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People have been assembling musical devices for as long as musical instruments have existed, which is way back before the times of King David and Kind Solomon. But it was not until 1853 that the desire of inventing the Wagner Tuba was conceived by a man known as Richard Wagner after visiting the designer and producer of saxhorn Adolphe Sax.[1] Ever since this musical instrument was invented, it has been a source of controversy that ranges from who was its original inventor of its name and the manner in which it is played. The fact that it resembles a horn and possesses the work tuba along with the fact that it is played by conservative people skilled with playing horns makes this instrument an interesting topic of study.

Although its invention and historical development, as well as its qualities and features, have been subjected to false exploration, the one thing that makes it stand out among other horns is its hybrid assembling that combines intonations from trombone and the French horn, and its limited repertoire characteristics. The Wagner tubas are played by instrumentalists who also are engaging in horn playing. However, the Wagner tuba pieces are not at par with the horns and other tubas as they go somewhere below the horn piece and beyond the standard staves of tubas.[2] As such, when modern orchestras play a piece that involves the use of the Wagner tuba, then the musical instrument should not be substituted by other musical instruments.

The Background of Wagner Tubas


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The Wagner tuba is known to have evolved from the ophicleide that had been developed in the year 1817. The development of the ophicleide musical instrument was an advancement of the brass-type musical device known as the serpent that had been developed in the early eighteenth century. In our modern world, only some modifications of this instrument exist, for instance, the bassoon that is found in Russia.[3] However, ophicleide is referred to as the predecessor of the modern Wagner tuba. The development of control device known as valves altered the brass musical instrument completely.

Indeed, valves played an important role in regulating the sounds produced by the instrument. Unlike the keyed musical instruments that had weaker resonances when the keys are unbolted, the ones that contained valves produced strong sounds on all statuses. The Bambardon was the second modification of the ophicleide.[4] Although it resembled the ophicleide in shape, the dissimilarity was that it keyboarded in B flat. The bambardon was still new in the musical instruments’ market when the first tuba was invented. The first tuba constructed by Moritz and Wieprecht had five valves that ensured that the instrument produced both low harmonic successions and contained an entire collection of keynotes.[5]

To date, the tubas have continued to be modified. The nineteenth century saw various activities when many people tried to modify the original tuba to fit their prerequisites. One of the famous people who modified the tuba was known as Adolphe Sax. Although he did not basically modify the tuba, his intentions were to assemble the divergent musical instruments of that era into one family. Although Adolphe was successful in joining some of the band instruments into one family, he did not modify the structure and the sounds of the instruments, especially the tenor pitch.[6] His works inspired numerous people to alter the forms of their horns, which explains why the modern horns and tubas have different names. Even though many of the traditional horns were modified, they still have a wide range of similarities and differences, especially in the structural size, bore, and layout. Despite all the variants in tubas, the Wagner tuba stands out.

History of Wagner Tuba

Also referred to as the Bayreuth tubas or the Wagner horns, the Wagner tuba musical instrument was conceived in the mind of Richard Wagner who lived from 1813 to 1883, when he was a resident in Zurich.[7] During this period, Wagner worked for Rheingold when he comprehended an instrument that would be quartet in nature. In fact, Valhalla was initially developed to achieve the aspect of trombones, which was changed to tuben in the orchestra draft. The most probable idea is that Richard Wagner was thinking about an instrument that resembled the Nordic horn of the ancient times when he was designing the Wagner tuben musical instrument. In fact, he aimed at joining the two edges in the resonance amid the trombone and the horn. Indeed, this would enhance the production of sound in that it would mix the brass sounds in a more efficient manner. The small size of the envisaged instrument would help in integrating the sound of the bass tuba of the old tuba instrument. As opposed to other musical bands that had to be used together during music presentations, the new Wagner tuba would operate on its own in musical stages.

The Wagner tuba was produced during a time when the European armies had already developed their own wind orchestras. Therefore, it indicated that in addition to the theories that existed, Richard was also inspired by the other concurrent development of various types of brass. Although there are numerous theories that attempt to elucidate the source of Wagner’s vision to develop the Wagner tuba, the development did alter the face of the horn band.

In the quest of achieving his vision, Wagner is known to have visited the Adolphe Sax musical shop. He found various instruments, including the saxhorn that was more or less the instrument he had in mind. However, the saxhorn did not fit the description of his intended musical tool as he wanted an instrument that could produce not only the noble sound of Valhalla motif, but also an instrument that had an incisive pitch that is similar to that of a horn. The sound of what Wagner had in mind could only be produced by an instrument that had a horn-like or a conical chatter box and made use of the horn mouthpiece rather than that of a trombone that had a parabolic cup mouthpiece.[8] Therefore, saxhorn failed to meet his desire owing to the fact that they comprised of a cylindrical and bigger bore that made it produce a higher-pitched tone as compared to the one that Wagner intended to compose. With the help of his father, he is known to have developed the Wagner horn that was totally different from the horns that existed at the time. [9]

The Design

Wagner tuba takes the shape of a horn, which comprises rotary valves. The instrument is played using the left hand. Hence, this may explain the reason as to why the horn players are the best players of this particular instrument. The other reason that makes them play the Wagner tuba perfectly is because both the fingering and the mouthpiece are alike. There are two different sizes of the Wagner tuba, including the bass in F pitch and the tenor in bass pitch. Although they compare with those of a horn, the difference is that there are smaller amount in the highest keys. However, the manufacturers and designers of the modern Wagner horns have joined these two musical instruments to create a Wagner horn that is easier to configure and hence produce the desired piece of music.

Another striking difference of the Wagner tuba as compared to the standard tuba is the lack of flaring bell. As aforementioned, the instrument is also conical in shape, including the valves, which makes one wonder how it is able to produce its sound. It is important to explain how the Wagner tuba changes the sound of a normal tuba. Once the instrument is blown, the waves of the sound pass through the cone like gadget that has no flared bell. Their curvature is suddenly altered at the open end of the horn, which makes the musical instrument to become less effective as compared to other horn in the sound transmission processes. Moreover, the large flare affects the intensity of the sound, especially that in the upper keynotes.

Sound of the Wagner Tuba

Studies on the formation and sound production of the Wagner tuba have shown that they are variable as compared to those of the standard tubas.[10] In fact, their method of sound production has also been shown to be different in that their original intention was to have the instruments played by French men who were skilled at playing other kinds of horns by the use of their mouthpiece. In fact, this has an impact on the tone of the sound being produced. On the mouthpiece of the Wagner tuba, there lacks a flange that could form an edge-like intonation. The lack of a flared belt makes it possible for the Wagner to produce a soft tone.

Although the conical shape of the Wagner tuba has been shown to be an important aspect of its design and intonation, its importance does not exceed that of its dimensions. Indeed, the both the diameter of the Wagner tuba mouthpiece as well as the cup volume have been shown to have major impacts on the performance of a piece of music. While the depth of the Wagner tuba mouthpiece resembles that of a French horn, which is 44 millimeters, the lower part of Wagner tuba has a depth of about 64 millimeters, thus resembling that of the tenor trombone. By joining the mouthpiece and the lower part of the tuba impacts the impedance of the horn as well as that of the sound.[11]

Hence, the aspect is attributable to the modification of the mouthpiece that could be linked to the impact of the non-existing flared bells.[12] Therefore, when an orchestra that has the Wagner tuba is played, the total sound does not resemble that of anything else: neither does it sound like the sound of a standard tuba nor that of a French horn, but is a sound that relates to both musical instruments. The fact that the design of the Wagner tuba makes it produce a unique sound that is different from the French horn sound and original tubas when played in an orchestra only implies that when it is being played, then it should not be replaced by any other instrument.

True to say is that the Wagner tuba has some unique traits and characteristics. However, it is crossbred amid the French horn and Adolphe’s saxhorns or the tuba. Apart from sharing the diameter of the mouthpiece as well as players with the French horn, it also has the characteristics of a saxhorn. In fact, the main thing that triggered Richard Wagner to invent this musical instrument was his desire to have an instrument that was a quartet in nature. History has it that Richard had, in fact, started creating the Rheingold before he sought to include the tuba in his work. As such, it is apparent that he never needed the tubas in the first place until his visit to Paris triggered their inclusion.

Why Wagner Included the French Horn and Tubas in his Work

Necessity has always been the mother of invention, and Richard’s case was not an exception. Aforementioned is the fact that he was prompted to invent the Wagner tuba upon failing to find their substitute at Adolphe’s shop and in the army bands that existed in Munich. When he finally invented his tuba, he basically used the features of the two instruments to form a quartet that entailed Bb and 2 F. When these two features are applied in an orchestra, they are played by the horns that play the B flat musical instrument, including the 5 and 7 horns, but when on the F, the 6th, and 8th horns play them. It is somewhat surprising that Richard only uses the mutant tubas in The Ring and nowhere else in the history of his musical career. As an orchestral device, the Wagner horn met Richard’s desire for a sound that was somewhere between the brass bass and the already existing bass trombone. In that aspect, the instrument was adopted by different instrumentalists including Bucker and Strauss.

Bucker is one of the musicians who made use of the Wagner tuba in his creation of the adagio movement. In his invention, Bucker makes use of the Wagner tuba in this seventh symphony as well as in his ninth. It is the seventh symphony that brought Bucker’s first success in the musical realm, which can be viewed as having stemmed from the inclusion of the Wagner tuba in his works. In fact, he even acknowledged that his success resulted from the role played by the use of tubas. Strauss also made use of tubas in his work, though he is known to have revised the works to create what is referred to as the Tenor Tuba. Although he failed to admit that he had taken some ideas from the works of Richard Wagner, the end result of the Tenor tuba was evidently copied from a Wagner tuba.[13]

Wagner’s invention of the tuba not only increased the repertoire of the horn instruments, but it also altered the manner in which the traditional horn players composed and utilized the horn instruments. His affinity for the horn along with his rich understanding of its impact in the musical world is what drove him into composing his renowned Wagner horn that often reached the timbre horn sounds. In his works with the Wagner tuba, he expanded both the roles of the tuba players and that of the horns. His work did in fact bear fruits in bridging the gap between the less direct horn and the trombone timbre.

Wagner Tubas in Contemporary Usage

The modern orchestral Wagner horn is constructed under the German model. The full double horn has a mouth pipe that has been permanently fixed that goes down to the valve that functions through the use of the left thumb. Indeed, this particular valve plumps for one of the tubing sets that lead to the unusual three rotational valves. Important to note is that the valve rotors contain two separate windpipe sets that enables wind to pass through during the sound production. In addition, in the modern Wagner horn, the two distinct horns on every side have their different sound regulation slides.[14]

Unlike the traditional horns when players used the 12-foot F and could have made crooks for D and E, the modern instrument practice involves the horn B sounds and the use of F notes.[15] Moreover, the Wagner horns use the horn as the mouthpiece but contain some tubing of the broader bore facing towards the bell. It is also important to note that although they lack flared bells, they contain an upright bell that precludes stopping by use of hands. Wagner and other people that have made use of this musical gadget use two tenors located at 9-foot B and the two bass brasses situated at 12-foot F.

The entire distance is of the tubing is equal to that from the Bb to the F antlers. However, it works in the other direction of the fourth regulator of the instrument whereby it takes the Bb tuba way down to the location of the F and the F tuba way down to C. The main dissimilarity in the manner in which the valves operate as compared to other tubas is that all the four valves or controllers are operated with the left hand and that the bells face up rather than the downside.

The Wanger horn’s range is more or less akin to that of the other tubas. The detectable differences include the tenor tuba having increased flexibility as compared to the bass tuba. Unlike the double Wagner horn that is relatively lighter, the full Wagner tuba is heavier, which is a fact that makes the produced sound to be a little dull. Therefore, this explains why many instrumentalists, including many orchestra professions of our modern times prefer playing the traditional Wagner tuba that is characterized by a combination of the dual F basses and the dual Bb tenors. Of note is the fact that the traditional Wagner tubas such as those manufactured from Europe are quite expensive as compared to the modern ones, which makes players go for instruments of people who have retired from the music band that are relatively affordable.[16]

China has tried to solve the issue of the increased cost of buying a new European Wagner tuba through the production of the Chinese Wagner tuba. The intonation of the Chinese Wagner tuba is more improved despite its lack of a full sound that is produced by the single F tuba. [17]The only thing that makes the Chinese Wagner tuba to be opted by many instrumentalists is its value for money as opposed to the quality. In the recent past, it has started to gain publicity, especially by music instructors and professional musicians.

Wagner Tuba’s Function in an Orchestra

Orchestra refer to a large assembly of musical instruments that brings together various musical instruments from the diverse musical families, including violin, double brass, and horns as well as string instruments to name but a few. [18] Each musical family is set in their section in the orchestra theater, which is at times referred to as philharmonic orchestra. The numbers of instrumentalists that play in an orchestra range from seventy to a hundred, which is dependent on the numbers of instruments and the kind of music being played as well as the size of the theater.

Ever since the invention of instrumental music technology, the sizes had continued to grow, and by the 19th centuries, a single orchestra had reached its peak that had more than a hundred and twenty members of a single performance. The invention of the Wagner tuba played a big role in reducing the number of individuals in a single orchestra.

The invention of the Wagner tuba called for a smaller size as compared to the earlier one. Indeed, the Wagner tuba revolutionized the traditional orchestra arrangement, which set the style of the orchestral stage for the following eight decades. Wagner’s main functionalism in an orchestra was the review of the significance of the bow stringed musical devices and dynamics as well as tempo while considering the role played by the principals of an orchestra. In fact, Richard Wagner’s works were so significant that each and every orchestra has possessed a set more than a century since his invention.

The modern orchestras have made use of the of Wagner’s double tuben that has the F and B-flat instruments combined to make one instrument that produces a very unique piece of music. Owing to the fact that these double tuben have become more and more prevalent, there is a possibility that in the near future, the Wagner tuba that will be written in exclusively F notations to resemble the standard tubas. [19]

Wagner tuba instruments have not been a flexible musical instrument, which is why composers rarely using these devices write passages that require techniques. In fact, in their earliest formation, the devices were used to showcase other worldly things. For instance, Wagner’s main idea of composing the Wagner tuba was to obtain Valhalla sound, yet, instrumentalists like Bruckner saw their achievements as Heaven.[20] When orchestras play a piece that has the Wagner tuba, it produces the most beautiful piece of music that has ever been produced in the brass section, which is why there is no need to substitute it for any other musical instrument.

Within an orchestra, it is important for the player to choose the right place to sit. The fact that this musical instrument requires the player to connect with the bass tuba at some point during the performance means that the normal sitting position for other tubas is not the right situation for instrumentalists playing the Wagner tuba.[21] There are two sitting options for individuals playing this instrument in an orchestra. The first option entails the instrumentalist playing the bass tuba moving from their normal sitting position which is at the trombones to the place near the 5th and 8th horns.[22] The second option is for the horn player to shift across in order to sit near the bass tuba player near the ‘hefty brass’ section. Owing to the different sitting positions of Wagner tuba players, it becomes very hard for onlookers to discern the exact place the players are by a mere look during an orchestra performance.

Arguments Surrounding Wagner Tuba

Ever since this instrument was founded, it has had various debates ranging from who the original founder was and its name. While some people indicate that Richard Wagner was not the first person who invented this musical instrument, others argue that Wagner tuba was not the name given to it, and should in fact, be called by its real name.

The first argument that surrounds Wagner horn concerns the first person who invented it. Some people hold that Wagner was not the person who invented the tuba, but Adolphe Sax, who demonstrated it to Wagner during his short visit in Paris. It was after the demonstration that Wagner decided to incorporate Adolphe’s work to his orchestral composition that was ongoing. According to the opponents of Wagner being the inventor of the instrument, he was struck by the horns beautiful sound of Sax’s instrument that he sought to incorporate it in his work.[23] Rather than being the inventor of the double tuben, Wagner ordered for four of Sax’s already invented instruments, which is a fact that makes him famous for being the first person to adopt the Adolphe’s musical instrument.

On the contrary, others believe that the Wagner tuba was originally created by Moritz Company that was based in Berlin in the year 1877.[24]  They do not dispute the notion that Sax did the designing of what would later be known as the Wagner tuba, owing to the fact that he even produced such an instrument to Wagner, though it failed to fit Richard’s criterion of the instrument that he wanted.

In addition, there is an argument that surrounds the naming of the musical instrument as earlier mentioned. Some people assert that Wagner tuba should not be the name of the instrument. Instead, it should be called the Wagner tube. Wagner tuba is a name that was derived from the name of the person who is generally believed to have invented the instrument, who was Germanize by nationality. The name is pronounced as “wag-ner too-ba” in German, which translates to the Wagner Tube in English.[25] The translation of Wagner tuben in English, which is the plural for tuba, is not the common Wagner tuba, but Wagner tubes. In fact, when Richard Wagner invented the instrument, he called it Tuben as opposed to the common tuba.

It was called a tuben because of the brass tubing that no other instrument has been identified with. In fact, the tuba is a German name for the tube. As a matter of fact, there is no single musician who has ever thought of the Wagner tuben as a Tuba due to the reason that they have a timbre that is more or less that of a horn. The only thing that differentiates the Wagner Tubes from horns is the fact that they have a lower range and produce a more brazen piece of music. Whether Wagner or Adolphe invented the tuba among other instrumentalists, and whether its name is tuba or tube, the one thing that is for sure is the fact that it produces beautiful melodies and plays an important role in the modern orchestra.[26]


The Wagner tuba can be considered as the youngest member of the orchestra musical instruments. Its evolution is known to have originated from the nineteenth century when the ophicleide instrument that was an improvement of the Serpent was invented. Although there have been a variety of tubas that were invented after the Ophicleide, the Wagner tuba stands out mainly due to the exclusive divergence in it possesses. The idea of creating a Wagner tuben was conceived in the mind of Richard Wagner during his short visit in Paris in a shop that was owned by Adolphe Sax. During his visit, he had already started working on an instrument that bridged the gap amid the sounds produced by the trombone and the horns. It was the saxophone that gave him the impression of composing the famous Wagner tuba, which is also referred to as the Wagner horn. In an orchestra, the Wagner tuba has a beautiful and unique majestic sound that has ever been produced from the brass section, which explains why the instrument should not be replaced by any other musical instrument during a performance.

            [1] Murray Campbell, Greated Clive, and Myers Arnold. Musical instruments: history, technology and performance of instruments of western music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, 171.


            [2] Craig Wright, M. Listening to music. Boston, MA: Schirmer/Cengage Learning, 2014, 288.


            [3] Antony, Baines. Brass Instruments: Their History and Development. Dover Publications, 2012.  198


            [4] John Eargle. Music, sound, and technology. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1995. 189. http://books.google.com/books?id=IFsYAQAAIAAJ.


            [5] “Www.wagner-tuba.com.” The Wagner Tuba. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2017. From https://www.wagner-tuba.com/wagner-tuba/wagner-tuba-history/


            [6] Clifford Bevan. The tuba family. London: Faber and Faber, 1978.  54

            [7] Ebenezer Prout. The orchestra. London: Augener, 1897 .269

[8] David Guion, M. The Wagner Tuba: A History (Review). Notes, 2009, 65(4): 787. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/not.0.0190


            [9] Ibid, 787.


            [10] Kendall R.A, Carterette, E.C, Hajda, J.M. Perceptual and acoustical features of natural and synthetic orchestral instrument tones. Music Perception. 1999; 16(3):329.

[11] Suen C.Y, Beddoes, M.P. Discrimination of vowel sounds of very short duration. Perception & Psychophysics. 1972; 11(6):417–9.


            [12] The Arizona State University Horn Studio. The Wagner Tuba page. n.d Retrieved on April 24, 2017, from http://www.public.asu.edu/~jqerics/Wagner-tuba.html


            [13] Alfred Peter Brown. The symphonic repertoire 4 4. Bloomington [u.a.]: Indiana Univ. Press, 2003. 262


            [14] William Melton. The Wagner tuba: a history. Aachen, Germany: Ed. Ebenos, 2008. 153.


            [15] Richard Franko Goldman. The Juilliard review. New York: Juilliard School of Music], 1954, 6.

[16] Eric, Starr. The everything music composition book: a step-by-step guide to writing music. Avon, Mass: Adams Media, 2009, 247.


            [17] University Microfilms, Xerox University Microfilms, University Microfilms International, and ProQuest (Firm). Dissertation abstracts international. A, A. Ann Arbor, Mich: University Microfilms International, 1969, 9


            [18] Norman Del Mar. Anatomy of the orchestra. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983, 323

            [19]Greenwald, Helen M. The Oxford handbook of opera. 2014. 501



[20] Erik Ralske. Playing in Wagner’s World. 2014. Available at http://www.metorchestramusicians.org/blog/2014/6/3/playing-in-wagners-world


            [21] Donald N Ferguson. Masterworks of the Orchestral Repertoire: a Guide for Listeners. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1968.  196. http://www.myilibrary.com?id=523195.


            [22] Ibid 4, 185.

            [23] Norman Lloyd. The golden encyclopedia of music. London: Hamlyn, 1969. 656


            [24] Christian. Thielemann, My life with Wagner: fairies, rings, and redemption : exploring opera’s most enigmatic composer. 2016. 116 https://www.overdrive.com/search?q=76DD15DA-6B3D-4C48-871B-14EA1659EDD5.


            [25] Elliott W Galkin. A history of orchestral conducting: in theory and practice. 1988. 94

            [26] Jan. Younghusband, Orchestra! London: Chatto & Windus in association with Channel Four Television Company Ltd, 1991, 118.


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