Throughout his life, Basil Harwood (1859-1949) maintained a close association with the Church and its musical heritage. Born in Gloucestershire, he began his studies as an organist with Riseley at Bristol Cathedral. Later he moved to Oxford to study theory with Corfe at Trinity College and for a short time he had lessons at the Leipzig Conservatory with Reinecke. Harwood held his first appointment as an organist at St Barnabas’, Pimlico (1883-7) and then proceeded to Ely Cathedral where he was organist and choirmaster from 1887 to 1893. It was during his time at Ely Cathedral that Harwood composed the Morning, Communion and Evening Service in A flat (Op 6) of which the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis sung on this recording form a part. Though the service is usually sung with organ accompaniment, it also exists in a version orchestrated by Sir Walter Alcock, a fellow organist and contemporary of Harwood’s. The music clearly shows the influence of Wesley in its rich harmonies, sweeping melodies, delicate phrasing, expressive word-painting, and most importantly in its supremely confident and imaginative handling of vocal textures. After leaving Ely, Harwood’s career centred on Oxford where he was organist at Christ Church (1892-1909), precentor at Keble College (1892-1903), and conductor of the Orchestral Association (1892-8). The year 1896 saw the foundation of the Bach Choir; Harwood became its first conductor in that year and held the appointment until 1900 when he took over as University Choragus (an Office peculiar to Oxford University). Available sources indicate that Harwood’s list of compositions was not extensive; the works that are documented seem to fall into the categories of Church music, organ works and cantatas.
from notes by Sarah Langdon © 1988