Sydney Coulston was one of Britain's most highly respected hornists and teachers of the 20th century. His influence on British horn playing, through both his teaching and performing, was immense. He had legendary powers of concentration and accuracy, and he was a teacher of great renown.
Coulston was born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1910, son of a warehouseman. As a youth, he played tenor horn in the local Temperance Band and worked in a metal polish factory. He moved to a piston valve French horn and studied on scholarship with Otto Paersch at the Royal Manchester College of Music (1927-1930). His first professional position, while still a student, was with the Hastings Municipal Orchestra, a seasonal orchestra with top-class soloists and conductors.
In 1930 he left his studies to join the Scarborough Spa Orchestra and in 1934-1935 played two seasons of opera at Glynbourne. He changed to an Alexander 103 double horn in 1934. In 1938, he became principal horn with three orchestras – the Hallé, the BBC Northern, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic – possible in those days because of part-time and compatible schedules.
In 1940, Coulston joined the RAF Air Gunnery Section, eventually serving as a Lancaster rear gunner over Germany. He returned to the Hallé a few times between sorties to play in wartime concerts.
After the war, the Hallé and Liverpool became full-time orchestras, so Coulston concentrated on playing principal horn with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, later renamed the BBC Philharmonic. He traveled to America in 1950 with Dennis Brain and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham. He frequently was guest principal with the Philharmonic, especially when Brain was away in another engagement. In 1953, he played second to Brain at the coronation in Westminster Abbey. He was a close friend and admirer of Brain, having first met him in Hastings when Brain was there on holiday as a boy.
Coulston was professor at the Royal Manchester College (later the Royal Northern College of Music) from 1950 until his retirement in 1979. His list of successful students is phenomenal. He even gave lessons to Brain on the then-new German horn in B-flat. He remained loyal to the BBC in Manchester, despite the temptation to move to London.
Coulston received the Punto Award at the IHS workshop in Manchester, England in 1992. A profile appears in the October 1992 issue of The Horn Call and a tribute in the 1999 issue of The HORN Magazine of the British Horn Society.