He was born in Sydney, Australia of English parents who brought him back to England when he was 4. His father and brother were born in Cornwall and his parents were married there. Until he was a young man he went by the name of George Thomas Ball.
He studied organ and piano at the Royal College of Music in London at an unusually young age of 14 and was the soloist in the first English performance of Rachmaninov's famously difficult Piano Concerto No. 3.
He was asked to deputise as organist at the Temple Church by its then organist Sir Walford Davies and, in 1923, he succeeded him as organist and director of the Temple Church choir, a post he held for nearly sixty years.
Under his direction, the choir achieved in 1927 international fame with its recording of Mendelssohn's Hear My Prayer, featuring Ernest Lough as the soprano soloist. This recording was followed by a number of others on the HMV label.
He composed numerous anthems and organ works of which the best known is his meditative Elegy for organ which was played, for example, at the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales. It was said to have had its origin in an improvisation which Thalben-Ball played one morning at the conclusion of a Temple Church service. He also compiled a complete set of chants for the psalms, most of them being original compositions by himself, which was published as The Choral Psalter.
In 1935 he was awarded the Lambeth degree of Doctor of Music and from that time until his knighthood was generally known by his colleagues, as Walford Davies had been known before him, simply as "Doctor".
He was a regular broadcaster for the BBC. He was also a frequent organ recitalist in many concert venues and opened the organs at the Royal Albert Hall (where he had the post of curator organist) and the BBC Concert Hall. In 1949, he was appointed Civic & University Organist, City of Birmingham, a post he held for 30 years and during which he gave over 1,000 weekly recitals.
In 1950, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists (of which he later became President) and appointed as Professor of Organ in the Royal College of Music, London. His students included Meredith Davies, later to find fame as a conductor.
Thalben-Ball was throughout his life an unashamed virtuoso and performer, whether as pianist, organist, choirmaster or broadcaster. His style of performance was rooted in the nineteenth century and made full use of every facility of the modern organ: with many registration changes, ample swell pedal and dramatic contrasts in dynamic, even when playing baroque repertoire. He could sightread, transpose and improvise in any style and at any length to the highest standard without effort. Long after this had ceased to be customary elsewhere, he retained full conduct of his choir, without any assistant organist or voice coach.
He was twice married and had a son and daughter.
Glory Days Recalled as Hall Doors Open; Birmingham Town Hall Has Thrown Open Its Doors to Allow People to See How Renovation Work Is Getting on. Caroline Foulkes Went along for a Look
Apr 20, 2002; Byline: Caroline Foulkes It had served George Thalben Ball in his work for nearly 20 years, but now the music stand had been put...