 to 1909. He retired early at 50 (in 1909) but continued to compose prolifically.
He was a man who loved walking, was fastidiously proud of his beard, and who was loved by his choristers. His choirboys called him "Old Billy"... ;-)
In the performance you are hearing, the postlude is preceded by the hymn upon which it is based. There is a "short English intro," and then the 3 verses.
The work itself was published in 1903 while Harwood was at Christ Church. It is what I would call a "Mendelssohnian toccata," that recalled some of the writing in his sonatas. It is based upon the "Old 25th Psalm Tune," which appears in long notes in the upper voice. This is a tune you don't hear much anymore...
The piece doesn't have the typical Ascension fanfares. Instead, it gathers excitement in a sustained and dignified way, achieving its climax, and then gradually winding down, as the dynamics fall away, and the tempo gradual slows down. At the end, the Lord has "vanished from our sight," and a single pedal note alone remains.
The scores (hymn and piece) are attached below, as well as photos of Harwood and of the magnificent Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.