Euphonium or Tenor Tuba

Euphonium or Tenor Tuba

non-compensating Euphonium range

compensating Euphonium range

As the Euphonium is almost entirely a band instrument, it has been neglected by most orchestration texts.  I will try and rectify this and cover as much detail as possible.  The Euphonium is one of the quintessential band instruments.  Every band will have at least one Euphonium player (and possibly a whole section of them).  However, its use in the orchestra is highly limited.

The name Euphonium comes from the Greek for good or sweet sound and this is a fairly accurate description of the instrument.  I tend to like the name Tenor Tuba as well, as it shows the affinity of the instrument to its larger brother,

Before we go on, there is one important thing to remember; Euphonium and Baritone are not synonyms for the same instrument.  The Baritone Horn is a small-bore instrument in the cornet family, while the Euphonium is a large-bore instrument in the tuba family.  In the band, you will be using Euphoniums and not Baritone Horns.  Baritone Horns are rare visitors to the standard concert band.  See the chapter on cornets for more on that instrument.

In the standard orchestral literature, there are a total of four pieces that call for the Euphonium (though these scores say Tenor Tuba and not Euphonium).  These are Holst’s Planets, Strauss’ Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben, and Janacek’s Sinfonietta (which calls for two Tenor Tubas).  All of these composers use the Euphonium as a higher voice in the tuba family (except the Janacek, which utilizes them in a separate brass band).  In the cases of these limited orchestral passages, the Euphonium is always written as a transposing instrument either sounding a ninth down and written in treble clef, or sounding a second down and written in the bass clef.  However, this is a poor method of notation for the band (and indeed it is now considered a poor method for the orchestra).  In the band, the Euphonium is always written in concert pitch and does not transpose.  This is of great comfort to both composers and players as they do not have to worry about the perils of transposition.

While some older Euphoniums will only possess three valves (including the famous tilted bell marching instruments), all modern Euphoniums will have four valves.  However, there are two different models of four-valve Euphoniums out there.  The first is a non-compensating instrument.  On this instrument, the fourth valve lowers the main pitch of the instrument a perfect fourth.  It has no effect on the other valves.  It works fairly well, with the exception of one note.  The non-compensating Euphonium cannot play a low B-natural a semi-tone above the pedal B-flat.  The second model of Euphonium is the compensating model.  Here the fourth valve functions exactly the same as the trigger on the Horn and changes the whole instrument’s pitch from B-flat to F a fourth lower (so we could call this a B-flat/F Euphonium).  So not only does that one valve drop the main pitch of the instrument a fourth, it also affects the other valves.  This is the more complex model, but it is the one played on by professionals.  The main advantage is that it is able to produce the low B-natural that the non-compensating model cannot.  The moral of this story, is to be aware of the low B-natural.  Amateur and student players will probably not be able to play this note, while professionals and advanced students will.  Check with the player before writing this note.

Traditionally, the Euphonium was considered the Cello of the band.  It has a beautiful singing voice, and is one of the best solo instruments in the brass section.  In the days of Sousa, the Euphonium was featured as a soloist almost as much as cornets were.  Today, its role seems to be somewhat lessened, and many composers seem to forget about the presence of this beautiful voice in our bands.  So often it is scored as just another member of the “low voice” section and not given a part of its own.  Look no further than the Holst Second Suite in F for one of the best examples of Euphonium scoring.  The soaring melody in the last movement where a solo Euphonium sings out the melody Greensleeves is a moment not soon forgotten.

Technique on the Euphonium is held to be some of the most advanced of all the brass instruments, and many trumpet or cornet solos (like the famous Carnival of Venice) are often heard on the Euphonium.

Mars from Holst’s Planets.  This is the major work in the literature for Tenor Tuba.

Carnival of Venice on Euphonium

The Pearl Fishers Duet on two Euphoniums

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8 thoughts on “Euphonium or Tenor Tuba

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