The Wagner Tuba versus the Horn

The idea of the magical Wagner Tuba has always fascinated me.  I think it’s the rarity of the instrument combined with the musical connotation with the otherworldly realm that makes it such an alluring instrument.  However, I’ve never had the pleasure to work with these instruments up close.  If I recall correctly, I’ve only seen them in performance twice.  once in a performance of Strauss’ Alpine Symphony and the other in a performance of The Rite of Spring.  Neither of these works give the Tuben a real chance to shine.  Instead they are background, filler, and occasionally countermelodies.

With this said, it can be hard for an orchestrator to get an idea of how the Wagner Tuben and the Horns differ in their sounds.  I’ve found a few sources detailing the differences, but recently, I’ve found a single video of a quartet of Horns and a quartet of Tuben playing an arrangement of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony.  This really gives the listener a clear example of how the two instruments differ in sound.  The Tuben are what I would call fuzzier and warmer, while the Horns are clearer and more direct.  The interplay between the two groups is really fantastic.  The Tuben form a base to the sound of the Horns.

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3 thoughts on “The Wagner Tuba versus the Horn

  1. Alex Kindel

    What has always stumped me about Wagner tuben is not the tone, but the tessitura. From what I understand, the F and B-flat instruments are pitched the same as the F and B-flat sides, respectively, of a double horn, but the tuben always seem to be treated as lower instruments than horns. Does the wider bore of the tuben make them the bass trombone to the horn’s tenor trombone-same theoretical range, but strongest in a lower part of it? I’m curious how the stability of a Wagner tuba’s lowest octave compares to that of a bass trombone in the same range.

    1. Without being a horn player or ever having touched a Wagner tuba, I don’t know if I can answer that properly. What I do know is that horn players have said that the horn can actually go lower than the Wagner tuba. This is probably due to the ability to use pedals on the B-flat side of the instrument. As for tessitura, I think that’s a composer’s choice. Look at some of the Strauss scores and you will see high tuben.

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