Classical Editor: Rob
ENGLISH COMPOSERS FOR AMATEURS: No 2 - ERIC THIMAN by Philip L Scowcroft
Eric Harding Thiman was born at Ashford in Kent on 12 September 1900, the son of a Congregational minister, and died in London on 13 February 1975. He was largely self-taught in music though he had some lessons at Trinity College, London as a boy. He took an FRCO diploma in 1921 and became a Doctor of Music of London University in 1927, shortly before he married. He was appointed Professor of Harmony at the RAM in 1921 and to London University's Faculty of Music in 1952, being Dean of that Faculty 1956-62. As organist and as examiner to the Royal Schools of Music, he undertook tours in England, South Africa (1940-1), Australia and New Zealand, and adjudicated at the Hong Kong Schools' Music Festival. Not surprisingly, Who's Who gave foreign travel as one of his interests. He was Organist and Director of Music at the City Temple from 1958.
Most prolific in the fields of short choral pieces, organ solos and solo songs, he did produce a number of orchestral, chamber and piano works. For orchestra there are the suites Fittleworth Fair on English traditional tunes and Highland Scenes, Two Irish Melodies for strings, Two Irish Pieces and Two Seventeenth Century Tunes, both for piano and strings, Two Seventeenth Century Tunes for strings, an Elegiac Melody for organ and strings, A Dance for a Children's Party, the march, Stirling Castle, in which saxophones replace the clarinets, and, for strings, Variations on a Theme of Elgar (I do not know this work and do not even know which theme). This was premiered by the BBCSO in December 1940 as was the ballade, Barbara Allen, in 1938. Many of these pieces are based on folk or popular melodies, a general source of his inspiration, not least in chamber music. His Folk Song Suite for string quartet draws on a different tune for each of its four movements and Cobbett praised it for its ingenious contrapuntal writing and humorous touches. There was a miniature piano trio, In Spring-time, designed, like Alec Rowley's chamber music, for amateurs. Piano solos included Fairy Scenes from Shakespeare, Eight Seascapes (both drawn upon in 1931 for Associated Board examinations), Halstock Pieces, two sets of New Nursery Rhymes, the six movements, Out and About, and an 18th century pastiche, Suite in E (in three movements: Prelude; Sarabande, Gavotte. A different, but similar, Suite in E, (in four movements), An Irish Pastorale, A Sligo Reel and Sussex Milkmaids were published for two pianos or four hands on one piano.
Thiman's choral music, like all his output, shows neat craftsmanship and an easy melodic flow. The relatively few larger scale choral items, The Last Supper (1930) for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra, The Parables (1931), The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire (1932), written for mixed voices and orchestra and later (1960) rejigged for women's three-part chorus and piano, and The Temptations of Christ (1952) for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra, show an awareness of a tradition stretching back through Parry and Stanford to Stainer. High Tide was described by the Doncaster press in the 1930s as 'outstanding' and 'a rousing sing' when it received two performances by the Breckin Choir in 1937 and 1938. Pot-pourri works of some length, for most of which orchestral parts were written, included The Three Ships: a Christmas Rhapsody, A Christmas Carol Sequence, A Christmas Trial, Songs of Travel, A Spring Garland, Songs of England and Songs of Sailors and of the Sea. A Hymn for King and Nation (Psalm 21) was written as a patriotic gesture in 1940. The Flower of Bethlehem and The Earth is the Lord's were religious cantatas. Of the shorter partsongs, which include settings of a considerable number of folk or popular songs, those for two or three part female voices (an example is Morning Song which I heard in Doncaster in 1981) comfortably outnumber those for SATB. There are relatively few for male voices, though I enjoyed recently his arrangement of False Phillis, and The Gentle Maiden, an Irish traditional tune, remains popular. Some appear in both guises. Songs like Sigh no more, Ladies, Fain Would I Change that Note, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Who is Sylvia?, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal and Go, Lovely Rose (an early work as it was favoured a performance by Doncaster's Breckin Choir in 1927) add to the many settings of great poetry in a fresh manner which was Thiman's hallmark. The Wordsworth setting among those just listed I enjoyed when sung in its original guise for three-part ladies' voices. The popular soprano Maryetta Midgley took its top line, retitled it Daffodils, and made of it a gorgeous, shapely solo song, worthy of Quilter at his best; I treausre my recording of this. Many of the two-part and probably all the dozens of unison songs were designed for schools; his unison Gloria in Excelsis Deo once rivalled Quilter's Non Nobis Domine in popularity. Junior choirs still sing some of these. Thiman, even more than Rowley, with whom we can compare him, produced hymns and dozens, probably hundreds (I have traced 80) of anthems, mostly short and of the hymn-anthem type, suitable for less sophisticated church choirs, plus a Te Deum in C for upper voices and organ and the Missa Divinum Mysterium. He composed a considerable quantity of solo songs, two of them, Come on Feet, Let's Go, a duet, and Merry Old King Canute, for C B Cochran's Revue of 1926 - a far cry from the City Temple! We have twice mentioned Quilter, but despite the easy melodic flow of songs (ballads, in fact) like I Travel the Road, In Cupid's Garden, the sacred Madonna and Child, My Sheep Dog and I, Snow-bird and The Carol of the Birds, but few, if any, show Quilter's taste in words, which is one of the latter's outsnading attributes as a song writer.
A church and recital organist and superb improviser, Thiman published much for his main instrument, though few are major works. There are many collections of short numbers in a conservative early 20th century style; Nine Chorale Improvisations, Two Short Fanfares, three sets of Eight Interludes, Six Pieces, Three Pieces, Three Preludes on Orlando Gibbons, Time and Seasons. Six Pieces in Various Styles, Four Miniatures, Three Meditations, Interludes in Miniature, Four Quiet Voluntaries, March for a Pageant, Postlude on Harwood's Thornbury, Five Hymn Tune Variants (all these works were published between 1933 and 1973). The Canzonas of 1949 and 1962 have excellent contrapuntal invention. A Tune for the Tuba (1947) and Scherzetto (1959) are both very lively and there are several likeable independent chorale preludes or postludes. Thiman aimed his output at the average organist, perhaps even the young aspirant, rather than the major recitalist. In this he resembled Rowley, though the latter did write a few larger pieces.
He brought out editions of Mozart and of old English songs; his published books, like those of Rowley, are brief, to the point and nothing if not practical: Recent Thought and Tendency in Congregational Singing (1933), Varied Harmonies to Hymn Tunes - a Short Practical Treatise (1934), A Guide to Elementary Harmony (1942), Practical Free Counterpoint (1947), Musical Form for Examination Students (1951), The Beginning Organist (1914) and Fugue for Beginners (1966). His music rarely, if ever, touched the heights, yet we can admire its craftsmanship and take pleasure in its gracious tunefulness, which is well in the English tradition (or, properly, British tradition, since he used or set so many Scots and Irish tunes as well as English). Much of it was for children and of an instructional character, but at least it furnished more attractive Associated Board pieces than many of those being written for the Board today. He deserves his own niche in the development of modern British music.
© Philip L Scowcroft
Return to Index