Sadness at the death of London’s principal horn

Sadness at the death of London’s principal horn


norman lebrecht

January 17, 2020

The death has been reported in Australia of Barry Tuckwell, principal horn of the London Symphony Orchestra in its liveliest era and its chairman in turbulent times. He was 88.

Barry came to Britain in 1951 and won a seat in the Halle’s horn section under John Barbirolli. Four years later he was named principal at the LSO, which would send its chief conductor packing  after an outbreak of fisticuffs. He held the first horn seat for 13 years, and was loud enough to be elected chairman, a role he exerted with vigour. Ernest Fleischman never forgave Barry for firing him as general manager after he had just secured for the orchestra its residency in the unbuilt Barbican Centre. Ernest went on to rebuild the LA Phil, agreeing reluctantly to a reconciliation with Barry not long before he died.

Barry left the LSO for an international solo career, which went well for a while. He is reckoned to be the most prolific horn player on record. Later on he took up conducting, returning home as chief conductor of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in 1980.

He was a live wire in London’s vibrant Australian scene. His sister Patricia married the Queen’s cousin, the Earl of Harewood, and Charles Mackerras was a close mate. Barry was a convivial fellow, always ready with a cheery quip. The last time I saw him in Australia, he came rushing over to demand the latest ins and outs of the London orchestral scene.




photo (c) Fritz Curzon


  • Adrian says:

    Arguably the greatest horn player of all time. I’m pleased he had such a long life.

  • Fritz Curzon says:

    The b/w photo stems from one of the easiest sessions I ever had the pleasure of “shooting”. RIP Barry.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Dear Fritz, It’s a lovely pic, from a press handout. I will credit it without delay. best wishes, Norman

  • When Tuckwell was a soloist with the Monterey Symphony, back in the 1970s, I had the pleasure of interviewing him for a radio broadcast. On the subject of new music, I remember him glowing at the prospect of a new concerto by William Walton, alas never to be. I treasure that memory and all his rare recordings (Pinto, Koechlin, etc.) that remain in my library.

  • jamesay says:

    A legend ! RIP

  • Ben says:

    Wonderful player. And a great champion of new music, too. A number of composers were inspired to write for him, amongst them Olly Knussen, who penned his beautiful concerto.

  • Robin Del Mar says:

    What a great character! He was always fun to have around.

  • dd says:

    swell obit by Mairi Nicolson, ici: “You, God of horn!” A Japanese fan approached Tuckwell after a concert with this apt appellation and the words stuck, Barry wryly tweaking his personal email to include the letters “GoH.”..Surprisingly, a big influence on his playing style was jazz trombonist Tommy Dorsey. “My hero! A master at phrasing, breathing and tonal control, he showed me how to play melodies on a brass instrument, and play them in a truly vocal style.”..[didn’t Ol’ Blue Eyes credit TD as his inspiration as well?]

    • John Kelly says:

      Thanks for this. I heard Barry play as soloist a couple of times. Super player. And he’s right about Tommy Dorsey!

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Yes, dd, Sinatra credited Dorsey with teaching him the art of phrasing and breath control.
      Back to the subject at hand: I love Barry Tuckwell’s playing, and own and enjoy many of his records. “The Greatest”? How about just saying he was one of the greats? He certainly was….
      I hope that those horrible fires in Australia did in no way hasten his death.
      Thanks, Barry, for all the beautiful hornistry.
      And for that excellent ‘stache!

  • SVM says:

    As I understand it, Tuckwell *chose* to retire from solo playing in 1997, while still on top form as a player, concluding with a recital entitled “Farewell to the Horn” on 25/01/1997 at the Harbor Court Hotel, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

    Lebrecht’s expression “went well for while” is, therefore, misleading, in that it implies erroneously that Tuckwell’s solo career ended due to factors beyond his control.

    • Adrian says:

      Quite right SVM. To write Tuckwell’s solo career “went well for while” is a huge understatement. He was hugely successful for about 30 years.

      • M McAlpine says:

        Quite right. He seemed to be around for a long time as a solo horn player. It can be debated who was the greatest but no doubt that Tuckwell was a very fine player indeed.

    • Philip Harding says:

      Thank you for making that comment. I was about to make the same observation. Tuckwell had it all (intact) throughout his long and illustrious career. He gave endless pleasure to musicians and listeners. He led the way and set a new standard.

      • SVM says:

        Hear hear! Alas, I am too young to have heard Tuckwell perform live, but his recordings constitute a formidable legacy (and I say this despite *not* being a horn player). Another important legacy is his enrichment of the horn repertoire, both through plucking existing works out of obscurity and through the corpus of new works he commissioned/premièred/&c. (as an accompanist, I have had the pleasure of playing one such work, Thea Musgrave’s /Music for Horn and Piano/).

    • William Gross says:

      I met him as a participant at the BSO Academy. He said the thing that helped him decide to step back was he noticed that some of the notes he could always hit weren’t there.

  • Kim Van Pelt says:

    Big influence on my playing and my career. As a teenager I listened to his recordings endlessly. RIP, condolences to his family and friends.

  • Michael Turner says:

    I was introduced to Barry Tuckwell as a very young boy via Decca release – The World of the Horn. Since then I have enjoyed his playing right through to his splendid recording of the Knussen concerto – one of my favourite CDs. RIP

  • Doug says:

    Would be interesting to hear more about his decade (or more?) in Western Maryland (Hagerstown…of all places) and the people he touched there. Anyone?

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    His album “A Sure Thing”, with arrangements of Jerome Kern songs, is epic- some of the most beautiful horn playing ever recorded.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    His Brahms Horn Trio with Perlman and Ashkenazy is one of the finest recordings of anything, IMO, and the recorded sound has held up remarkably well to boot.

  • Neil Thompson Shade says:

    In the early 2000s I met Barry at a drinks reception at Peabody Institute in Baltimore where he was on faculty. Introduced by a faculty member friend, Barry asked what I taught. “Acoustics” I replied. He quipped with a big smile, “So you are one of the bastards who makes or breaks us.” I assured the great man that I tried to do more making than breaking. During this time he was also music director of the Maryland Symphony in Hagerstown, MD about 60 miles west of Bal’more, hon.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    A superb and wonderful musician. Rest in peace.

  • MacroV says:

    Yes, he was LSO principal horn, most recently about 50 years ago. A better headline would be “Death of Legendary Hornist.”

  • Amos says:

    I just finished re-listening to the Kertesz/LSO recording of the Brahms Serenade #1. A masterclass for the horn which Mr. Tuckwell pulls off with virtuosity and panache. Superb recording and playing.

  • Scott Merrell says:

    Very sad news. RIP

  • Jasper says:

    No mention by commenters of Philip Myers as a top-tier horn player? An oversight? Or is there something else at play?