Reflections on the Collection

by Frances Thiman, the composer's niece

 

…I wondered if you would be at all interested, or able, to take and house some of [my Uncle Eric’s] music for the choir at Southwell, and its Library? At least they would perhaps be used there, which would give me great pleasure to think of. I wondered even if a small special collection could be set up...?

 

On 28th August 2010 I sent this brief and rather ungrammatical email to Paul Hale, then Rector Chori at Southwell Minster…

and in October 2014 the Eric Thiman Archive was launched at a Friday lunch-time concert of his music in Southwell Minster, to a large audience who had gathered from all over the country, one or two even coming from abroad. There was an accompanying exhibition of Memorabilia, arranged by the Archivist. And this was just the start…

Paul Hale was enthusiastic about my emailed message, and suggested further that an official Archive be established, to become the main repository of all Eric’s works and of information about them.

Those years between 2010 and 2014 were partly taken up with the renovation of the Archbishop’s Palace, where the new Paul Hale Choir Library and the Archive was to be housed – this involved two Heritage Lottery applications. But there was much discussion about the Archive, a thicket of emails, and communication with a large number of Eric’s former colleagues and students, publishers and other organisations, and the collection of as much as possible of the music. In particular we should mention Kathy Adamson, the Royal Academy of Music Librarian, and Howard Friend, Managing Editor (Chester/Novello) at Music Sales, which now holds the rights to Thiman works published by many publishers; and Gerald Barnes, a former colleague and friend of Eric’s, who provided much of the music initially. Eric's own personal archive had passed, via Mrs Thiman, to Gerald.

And now the website has been finalised, with many thanks to the Southwell Minster team. It contains lists of works and articles published about Eric and about the Archive itself, and the occasional Newsletters produced by the Archivist. It also contains the catalogue of compositions held in the Collection – and for that matter the ones we have yet to find. Considering that there are well over 1300, this last has been a huge task.

The main reason for all this development and activity was the appointment as Archivist in January 2014 of Guy Turner, a Lay Clerk at Southwell Minster, also a composer and conductor himself. He has traced lost compositions, curated the Memorabilia exhibition (see Newsletter 1), created the CD of Eric’s music, conducted and performed locally some of Eric’s works and persuaded others to perform them, produced publicity materials – and many other things. And in May 2019, he performed with a local choir the World Premiere of the work most recently found, Psalm 23, still in manuscript, with its mysterious pseudonym. (This is fully described in Newsletter 5). Not only that but Guy’s daughter Hannah, also a musician, is responsible for the design of the Collection's leaflet, and his son Ben, a recording engineer, produced the CD. Thus the Turners have all turned their hands – and varied and considerable skills – to the project. I cannot thank Guy and his family enough for all they have done. I must also thank Paul Hale for his initial ideas and commitment.

A mature student, David Dewar, has embarked on a PhD at Bristol University – initially this was to be a study of Eric’s works, but he has latterly increased the scope of his research into music-making in the first half of the 20C in England, including the interaction between professional and amateur musicians. There is now also the possibility of a bio-bibliography of Thiman being published in the States, as a direct result of the Collection's work.

A Personal Note

I did not know my uncle as well as I would have liked – many others certainly knew him better. Perhaps those who know composers and teachers best are those who perform their works under their direction, or who study under them. My parents, both Londoners, moved to Nottingham when I was three, my father taking up the post of Head of Modern Languages at Nottingham High School. They thought to stay for perhaps a few years, but my father remained at the school until his retirement, and in Nottingham thereafter. As a young family we travelled to London during the summer and at Christmas to visit all the relatives on both sides, and our times with Eric and Madeline, his wife, were always red-letter occasions, with wonderful food and a large number of games – card games and word games especially – at all of which Eric excelled, and which indeed he usually won. Inevitably however, the relatives became fewer and we no longer visited regularly, and after a while I did not see Eric very much. However, we sang his songs at my school, frequently at prize days, and I remember playing his piano piece ‘Flood Time’ for an Associated Board exam – as do perhaps many others still. I was delighted to hear the song ‘The Path to the Moon’ at the Southwell launch concert, sung by a very small boy in the choir, as it had apparently been set for his singing exam. It has been a great privilege to learn to know more about my uncle’s work in this way, to meet some of his former colleagues, students and friends, and in particular the musicians of Southwell Minster.

Mysteries and Surprises

The Names: When and why exactly did Eric drop the second ‘n’ from the surname? Was it his own initiative, or his publisher’s at the time?

Eric published some songs in a more popular vein under the name ‘Harding’ (that being his middle name, his mother’s maiden name). One of his former students and choir members, Dorothy Webster, was able to give us copies of some of these songs that were in her possession, and this was the first we knew of these pieces.

Why did Eric write a vocal piece with only ‘Paulatim’ as the composer’s name? This Latin word means ‘little by little’ and there is a Victorian children’s book called ‘Eric or Little by Little’, so the reference is clear. But why the pseudonym? (There is a fuller discussion of this in Newsletter 5).

The Complete Works: We have a listing in his own (or perhaps Madeline’s) typescript with Eric’s handwritten amendments – but it includes only 599 pieces. Eric’s various publishers have their own inventories, and the Performing Rights Society at one point listed about 800 works: most official sources list between about 450 and 630 works. One contributory reason for this disparity may be the different versions of his name, and different versions of the same work. Yet Guy Turner has already collected and listed well over 1300 – it has been a massive and complex job, and is not yet finished. Each communication from Guy over the years has increased the number of works! But why has it been so hard to establish the full number?

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