Eric Thiman was born in 1900 in Ashford, Kent, and spent his life in or around London.
Though largely self-taught, he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists at twenty-one, and a Doctor of Music of London University at twenty-seven – at the time the youngest person ever to achieve that qualification.
From 1931 he was Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music and was appointed Dean of the Music Faculty at London University in 1956. He was warmly respected and a gifted and patient teacher.
He was organist of The Park Chapel in Crouch End, North London for thirty years and then for twenty years at The City Temple, Holborn Viaduct (known as the Cathedral of the Free Churches) where his outstanding gifts, especially for improvisation on hymn tunes, were much admired. With Sir William McKie, Thiman drew up the specification for the new Walker Organ at the City Temple, inaugurated when the rebuilt City Temple opened, in the presence of the Queen Mother in 1958. Both churches had thriving choirs and the City Temple Choir made recordings.
For over forty years he was the organist, and occasional conductor, of the annual festivals of the Free Church Choir Union, mostly at Alexandra Palace.
He was also active as a conductor, working with his own string orchestra, with the Elysian Concert Society and with Purley Choral Society.
He was an examiner for the Royal College of Organists and the Associated Board, and a frequent adjudicator at music festivals.
He published over thirteen hundred compositions, and was particularly known as the foremost composer of his time for the non-conformist churches.
There are many anthems, organ pieces, piano pieces, solo songs, works for choir and orchestra – both sacred and secular – hymns, canticles and educational music. Very few, if any, of his contemporaries published as many pieces.
Under the name of Eric Harding he published a number of lighter songs in both patriotic and ‘Ivor-Novello-esque’ styles.
When Thiman died in 1975 he was still working as teacher, organist, composer and conductor.
He was married to Madeline, a musician and singer, for forty–seven years. They had no children.
Eric Thiman and the Royal Academy of Music
From 1931 until his death, Thiman was Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music. In view of this long relationship, his widow, Madeline, stipulated in her will (drawn up in 1981) that the royalties from his publications should benefit the Academy. A fund was set up to help talented students in need of financial support. An organ prize was also established by Madeline in 1978 to be awarded annually in Thiman’s name. (Both awards are at the Academy’s discretion).