The name Wagner Tuba can refer to several members of a family of brass instruments. They were invented by the composer Richard Wagner in order to fill what he considered a gap between the mellow sound of French horns and the more forceful attack of lower brass instruments such as trombones. The two most often-used Wagner tubas are those in Bb and the bass in F. In appearance it resembles an elongated French horn, but is played with the bell upright like a bass tuba.
Construction and range
As there is limited orchestral and practically no solo repertoire for the instrument, it is almost always played by horn players. In addition, the mouthpiece is identical to that of the horn. The Wagner tuba was conceived as a fully chromatic instrument and as such is fitted with four rotary valves. It contains the same length of tubing as the double horn in F, but with additional valve tubing to increase the range downwards. The Bb tenor can therefore play all pitches found on the horn, but with added security down to F. The F bass extends this range down to C'.
Wagner called for these tubas in his operas which form The Ring (Das Rheingold, Die Valkurie, Siegfried, Gotterdammerung) and Parsifal. Composers who admired Wagner, chiefly Bruckner and Richard Strauss, subsequently employed Wagner tubas in their orchestral works. Wagner intended the tubas to bridge the gap in sonority between the horns and trombones, a role the instrument excels in with its rounded tone and excellent blending characteristics. However, like the horn and trombone it is also capable of projecting a melody (a purpose Wagner also employs). As its repertoire is so limited, the full potential of the Wagner tuba has yet to be exploited.
Notable compositions featuring the Wagner Tuba
- Anton Bruckner: Symphony No.7 in E; Symphony No.8 in C minor
- Stephen Caudel: Edel Rhapsody
- Sofia Gubadulina: Viola Concerto
- Elizabeth Lutyens: Quincunx
- Einojuhani Rautavaara: Symphony No.3; Symphony No.4; Angels and Visitations
- Arnold Schoenberg: Gurreleider
- Richard Strauss: Ein Alpensinfonie; Elektra; Ein Heldenleben; Don Quixote; Die Frau ohne Schatten
- Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird; The Rite of Spring
- Richard Wagner: Der Ring Das Nibelungen cycle; Parsifal
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