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. Continue reading “Euphonium or Tenor Tuba”

A List of All Available Brass Mutes

This post is more of a catalog of availability than suggestions or orchestration

Horn

  • Straight
  • Stopping
  • Cup (rare)

Wagner Tuben

  • Straight

E-flat Cornet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon (rare)
  • Plunger
  • Hat/derby

B-flat Cornet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • ClearTone
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Alto Horn

  • Straight
  • Cup

Baritone Horn

  • Straight
  • Cup

Piccolo Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Hat/derby

Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Cleartone/solotone
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Bass Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon

Alto Trombone

  • Straight
  • Hat/derby

Tenor Trombone

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Bucket
  • Cleartone/solotone
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Bass Trombone

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Contrabass Trombone

  • Straight

Cimbasso

  • Straight

Flügelhorn

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Bucket
  • Solotone/cleartone

Mellophone

  • None

Euphonium

  • Straight
  • Bucket (rare)
  • Cup (rare)

Tuba (Bass and Contrabass)

  • Straight
  • Bucket (rare)
  • Cup (rare)

With some of the rarer instruments, like Flügelhorn, Mellophone, Alto Horn, Bass Trumpet and others, they can use mutes designed for some of the other brass instruments (in most of these cases, the Tenor Trombone).

The Euphonium in the Orchestra

Why has the Euphonium never made a major impression on the orchestra?  Unlike the saxophone, there isn’t as clear of an answer.  With an instrument like the saxophone, there is the idea that a new and “unneeded” sound is being thrust into the already existing orchestra, but with the Euphonium, this is not the case.  The Euphonium is simply another member of the tuba family, and the tuba has been a firm member of the orchestra since the middle of the 1800s.

The Low Brass Unit

The standard low brass arrangement in the orchestra has been three trombones (2 Tenors and a Bass usually) and one tuba (composers rarely specify Bass or Contrabass Tuba).  Occasionally a fourth trombone is added or a second tuba.  Composers tend to think of this group as a cohesive unit.

It isn’t.

Verdi was the first to recognize this.  Verdi hated the tuba.  He knew that its rounded sound would not blend well with the harsh trombones.  Verdi instead chose to have his bottom brass part be played on a Cimbasso.  As to what instrument he actually preferred, that is a matter of heated academic debate, but it is generally accepted that the Cimbasso – at least in later Verdi works – was meant to be a valved Contrabass Trombone.

Wagner too realized that the tuba didn’t fit well with the trombones.  Instead of eliminating the tuba, he chose to use modified horns, the so-called Wagner Tubas, to make a cohesive family of tuba-like instruments. Both situations can be made into huge doctoral dissertations in and of themselves. However, for 60 years or so, the Euphonium lingered in the wind bands content to play counter melodies and tenor arias.

The Early Literature

Richard Strauss was the first to include the instrument in his orchestra.  The inclusion was purely accidental though.  In his 1897 tone poem, Don Quixote, he included a part for “Tenor Tuba” fully intending the part to be played on a Tenor Wagner Tuba.  Scoring for a single Wagner Tuba is highly unusual and almost never done.  Strauss realized how odd this was after the first performance, and suggested that the military Euphonium (German Baryton) be used in its place.  Every performance since has followed this route.  Strauss followed this up by included a part for Tenor Tuba in his Ein Heldenleben from 1898 one year later.  These are the only two works where Strauss scored for Tenor Tuba.  It is interesting to note that the scoring of Ein Heldenleben was completed before the premier of Don Quixote where the instrument change had to be made.  Perhaps this is why Strauss never wrote for the instrument again.

Mahler next tried to score for the Euphonium/Tenor Tuba in his Sixth Symphony from 1903-04.  This part, along with parts for Tenorhorn and Bass Tuba (in addition to the already present Contrabass Tuba) were part of a massive brass chorale from the finale of the 4th movement, but were ultimately left out of the final scoring.  It would have been fascinating to see a “tuba” section of Tenorhorn (Baritone Horn), Tenor Tuba (Euphonium), Bass Tuba, and Contrabass Tuba.  Mahler did however use a Tenorhorn in the opening of his Seventh Symphony.  However, this is not – I repeat, this is NOT – a part for the Euphonium.

British light music, that is music that was not intended to be as serious in nature as normal concert music, often had parts for the Euphonium in their scoring.  Gustav Holst knew this well playing in the Carl Rosa Opera Orchestra one of the leading light orchestras in the UK.  It is no surprise that he included the most famous Euphonium part in all the literature in his The Planets.  Holst’s instrument isn’t an afterthought or a mistake, but a genuine part of the ensemble

Why Didn’t the Euphonium Catch On?

There are a lot of theories as to why the Euphonium wasn’t incorporated into the orchestra.  Looking on the face of it, it should have easily been adopted into the orchestra around the same time as the tuba, but this never happened.  It was forever a “band instrument.”

Tuning

Orchestras were tuned in the late 1800s and early 1900s to somewhere around a=435, which is slightly lower than today (a=440-442/3).  However, bands were regularly tuned to about a=457.5 nearly a quarter step higher than the orchestras.  British bands kept this pitch until well after World War 2 (into the 50s or 60s). This means that a band instrument could not be brought into the orchestra.   In order for an instrument, like a Euphonium, to be used in the orchestra, the maker would have to create a wholly new instrument slightly larger than the band instrument.  On a conical bore instrument this would have been difficult.  With no existing orchestral literature, there was no need to make instruments at the lower pitch.

Name

The second reason probably has to do with the name of the instrument.  As pretty of a name as Euphonium is, it doesn’t tell what the instrument is.  It separates the instrument out from the rest and makes no connection to the rest of the brass.  Perhaps it isn’t strange that all of the early composers chose to write their parts for “Tenor Tuba” and not for “Euphonium.” Even today, when a Euphonium player tells a layperson what instrument they play they have to go through all sorts of explanations.  But, the term Tenor Tuba is considered non-standard.  I vouch that Tenor Tuba is the best term possible for the instrument.  It’s an accurate descriptor and it does not alienate the rest of the brass family.

The Great War

World War I brought to a screeching halt the production of large scale orchestral works.  The European economic collapse meant an end to the ever expanding orchestras of Wagner, Mahler, and Strauss.  Only in the economically stable UK did some progression go on (see The Planets).  The U.S. was now becoming the center of wind instrument manufacturing with companies like Conn, Beuscher, and Martin producing many fine instruments.  However, American orchestral music was on a completely different trajectory.  Americans were trying to find their own voice.  Only the distinctive Roy Harris found use of the Euphonium (he always referred to it as a “Baritone”).

In the economic ruins of Central Europe, composers were turning to new ideas such as 12-tone composition, serialism, and eventually to electronics after World War II.

Today’s World

Today, we live in a world of relative economic prosperity.  Our instruments are of the most advanced design ever seen. And we have players who can perform works older generations could never dream of.

Universities are now cranking out graduates with degrees in Euphonium performance at the rate of several dozen per year.  However, there are simply no jobs.  There may be less than a dozen civilian professional wind bands in the country.  Military bands are more abundant, but not always an option.  A Euphonium may be called for every few seasons in a major professional orchestra (and every few decades in a smaller regional orchestra).  Euphonium is rare, if not virtually non-existent in jazz or in any other myriad of genres.

Euphonium players are lonely and bored.  They need love.

Step 1: Drop the name Euphonium – call it a Tenor Tuba.

Step 2: Start scoring for the Tenor Tuba in orchestral works.  Maybe we should even think of scoring for 2 Tenor Tubas and a Bass Tuba like we score for 2 Tenor Trombones and a Bass Trombone.  Perhaps we go for a full section of four: 2 Tenor Tubas, Bass Tuba, and Contrabass Tuba.

Step 3: Convince today’s orchestras to program music being composed today.  Ever orchestral program should have at least one piece written in the last 50 years.  Sadly, my local major orchestra goes entire seasons without programming anything current or relevant.

Let’s welcome the Tenor Tuba with full arms into the orchestra.  They have nowhere else to go.

Brass Mutes

In my initial posts on the brass instruments, I did not spend a lot of time covering mutes.  Here, I rectify this.  It’s virtually impossible to write about the sound of mutes.  Instead, I will link to videos demonstrating the different varieties.

Trumpet

This video demonstrates four different trumpet mutes: bucket, straight, cup, and harmon (a.k.a. bubble or wah-wah).

This video is by the same player using a different brand of mutes: harmon, fiber straight, cup, and plunger.

Demonstration of a plunger mute.

Demonstration of a harmon mute

Performance on a bucket mute

Debussy’s Fetes from Nocturnes. One of the most famous muted trumpet passages in the orchestral literature.

All trumpet mutes work on cornet.

Piccolo Trumpet 

“Samuel Goldenberg and Schmulye” from Pictures at an Exhibition

Trombone

Demonstration of straight, cup, bucket, and plunger

Demonstration of a bucket mute

Demonstration of harmon and solotone mutes

Flügelhorn

Demonstration of a straight mute

Demonstration of a cup mute

Euphonium and Tuba

Demonstration of straight (practice) mute on Euphonium.

Euphoniums and Tubas using cup mutes

Demonstration of a straight mute for tuba

Demonstration of a bucket mute for tuba

…and now for something completely different…

The Baritone Horn vs. the Euphonium

Sad to say, many people still confuse the Baritone Horn* with the Euphonium.  Safe to say, if you are in the U.S, you are dealing with a Euphonium.  Only in the rare instances of British-style brass bands will you have a true Baritone Horn.

*Note: I always use the term Baritone Horn and not simply Baritone.  I do this to make sure I am as clear as possible in which instrument I want.  Baritone is an ambiguous term.  Properly, it means a male voice between a tenor and a bass, but it can refer to a size of saxophone, a size of ukulele, a size of flute (in new nomenclature – see my post on flute species), or a string instrument (Baryton).

A true Baritone Horn is a narrow bore, slightly conical instrument that is closer to the Cornet in structure.  A Euphonium is a wide bore, hugely conical instrument that is closer to the Flügelhorn in structure.  The Baritone Horn, Alto/Tenor Horn, and Cornet form a cohesive family, while the Flügelhorn, Euphonium, and Tubas form another cohesive family.

There are even manufacturers who get this difference wrong.  The American maker King has an instrument in their catalog (model 623) that they state is a “Baritone,” but upon inspection, these instruments are actually compact Euphoniums.

Both the Baritone Horn and Euphonium stem from Sax’s family of saxhorns.  The problem lies in that Sax himself created two families and united them under one name, so that the soprano through baritone members were one family and the bass and contrabass members were another.  The only pitch that overlapped the two “families” were the two members in 9-foot B-flat.  Sax called these the Baritone and the Bass.  Today, their descendants are the modern Baritone Horn and Euphonium respectively.

What I’ve found is a series of YouTube videos by the Euphonium virtuoso David Werden who demonstrates three different instruments: a Euphonium, a Baritone Horn, and a Double-Belled Euphonium.  A Double-Belled Euphonium is a Euphonium that has a second, smaller bell (smaller than a normal trombone bell) that will give an echo effect.  It is basically two instruments built into one and can be changed between as simply as pressing a valve.

Mr. Werden plays the same piece (“Neapolitan Dance” by Tchaikovsky) on all three instruments.  Note how much smaller the Baritone Horn is than the Euphonium.

Euphonium

Baritone Horn

Double-Belled Euphonium

After watching these videos, note the drastic sound difference between the smooth, mellow Euphonium and the bright and bouncy Baritone Horn.  These instruments should never be confused for one another.

Tubas Part 2 – Tubas in the Band

Tubas in the Band

            The only tubas we can expect to have regularly in the band are the Euphonium and the Contrabass Tuba.  One is a master tenor/baritone soloist, while the other is often considered the foundation of the entire band.

I look back to my days of playing, and I always remember there being two Euphoniums and two (or more) Contrabass Tubas in the ensemble, yet rarely would the parts ever divide.  There is no reason in the world not to have parts that say Euphonium 1, Euphonium 2, etc.

The Flügelhorns should become a more regular member of the band.  Every trumpet player should have access to a Flügelhorn.  I have always said that we have too many trumpets in our band, let’s put some of those talented players on the Flügelhorn.

We can experiment with all sorts of arrangements for the tuba ensemble.  Here is a simple scenario that I have used before:

2 Flügelhorns

2 Euphoniums

1 Bass Tuba

1 Contrabass Tuba

This is a total of six players.  The spacing and balance is even, and we get a warm, homogenous sound with this group.  But, I think more potential lies within the group.  I foresee the Flügelhorns being as, or more important than the trumpets.  Why not a group like this:

3-4 Flügelhorns

2 Euphoniums

2 Bass Tubas

2 Contrabass Tubas

I feel that we have yet to fully explore the sound world that lies in the tuba family.  Beautiful harmonies and fluid melodies await us.

 

Tubas – Introduction

Tuba

Introduction

Tubas and Euphoniums and Flügelhorns, oh my.  When we think about these three instruments, we don’t normally associate them into a single coherent family, but that’s what they are.  The tubas, as I collectively call this group, are brass instruments whose bore is almost completely conical from the mouthpiece to the bell.  Their mouthpiece is also deeper than that of the trombones, trumpets, and cornets, but not as deep as the Horns.

This family has four extant members (and two extinct ones).  Two of these are of utmost importance to the standard wind band: the Euphonium and the Contrabass Tuba.  The Flügelhorn is a regular visitor, and the Bass Tuba may make an occasional visit, but more often than not is at home in the orchestra.

When we think of the tubas, we think of bass and the oom-pah sound, but the tuba family is noble and sonorous, warm and melodic.  Creative thinking and bandestration can change how we view this family.

With the exception of the two true tubas, none of these instruments have ever been sufficiently covered in orchestration texts, so I will go into slightly more detail here than I do for some of the other instruments.

As muting rules apply across the board for the tubas, I shall cover it in the broad introduction.  The only available mute for any of the tubas is the straight mute (though I have heard of creative tuba players making cup mutes out of ice cream cartons).  Mutes are rare for the Flügelhorn.  Mutes for the Bass and Contrabass Tubas are huge (resembling something NASA might put into orbit).  Make sure the player has enough time to insert and remove the mutes.

Species

Piccolo Flügelhorn

Flügelhorn

Alto Flügelhorn/Alto Tuba/Mellophone

Euphonium/Tenor Tuba

Bass Tuba

Contrabass Tuba