THE TIMES

                    June 22, 2002
 
 

                    Taylor was principal timpanist at Covent Garden,
                    performing there for 50 years
 
 

                    Alan Taylor
                    Royal Opera House timpanist noted for his definitive
                    playing of Strauss and Wagner
 
 

                    ALAN TAYLOR was perhaps the finest timpanist of
                    his generation. As well as performing at Covent
                    Garden for more than 50 years, he was in constant
                    demand for recording sessions of all types, from
                    classical to jingles and movie soundtracks. He was
                    the timpanist on all three recordings made by the
                    Royal Opera House orchestra of Britten’s Peter
                    Grimes, and played on world premiere performances
                    of operas by, among others, Britten, Tippett and
                    Walton.

                    On leaving school, Alan Taylor — who was a more
                    than competent trumpeter as well as a timpanist —
                    joined the London Symphony Orchestra as a
                    percussionist, joining his father who was then the
                    timpanist. During his National Service years
                    (1949-51), he was a member of the Central Band of
                    the Royal Air Force, after which he briefly rejoined
                    the LSO.

                    Then, in September 1951, he accepted the position
                    of principal timpanist of the Royal Opera House
                    Orchestra. During his time at Covent Garden he
                    served under three music directors, Sir Georg Solti,
                    Sir Colin Davis and Bernard Haitink, all of whom
                    regarded him with affection and admiration. Solti
                    referred to him always as “my safe boy”.

                    His tuning was impeccable. When one unfortunate
                    school choirmaster queried a timpani note needed to
                    start his choir off for a rendition of the national
                    anthem, Colin Davis replied that “if Mr Taylor said
                    that the note was correct, then it was indeed
                    correct”.

                    For a short spell Taylor was Professor of Timpani at
                    the Royal College of Music, a position previously
                    held by his father. His approach to teaching was
                    somewhat non-academic. One rising star, now a
                    distinguished member of the profession, arrived for
                    his lesson and asked: “What do you want me to do
                    today, Prof?” Taylor looked him up and down, and
                    said: “Here’s ten bob. Go and get your hair cut.”

                    He was, however, very ready to give younger players
                    the benefit of his great experience.

                    One young player rang him to say that he had
                    accepted an engagement to play timpani in
                    Strauss’s opera Salome — without rehearsal. Taylor
                    said: “Meet me in the pub tomorrow at 6.30.” When
                    they did meet, he ran him through the entire timpani
                    part note by note.

                    Taylor’s playing of the timpani parts of Strauss and
                    Wagner was regarded by all as definitive. For his
                    services to music he was appointed MBE in 1992.
                    His legacy is his many recordings, from 78s to CDs
                    and DVDs.

                    He retired formally in 1996, but continued playing
                    both with the Royal Opera House orchestra and with
                    other ensembles. In September last year a party
                    was held at Covent Garden to celebrate his 50 years
                    of playing with the orchestra. His last appearance
                    was in a performance of Bellini’s La Sonnambula on
                    April 1 this year.

                    Taylor had a lifelong interest in Rolls-Royces, owning
                    several models over the years. He was also an
                    enthusiastic member of the Savage Club. He is
                    survived by his wife, Pat, and their two daughters.

                    Alan Taylor, MBE, timpanist, was born on
                    January 29, 1931. He died of arterial sclerosis
                    on May 15, 2002, aged 71.