Christopher Larkin (1947-2021)

Christopher Michael Larkin was born on 1st  September 1947 in Wigan, Lancashire. His father was a schoolmaster and an amateur pianist, whilst his mother, a nurse, was busy bringing up their two daughters and three sons. Chris attended Thornleigh Salasian College in Bolton aged 11 and sang in the school choir. He started playing a cornet in 1959 and was given free lessons from a Mr. Murphy. Many years later Chris wrote this memory of going to a concert at The Royal Albert Hall as a twelve-year-old. “In 1959 my father took me to my first Prom concert during what was also my first visit to London. All that I remember now about the holiday was that I divided my time between a long-established interest in the doings of steam locomotives and a new love – music”.

In 1960 Chris changed to a piston-valve French horn crooked in F and taught himself, using the famous “Tune a Day” horn tutor, before having lessons from 1964, once a week, at the Northern School of Music in Manchester, with Peter Rider, 4th Horn of the BBC Northern Orchestra, then with Julian Baker, Principal Horn of the Hallé Orchestra. By now Chris had changed to a school-owned Italian compensating horn and then a Lidl double horn. He gained a Distinction in his Grade 8 Associated Board exam, started to play in the Lancashire Youth Orchestra and the British Students Symphony Orchestra and attended many Hallé and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra concerts. Chris moved on from his Lidl to a Paxman double and an Alexander 103 full double horn. In 1965, he won a place to study at The Royal Academy of Music in London, playing an Alexander 90 single B♭ horn. His professor was the great James Brown, Principal Horn of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Jim gave Chris his first professional experience on 4th horn in 1967, in St. Albans with the RPO. After leaving the RAM, he joined The BBC Training Orchestra based in Bristol in 1968/69 and returned to London to begin his long career, first as a busy freelance in many West End theatre productions. He later joined the much respected and successful London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble, with whom he played a Natural Horn, Baroque Horn, Piston Horn with crooks, a Trompe de Chasse, a hosepipe and a Vienna Horn, as well as writing arrangements, administrative work and conducting the Ensemble! Chris also played 4th Horn in a Horn Quartet called The Petrides Horn Quartet, with David Lee, Michael Baines and Robin Davis.

After a period of playing 2nd horn in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Palace Theatre, London and 2nd horn in Kent Opera, Chris was personally invited by the great Alan Civil in 1979, to be 4th horn in the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Chris liked to use a Kruspe yellow brass double horn, primarily for the extra weight of volume required to give a strong bass to the section, which was ideal too for the others on their Alexander horns. Alan used to nickname Chris “Clarkin!” The job also required Chris to move up to play 2nd when needed, which he particularly enjoyed, sitting next to his idol, playing chess together and he always liked to play the exposed and important 4th horn solos in the slow movement of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. Chris played as a soloist with the BBCSO horn section in several performances of Schumann’s Konzertstück for four horns and orchestra and Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Four Horned Fandango, both in the UK and on tour in South America. Latterly Chris liked to use horns made by Engelbert Schmid, a full double and a triple horn.  When Chris retired from the BBCSO in 2015, after 36 years, he specifically chose as his final concert on contract, a live public broadcast from the Barbican Hall in London of the great “Horn-Fest” which is Richard Strauss’s huge An Alpine Symphony, requiring 21 horn players. What a finish!

Freelance work continued to flow in on both period and modern horn, and he was a very efficient and popular Chair of the British Horn Society from 2011-14, hosting the festivals in his own inimitable way, as well as being a member of the Royal Society of Musicians since 1995. He was much in demand as a brilliant lecturer/recitalist called “Larkin – around the Horn” and wrote horn/brass articles for specialist brass magazines. With his encyclopaedic knowledge, experience and research, he has written a definitive and authoritative history of the Trompe de Chasse, which surely must be finished and published. He was very popular, likeable, generous of spirit, stoical of character, lover of all things French, funny, sociable, an excellent negotiator with BBC Management and fine horn player, Chris was tragically struck down with cancer which he fought with tenacious courage until, worn out with his battle, he left us on 8th  April 2021. He was 73. A much missed character, musician and friend to so many, we and all his family mourn his loss. RIP Chris.

Tony Catterick, April 2021