The History section comprises a series of essays prepared exclusively for wagner-tuba.com by Reverend Gregory Thompson, B.A. They are based on an extensive series of articles about the Wagner Tuba by William Melton who kindly gave permission for his articles to be summarized.
The Wagner tuba was conceived by Richard Wagner (1813-1883) in the summer of 1853 when he was exiled in Zurich. He was working on Das Rheingold and envisaged a quartet of instruments which he called Tuben. The opera’s Valhalla motif was initially intended for trombones but then changed to Tuben in the orchestral draft. Wagner probably had in mind the ancient Bronze age Nordic horn, or lur, when he designed the Wagner tuba. The aim was to bridge the gap in timbre between the horn and trombones, and so blend the sounds of the brass section more effectively. Being a smaller sized tuba it would also integrate the sound of the new bass tuba (created in 1835) with that of the horns. The quartet of Wagner tubas would also be able to function on their own as a choir. (Below: Das Rheingold Detail)
The Wagner tuba came to birth against a background of European militarism and national armies which had their own wind bands. There was a concurrent development in all types of brass instruments across the continent, and there are various theories as to which of them inspired Wagner’s new instruments. He certainly had dealings with the firm of Moritz before the Munich performances of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in 1869-70. Whatever the inspiration, the Wagner tuba undoubtedly started life as a military band horn-substitute and Wagner needed both technical and practical assistance to realize his new instruments and convert them to his requirements. Excerpts from The Ring played in concerts during the 1860s employed band instruments for what Wagner now called his tenor and bass tuba quartet. Finding the right instruments, however, sometimes proved difficult or impossible.
Wagner early became dissatisfied with Sax’s products, and while it is thought that the virtuoso hornist Franz Strauss (the father of Richard Strauss) helped him develop his new instruments, it was a different hornist altogether.
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