By Martin Cullingford, Gramophone
Barry Tuckwell, one of the most admired and successful of 20th-century horn players, has died, aged 88.
Born in Australia, after a musical childhood as a chorister and learning – to his mind unsatisfactorily – piano and violin, Tuckwell began playing the horn aged 13, describing it as ‘a love affair from the start’. Within two years he was playing professionally, having been appointed, aged just 15, as third horn in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. A year later he joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Goossens, leaving three years later for the UK. He played for two years in the Hallé under Sir John Barbirolli, and after spells in the Scottish National and the Bournemouth Symphony orchestras, in 1955 he was appointed first horn at the London Symphony Orchestra. Remaining for 13 years, he spent six of those as Chairman of the LSO’s Board.
In 1968 Tuckwell decided to focus exclusively on a career as a soloist – still a far from common path for a horn player, but one he carried off with great success. His combination of extraordinary virtuosity and warmth of sound proved a source of inspiration for several leading composers, with Oliver Knussen, Robin Holloway, Thea Musgrave and Richard Rodney Bennett among those who wrote works for him. His discography, of more than 50 recordings, embraces repertoire from the Baroque, via such core repertoire for the instrument as the concertos by Mozart and Richard Strauss, through to many contemporary works. He also conducted, becoming the founding conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in 1982, and serving as Chief Conductor of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. He also taught widely. He retired, aged 65, in 1997.
In 2005, when Gramophone asked seven leading horn players to nominate which of their contemporaries or forebears they most revered, Tuckwell was the choice of both Anthony Halstead and LSO Principal David Pyatt.
‘Undoubtedly Barry Tuckwell,’ said Halstead. ‘Throughout his long and distinguished career his awe-inspiring instrumental virtuosity was always used to the service of the music and never for shallow, egocentric display. For sheer, heroic nobility of tone, he was unequalled. After leaving the LSO in the late 1960s, having already made several superb solo records, Tuckwell’s metamorphosis into a full-time soloist seemed to bring about an extra humanity and warmth in his playing. This, combined with a fastidious, disciplined and fearless method of resolving every technical challenge, puts him at the very pinnacle of horn playing achievement.’
In 1965 Tuckwell was appointed OBE, while his native Austria honoured him with its Companion of the Order of Australia in 1992.
Born March 5, 1931; died January 16, 2020