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The Wagner Tuba

When was it first used and where/which piece?

The Wagnertuba was built on Wagner's instructions for a sound image he was looking for in Rheingold, especially the opening of the second scene, where the Valhalla ("hall" of the gods, where fallen warriors may also enter) is entered. The parties were there before the instruments. The first performance with the first version of the instruments was on March 1, 1875. It was a first performance by Götterdämmerung, conducted by Wagner himself. The audience was wildly enthusiastic (but that could also be due to the piece itself, Siegfried's funeral march; notes by Cosima Wagner, among others, indicate that intonation and further instrument control left something to be desired).

Bruckner was also fascinated by sound and has been using it in his symphonies ever since, starting with the 7th.

In which period was the Wagertuba common, and which composers prescribed the instrument?

The instrument is mainly used in the Wagner operas, not in Parsifal. Bruckner uses it and Richard Strauss. Mahler also prescribed it (in the 6th symphony), but later replaced it with other instruments. This also applies to Richard Strauss (Alpensinfonie, Don Quixote and Heldenleben - later replaced by euphonium). Schoenberg (Gurre Lieder), Stravinsky (Sacre) as well as film music and moderns use the Wagertuba.

How do you see the difference with 'normal' horn?

The difference can be seen quickly (please provide photos). The sound of the Wagrtuba is best described as somewhere between trombone and horn. This is also what Wagner had in mind: The Entry into Valhalla was originally written for trombones, dolce. Wagner initially tried to improve the melody line, but eventually came to the conclusion that a different instrument was needed. That was "the" tuba. During development, this tuba is intended to be played by horn players, especially horn 5-8 (5 and 7 "high", 6 and 8 "low") should then tuba 1,3 (B flat tuba; high), 2, 4 (F tuba; low) play.


What are the sound differences?

See answer above. The Wagrtuba has a bad intonation, which in itself also influences the sound impression. The bass tuba is often added to the Wagertuba quartet. (The bass tuba had been invented several years earlier - Berlioz thought it a good idea to replace the de ophicleide with the bass tuba in his Symphonie Fantastiue - PSO in spring).

Bruckner makes use of the sound differences. In various places he plays the horns against the tuba quartet. This is clear at the end of the slow movement of the 7th, but also in the 8th at the end of the Adagio, the tubas take over from the horns. In the 9th something similar in the closing bars. In the final of the 8th, 1st tuba and 1st horn have an inflection in the rounding after the introductory fanfares. In various places there is unison of horn and tuba, which leads to a special mixed sound.


Is it more difficult and why?

Yes. The same effort would have gone better on horn; the sound is of course different. (Both Wagner and Strauss protested strongly when the intendant who was to compose the orchestra suggested playing with horns.) The writings of Wagner's operas contain many reports of the "failures" by the tubas. There are also reports of extra intercalary and separate group rehearsals for the tuba quartet.

Part of the difficulty may be explained by less in-depth development by instrument builders. Another point is that intonation adjustment by hand in the cup or sliding of the slide is not possible. Here and there there are many rests or changes are made from horn to tuba. This also makes it more difficult to play the solos. The sound goes more directly into the room, making it more difficult to 'color up'; that is easier on a horn.


How many are in circulation in NL/ does every professional musician have one?

Each professional orchestra has a quartet in-house. It provides a (salary) bonus to also play the tuba as an orchestra member. The major horn brands also have Wagner tubas in their range. Yet it is a joy for every horn player to play the tuba once.


Does he weigh more or less and how much? 

The tubas are the same length as the horn (Bb and F) and therefore just as heavy. As with the horn, there are also double versions. We play with some: tuba 1 and 2 play on a B flat tuba, 3 and 4 on an F tuba. The tubas are Alexander Brand (just like our horns, by the way), and made available byRimskys-Horns.


A beautiful book is William Melton, The Wagner Tuba - A History, Ebenos edition, 2008


Wagner was talking about tenor and bass tuba when he talked about the B flat and F tuba. That is also the indication by Bruckner. The name Wagertuba is attributed to Hans Richter, Wagner's conductor and direct assistant. Richter selected the players, and did the rehearsals and performances. Richter was a horn player himself.

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