Born in Melbourne in 1931, Tuckwell’s father Charles was a theatre organist who gave the young Tuckwell lessons in violin and piano.
While fascinated by sound Tuckwell recalled he didn’t have the “right digital dexterity for those instruments”.
By chance, Tuckwell overheard a chance conversation between his sister, Patricia, Sir Charles Mackerras and Richard Merewether, second horn in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He was 13.
“It was a simple, wonderful and, for me, historic moment, because if they hadn’t been sitting together at that particular moment in that particular coffee lounge in Sydney, I may have become a music critic or something dreadful like that.”
Tuckwell joined the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as third horn at the age of 15, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as principal a year later, staying for three years at the SSO before exploring greater opportunities overseas. In London, he studied informally with the great horn virtuoso Dennis Brain and drew inspiration from the recordings of jazz trombonist Tommy Dorsey.
In 1955 at the age of 24, he became principal horn of the London Symphony Orchestra, staying for 13 years where he consolidated his reputation as an internationally leading soloist and recording artist.
He resigned from the LSO in 1968 to pursue a career as a soloist and conductor and went on to make over 50 recordings, conduct well-known orchestras and write three books on horn playing.
Composers Olli Knussen, Thea Musgrave, Gunther Schuller, Robin Holloway, Don Banks, and Richard Rodney Bennett all wrote new works for him. In 1980, he took up the position of Chief Conductor of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Tuckwell gave his farewell concerts as a horn soloist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1997.
Tuckwell was the first president of the International Horn Society from 1970 to 1976 and from 1992 to 1994. He received the Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1965, and the Companion of the Order of Australia in 1992.