Barry Tuckwell, French Horn Virtuoso, Is Dead at 88


Barry Tuckwell, considered by many to be the finest horn player of his generation, who displayed his skill in concerts all over the world and on dozens of recordings, died on Friday in Melbourne, Australia. He was 88.

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra, of which Mr. Tuckwell was founding music director and conductor, posted news of his death on its website. The Sydney Morning Herald of Australia said the cause was heart disease.

Mr. Tuckwell, Australian by birth, was a master of the French horn, one of the more difficult instruments in the orchestra to play well, especially as a soloist. People magazine, in a 1979 article about Mr. Tuckwell, called it “some 21 feet of coiled brass, valves, crooks, sockets, slides, keys — in short, booby traps.”

Mr. Tuckwell offered an analogy. “Playing the horn,” he told the magazine, “is like driving a very fast car on an oily road. You have to anticipate the things that may go wrong.”

Mr. Tuckwell took up the instrument as a teenager and became principal horn of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1955. Thirteen years later he embarked on a solo career, a rare step for a horn player.

He quickly developed a reputation for both a rich tone and a dexterity with difficult passages. He also conducted, leading the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra of Australia in the early 1980s before spending 17 seasons leading the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

“As the most recorded horn soloist of all time,” the Maryland orchestra’s executive director, Jonathan Parrish, said in the posting, “Tuckwell had a global impact on the world of horn playing and has inspired every generation of horn player for the past 70 years.”

Edward Schneider, reviewing some new recordings by Mr. Tuckwell in 1984 in The New York Times, nodded to his eminence. The recordings included three horn duets.

“Since no other horn player is named on the label,” Mr. Schneider wrote, “we must assume that, thanks to modern technology, the second horn, too, is played by Barry Tuckwell, who could not ask for a better partner.”

Barry Emmanuel Tuckwell was born on March 5, 1931, in Melbourne. His father, Charles, was an organist, and his mother, Elizabeth (Norton) Tuckwell, played piano; his father and others in his extended family had perfect pitch, and so did he.

He tried his parents’ instruments as well as violin before a friend introduced him to the French horn when he was 13.

“It was an important age to find something,” he told People. “I was not bright academically, and I was on the verge of being a juvenile delinquent.”

Two years later he was playing the instrument in the Melbourne Symphony. He also played with the Victoria and Sydney symphonies in Australia before moving to England, where he performed with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra before joining the London Symphony.

In a 1997 interview with The Times, Mr. Tuckwell credited an unexpected source with his ability to give a musical phrase a pleasing turn and to make a simple melody interesting: the jazz trombonist Tommy Dorsey.

“I played along with his records when I was a kid,” he said. “I’m proud to say I took lessons from Tommy Dorsey.”

As a soloist, Mr. Tuckwell played some 200 concerts a year. In 1978 he performed at Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan during the Mostly Mozart Festival. A young man questioned him at length afterward, holding up a line of well-wishers.

“He wanted to know the secret,” Mr. Tuckwell explained to a reporter who had noticed the exchange, “and there isn’t any secret. It’s in the head, not in the lips.”

Mr. Tuckwell recorded almost everything in the classical French horn repertoire, and added to that repertoire by unearthing unknown or incomplete works for the horn, finishing those that needed finishing. But he also made efforts to push the French horn into the popular-music arena. In 1979 he and the pianist Richard Rodney Bennett recorded “A Sure Thing: Music of Jerome Kern.” In 1986 came “George Shearing and Barry Tuckwell Play the Music of Cole Porter.”

In 1994 he surprised the journalist Jim Lehrer and his wife, Kate, by agreeing to their out-of-the-blue request that he performed at their daughter’s wedding.

“I had never played for a wedding before, but I phoned up and said, ‘Why not?’” Mr. Tuckwell told The Times. “I will play the usual appropriate wedding music: the Trumpet Voluntary, the Mendelssohn ‘Wedding March’ and ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.’”

Mr. Tuckwell, who lived at various times in Australia, England and the United States, retired from performing in 1997. His final program, played in Baltimore, included Oliver Knussen’s Horn Concerto, which was written for him and which he had given its premiere in Tokyo in 1994, with Mr. Knussen conducting.

Mr. Tuckwell’s survivors include his fourth wife, Jenny Darling, and three children, David, Jane and Tom.

Though Mr. Tuckwell was known for making difficult musical passages look easy, he was less impressed by flashy horn playing than he was by expressiveness.

“There are a lot of people who can play loud and fast,” he told The Times in 1978. “But it is still very difficult to play one note. In fact, I would like to institute a competition — although I don’t like them — in which each participant would be asked to play only one note. The length, the dynamics would be up to the player.”

“It would be a good exercise,” he added, “for the judge, too.”

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