Cornets Part 3 – The Bass Cornet

When I first covered the cornet family, I mentioned four species: the E-flat Cornet, the B-flat (or C) Cornet, the Alto Horn, and the Baritone Horn.  This is the family as far as anyone is concerned.  It is the only family of the heavy brass (trumpets, trombones, cornets, and tubas) that does not extend into the bass register.  I’ve thought about this oddity on and off for a while now.  Then I started looking at all the varieties of tuba that are available.  Tuba players are nothing if not equipment junkies.  In the available arsenal, I found an odd tuba that really isn’t a true tuba.

Behold, the “Travel Tuba.”

A Travel Tuba is a very compact “tuba” pitched in F or E-flat that is made for the tuba player on the go.  it’s perfect for practicing in a hotel room or a busy airport.

But, it’s not a tuba senso stricto.  Yes, it retains the pitch level of an F or E-flat Bass Tuba, but it does not retain the bore shape of a true tuba.  It has a largely cylindrical bore, especially through the valve sections.  It does flare out towards the bell end, and it is this flare that makes the travel tuba more akin to a cornet than a trumpet/trombone.

A look at some stats.  First lets take a look at bell dimensions.  For this comparison, I’ve taken standard bell measurements from Yamaha pro instruments.

Alto Horn – 8 1/4″

Baritone Horn – 8 3/8″

Travel Tuba – 8 1/2″

As we can see here, the bell size only increases 1/8″ for every size larger.

Compare this with members of the tuba family (taken from Yamaha pro instruments)

Euphonium – 11 4/5″

F Bass Tuba – 14 3/8″

Next, I’ll take a look at bore size.

Alto Horn – .469″

Baritone Horn – .504″

Travel Tuba – .601″

Compare this with members of the tuba family (taken from Yamaha pro instruments)

Euphonium – .591″

F Tuba – .689″

With these measurements, we can see that the travel tuba falls much more in line with the cornet family as opposed to the tuba family.

With this in mind, how can we best use this instrument in its proper role?

Name

Travel Tuba is not a name we can really use in a score.  We really have to options as to what we can call this instrument.  One is Bass Horn to keep it in line with Alto Horn and Baritone Horn.  However, there is an older brass instrument that is akin to an Ophicleide or Serpent called a Bass Horn.  There are also low pitched “French” Horns that can properly be called Bass Horns.  Therefore, the best solution would be Bass Cornet.  It keeps both the pitch level and the family name correct.  It might be a good idea to rename the Baritone and Alto Horns as Baritone and Alto Cornets, but I leave that to others to decide.

Sound

The sound of the Bass Cornet is very bright.  When played, it is often suggested that the instrument can be used to substitute for the Cimbasso or Ophicleide.  It is a direct and pointed sound and will blend perfectly with the Baritone and Alto Horns.

Use

The best use would be at the bottom of a cornet ensemble.  Here we must remember that cornets are the most technically agile of all the brass instruments.  It will be perfect to extend the range of the Baritone Horns, which only stop at the E below the bass clef.

Notation and Range

As this instrument will almost always be played by a tuba player, then it should always be written in the bass clef at sounding pitch.  The instrument will have approximately the same range as the Bass Tuba.  However, the Bass Cornet only has four valves and is non compensating.  Therefore, the lowest non-pedal note will be a low G (F Bass Cornet) or a low F (E-flat Bass Cornet).  It is best to assume the instrument is an F instrument, as the E-flat instrument is simply the same instrument with extended tuning slides in place.

Hungarian March on Bass Cornet

Hungarian March on Bass Tuba

Listen to the sound difference between the two videos. The Bass Cornet is is bright and direct while the Bass Tuba is round and warm.

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3 thoughts on “Cornets Part 3 – The Bass Cornet

  1. I think you’re missing a couple things:

    The travel tuba is more or less a cimbasso in tuba shape. Look up tornister tuba. These were made by Cerveny and more aptly fit the bass cornet title you’re applying. A good modern equivalent would be the tornister tubas made by HSM – they’ll make tornister tubas in F/Eb/CC/BBb. These have tuba tapers not a more cylindrical profile like the Chinese-copies you’ve posted above.

    Let’s not forget, you can still find Eb tubas with bores in the range of a bass trombone, in fact, I have a helicon in Eb with a .595″ bore!

    Of course, if you look at the MW “travel” tuba, it’s really just 1/2 size F tuba, very small bore (.610″) and a proportionally small bell (just under 9 inches). If you’re going to be making generalizations, you need to look at all of the instruments in the category, not just one.

    1. I looked at all the instruments I could find specs on. Bore size and taper are two very different things. For an organologist it’s the taper that defines the instrument not the initial bore size. I, as a composer or orchestrator, could never call the travel tuba a real tuba. Yes, it has a small bore, but its bell and taper are far from what give a tuba its warm tuba-like sound.

  2. Matthew Banks

    Now some travel tubas are pitched in CC and BB, with four + valves, matching the pitch of normal contra-bass tubas

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