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.