William Thomas Best (13 August 1826 — 10 May 1897) studied at Carlisle Cathedral under John Norman and Abraham Young. Organist of the Pembroke Road Chapel, Liverpool, 1840-55; the Church for the Blind, Liverpool, 1847; the Royal Panopticon, Leicester Square, London, 1853-54; Lincoln’s Inn Chapel, 1854; St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, 1855; St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, 1855-94; Wallasey Parish Church, Birkenhead, 1860-63; Holy Trinity, Liverpool, 1863; West Derby Parish Church, 1879. Engaged in 1871 to give recitals at the Royal Albert Hall (stayed for only a short time). Solo Organist at the Handel festival at the Crystal Palace. Opened the organ in Sydney Town Hall, 1890. Was one of the greatest English Organists of his time. Received a Civil List pension of £100 per annum. Composed church services, anthems, organ pieces, &c. b. Carlisle, England, Aug. 13th, 1826; d. Liverpool, May 10th, 1897 (buried in Childwell Churchyard).
Best was certainly the most famous British organist of the time, and was proclaimed by none other than Franz Liszt to be THE greatest virtuoso on ANY instrument!
He had a very large repertoire which was said to number more than 10,000 pieces.
The "Chorale Prelude on 'Plaintive Martyrs'" is the fourth of "12 Short Preludes on Old English Psalm Tunes." It's more "substantial than the previous three preludes, and is quite an unusual piece.
You'll notice that the registration is distinctive in the way it uses the reed stops to sound almost like a town band marching to the cemetery.
The tune, "Plaintive Martyrs" dates from 1562 according to Best, and is very dark.
The direction is to play the piece "Lugubre, ma non troppo lento."
Toward the end, there are two recitative passages. At this point, Best has added the text: "Auld Mortality quavers a wee."
Well, that's what it says... ;-)
Photos of Best are attached below, as well as the great Willis organ in St. George's Hall, Liverpool.