The English harpsichordist and clavichordist, Colin Tilney, studied modern languages (BA, 1958) and music (B Mus, 1959) at the King's College, Cambridge. He studied harpsichord with Mary Potts (a pupil of Arnold Dolmetsch) at King's College, Cambridge, and later had occasional lessons with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam.
After graduation Colin Tilney performed several years as a piano accompanist and opera coach for Sadler's Wells and the New Opera Company in London. He decided to confine his performance and teaching activities to early keyboard instruments, including harpsichord, clavichord, chamber organ, and fortepiano. In the early 1960's he appeared mostly in ensembles devoted to English music. Later he expanded his repertoire to other areas. He appeared in 1964 as the harpsichordist under Igor Stravinsky on a Columbia recording of the composer's opera The Rake's Progress (Sony) and in general has shown much interest in contemporary music. He gave the first London performance of Hans Werner Henze's Lucy Escott variations; commissioned works by Elisabeth Lutyens and the South African composer Priaulx Rainier (Quinque, 1973); and regularly plays music by modern writers in recital. He made his first tour in the USA in 1971. In Canada he performed with English tenor Nigel Rogers in 1974 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, and in 1979 and 1980 gave recitals, master-classes, and early music workshops at the University of British Columbia.
Colin Tilney moved to Canada in October 1979, settling in Toronto and teaching at the Royal Conservatory of Music and at the University of Toronto. He has performed frequently with Tafelmusik and the Toronto Consort, been repetiteur for the Canadian Opera Company on occasion, contributed to new music concerts and recorded solo and ensemble music for the CBC. In 1985 he formed the chamber ensemble Les Coucous Bénévoles, initially to celebrate J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Scarlatti, later - with the participation of flutist Elissa Poole - adding modern Canadian works. He has played with many internationally known artists, including Wieland Kuijken, Jaap Schröder, Michel Piguet, Stanley Ritchie, and Frans Brüggen, as well as more recently with Elissa Poole, Peter Hannan, and Marc Destrubé.
Colin Tilney is an unusually active survivor of the first generation of musicians who brought the idea of historically informed performance to the general concertgoer's consciousness. His wide-ranging repertoire stretches from Elizabethan virginalists through Mozart to Louis Andriessen. He has played the fortepiano, the virginal, and even an occasional continuo organ in addition to his main instrument, the harpsichord. It is his preference to use historical instruments or modern replicas of harpsichords, clavichords and foretpianos in his concerts, often attempting o match specific instruments with appropriate repertoire. Here and elsewhere, he not only presents unusual music engagingly, but also embodies expertise on the historical development of keyboard instruments. His interests also extend to contemporary music, and he has commissioned works for harpsichord from various Canadian composers and from the British quasi-serialist Elisabeth Lutyens.
Colin Tilney has made an acclaimed recording of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (Book I clavichord, Book 2 harpsichord), as well as J.S. Bach's 7 Toccatas (BWV 910-916) and the English Suites (BWV 806-811). Other recordings include: the complete keyboard works of Matthew Locke and other important early English keyboard collections (Parthenia, Purcell); works by Italian harpsichord composers (Girolamo Frescobaldi, Scarlatti); and early Germans (Froberger, Johann Kuhnau) alongside G.F. Handel (Suites, 1720). He has also recorded music by R. Murray Schafer (Concerto for Harpsichord and Eight Wind Instruments), Linda Catlin Smith (Gravity - written for Tilney), and Rodney Sharman (Kore). A good example of his work on disc is the 1996 album Scarlatti High and Low, which presented Domenico Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas that lay at the extremes of the instrument's range.
Colin Tilney has edited previously unpublished harpsichord music by Antoine Forqueray (Heugel 1970). He has edited several printed collections of specialised Baroque repertoire, including The Art of the Unmeasured Prelude - France 1660 to 1720 (Schott's, London, 1991), consisting of a facsimile, transcriptions, and commentary; and contributed a performance guide for Wiener Urtext's 1998 edition of Bach's English Suites. He was a jury member in several international harpsichord competitions: Bruges 1971, 1974, 1977; Paris 1975, 1989; and has taught at summer schools in Canada, Norway, Italy, Austria, Holland, England, and the USA.