Wagner Tuba Sound Samples
The Wagner tuba is a comparatively rare brass instrument that combines elements of
both the French horn and the
tuba. It was originally created for Richard Wagner's operatic cycle Der Ring
des Nibelungen. Since then, other composers have written for it,
Bartók and Edgard
Varčse. The euphonium is
sometimes used as a substitute when a Wagner tuba can not be obtained.
Wagner was inspired to invent this instrument after a brief visit to Paris in 1853, when he visited the shop of
Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. Wagner wanted an instrument that could
intone the Walhalla motif somberly like a trombone but with a less incisive tone like that of a
The Wagner tuba nominally exists in two sizes, tenor in B-flat and bass in F,
with ranges comparable to those of horns in the same pitches while being less
adept at the highest notes. Several 20th-century and later manufacturers have,
however, combined the two instruments into a double Wagner tuba in B-flat and F.
Wagner tubas are normally written as transposing instruments, but the
notation used varies considerably and is a common source of confusion—Wagner
himself used three different and incompatible notations in the course of the
Ring, and all three of these systems (plus some others) have been used by
subsequent composers. An additional source of confusion is the fact that the
instruments are invariably designated in orchestral scores simply as "tubas",
leaving it sometimes unclear as to whether true tubas or Wagner tubas are
intended (for example, the two tenor tubas in Janácek's Sinfonietta are
sometimes wrongly assumed to be Wagner tubas).
The sound of the Wagner tuba is mellower than that of the horn and sounds
more distant, yet also more focused. Bruckner generally uses them for pensive
melodic passages at piano to pianissimo dynamics. They can hold
their own in a forte tutti, of course, but Bruckner generally gives them
sustained tones rather than melodic motifs in such passages. In Bruckner's Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, the four Wagner
tubas are played by four players who alternate between playing horn and Wagner
tuba, which is the same procedure Wagner used in the Ring. This change is
simplified by the fact that the horn and Wagner tuba use the same mouthpiece.