Alan Civil Obituary
|21 Mar 1989
Reproduced from The Daily Telegraph without permission
By JOHN WADE
Alan Civil, who has died aged 60, was one of Britain's most distinguished horn players and a splendidly Falstaffian character.
A former Army band-boy, he was a pupil of Aubrey Brain (father of Dennis) and of Willy von Stemm in Hamburg before going on to become principal horn of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for 22 years until retiring in 1988. He had a full and rounded tone, as can be heard in his recordings of Mozart concertos and especially of Britten's Serenade with the tenor Robert Tear and the Northern Sinfonia.
In his orchestral work Civil played on a modern German Alexander double horn, but used a single model for concertos and other solo works and also had a collection of natural horns which he used for early music, in which he had a special interest.
Alan Civil was born at Northampton in 1928 and joined the Army as a band-boy. He used to tell the story of how he changed from his Army uniform into white tie and tails in the train on his way to do his first concert for Sir Thomas Beecham.
The conductor recruited him to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1953 to 1955 as second horn to Dennis Brain and Civil became principal in 1954 when Brain joined the Philharmonia. In 1955, when the Philharmonia toured America under Herbert von Karajan, Civil went with them as third horn and remained with this orchestra after the tour as co-principal with Dennis Brain. In 1957 the Philharmonia gave three concerts at the Edinburgh Festival. Driving back to his home after the final concert on the Saturday, Brain was killed when his car crashed. The orchestra was due to record Strauss's opera Capriccio with Wolfgang Sawallisch in London on the Monday and Civil took over as first horn. It is his fine playing which is heard where the horn has a particularly important and exposed part in the final scene.
When in 1964 Walter Legge suspended the Philharmonia and attempted to disband it, Civil was offered a post with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra by Karajan. He was the first player from outside Germany ever to have been honoured by such an approach and he would have accepted had not the Philharmonia players decided to become self-governing and re-form as the New Philharmonia.
Civil became one of the first members of the governing body of five players and stayed with the orchestra until 1966, when he became first horn of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a professor at the Royal College of Music. Besides his orchestral work Civil was a member of the London Wind Players, the Music Group of London, the London Wind Quintet and even played 'obligato' horn with the Beatles on one occasion. He also formed the Alan Civil horn Trio and from 1979 was president of the BRITISH horn SOCIETY. He had a profound knowledge of the history and development of his instrument. He had most of the major concertos in his repertoire, several of which he recorded, and he toured as a soloist in America, Europe and Asia. Civil was also a composer before his orchestral career began in earnest. Among his works are a symphony for brass and percussion (1950), a wind quintet and wind octet (both 1951) and a horn trio (1952).
He was appointed OBE in 1985. Civil is survived by three sons and three daughters.
It would be unrealistic to gloss over the fact that Alan Civil enjoyed a drink. Apart from the Savage Club in which he felt he could truly relax, he could match anyone's knowledge of pubs and landlords.
If he discovered what he called 'a real pub' - with good beer, no canned music and no gambling machines - he would delight in sharing it. He cared about food and wine and the prospect of a concert tour abroad could either fill him with joy or despondency, depending on the time available to spend in good restaurants.
He played under the greatest conductors and yet had an encyclopaedic knowledge of radio dance-bands and comedy shows. His humour was acerbic, yet he could quote from memory an act of Max Miller's seen in a music hall a couple of decades previously.
It was sometimes difficult to reconcile the eminent international horn-player with the jolly chap playing the piano, leading chorus singing. He was that rare person who enjoyed listening as well as talking. Alan was the retailer and subject of numerous Savage anecdotes, such as the time he arrived fresh from an Underground station where a busker had been playing the French horn accompanied by one of Civil's own recordings. Once on a train bound for Leeds he sat opposite a young girl who was wearing headphones from which hissed a sound unacceptable for a long journey. When asked to turn the volume down she refused, adding that it was a free country. Alan proceeded to take his horn from its case and to play Mozart loudly. The girl then left the carriage to the applause of the other occupants.
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