Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas Organ Voluntaries No.1 Eric Thiman Postlude on ‘Adeste Fideles’

Many years ago, I bought a series of organ music albums published by Novello entitled Festal Voluntaries. These included a number of ‘modern’ and ‘original’ pieces by British and other composers specially selected to reflect the Church’s calendar. The volume covering ‘Christmas and Epiphany’ was originally published in 1956, although the reprint I have dates from the early nineteen seventies. I confess that all the pieces were beyond my limited pedal and manual technique, however they were an aspiration (which was never attained). They are still in print today and are available from all ‘good music shops.’
I dug my copy of this music out the other day for inspection. It has five pieces by an eclectic group of composers: John Cook’s Paean on ‘Divinum Mysterium’, Ivan Langstroth’s Interlude on ‘Winchester Old’, Eric H. Thiman Postlude on Adeste Fideles, the Chorale Prelude on ‘Stuttgart’ Flor Peeters, and Epilogue on ‘Dix’ by William H. Harris. British composers in this volume include John Cook (actually Anglo-American), Eric Thiman and William Harris. Ivan Langstroth (1887-1971) hailed from California and Flor Peeters (1903-1986) was an important Belgian composer.

Eric Harding Thiman was born in Ashford, Kent in 1900. He was largely self-taught as a musician but went on to gain his FRCO aged 21 and some six years later his D.Mus. at London University. For over thirty years he was Professor of Harmony and Composition at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1957 he became organist at the City Temple Church in London. This is not to be confused with the Temple Church where George Thalben-Ball was organist for over sixty years. Thiman composed great deal of organ and piano music as well as a few orchestral pieces. However, it is for his church choir music that he is remembered today. Eric Thiman died in London on 1975.
The Postlude on Adeste Fideles (O Come all ye faithful) is one of the best of Thiman’s organ works. It was composed (I believe) for the Festal Voluntaries series. It is written in a brisk 4/4 time in a fairly diatonic style. However there are some interesting passing modulation and an idiomatic use of parallel ‘4ths’ in the right hand. It gives the overall impression of being a lively, powerful piece that may be very much of its time, but that is hugely impressive.

Eric Thiman’s Postlude on ‘Adeste Fideles’ is currently posted on YouTube. This is a fine performance by Riccardo Bonci who is organist at St Barnabas Church in Dulwich as well as being choral director of Alleyn’s Junior School. The work is played on the organ of St Barnabas which was built by Kenneth Tickell and Son in 1995. It has 35 stops, and 2428 pipes.

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