The Arizona State University Horn Studio
Playing the Wagner Tuba
Quite a number of major orchestral and operatic works call for a section of four Wagner tubas, an instrument which looks at a distance like a German Euphonium but is built to take a horn mouthpiece and is performed by horn players. Constructed in two pitch levels (tenor in B-flat and bass in F, the same as horn--double Wagner tubas are also available) I first encountered the instrument as a graduate student at The Eastman School of Music, when I first performed the fourth Wagner tuba part on Bruckner 7 with the Rochester Philharmonic, and the next year again the same part on Bruckner 8. To this day that Bruckner 8 series, conducted by Jerzy Semkow, remains to my memory as one of the highlights of my early career.
So while I started out with great experiences on the Wagner tuba, this is too often not the case. The parts may be oddly notated (most tenor parts are in B-flat with terrible key signatures), intonation can be very rough, etc. In relation to this, traditionally the instrument is given to a talented player whom it is hoped will "figure it out." This was very much the case for me. I was at the top of the Rochester Philharmonic low horn sub list and was given the fourth part specifically because you need a strong player to lay down good intonation on the bottom. Also I was interested enough in instruments to figure out how to take advantage of the fourth valve. Since that time I have performed on Wagner tuba many times in groups including the Indianapolis Symphony and the Phoenix Symphony and have always enjoyed the experience. Great parts on great works are a joy to perform with a great orchestra.
Part of the problem is that practically nothing has been published on playing the Wagner tuba. To introduce the instrument to my advanced horn students I developed my own materials. ASU owns a pair of instruments, the two pictured above, which are by Mirafone. At one point early in the history of Horn Articles Online a version of these materials was posted on the Internet, but the unpublished article was pulled down and, with the development of my line of publications, expanded considerably into the following publication, released originally in December of 2007:
Playing the Wagner Tuba: A Handbook for Hornists
A complete, practical guide to the literature and performance
techniques of the Wagner tuba, geared toward the advanced student,
amateur, or young professional who needs to get up to speed quickly to
perform Wagner tuba in a symphonic setting. This edition includes
information on instruments and fingerings, complete parts (original
notation and transposed) for Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, excerpts from
Götterdämmerung and Eine Alpensymphonie, and more.
This publication is available (in hard copy or E-Book format) from Horn Notes Edition.
As I have year round access to a set of Wagner tubas I regularly play on them. It is a beautiful instrument that really deserves to be heard more often today. Do your part if you have the opportunity.
What to Play on your Wagner Tuba
I have also posted to Horn Matters several articles relating to the Wagner tuba. Search in the category "Wagner tuba." To hear a Wagner tuba in action check this article.
Thank you for your interest in the Wagner tuba. Keep checking this page and Horn Matters for more topics relating to the horn player and the Wagner tuba, and also be sure to check out the book. It will I believe help a lot of players out in the coming years.
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|Contact Dr. Ericson at:
School of Music, Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-0405
Phone: (480) 965-4152
Dept. Fax: (480) 965-2659.