Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) first met Wagner in 1865 and was present at the Bayreuth Ring performance in 1876. He was overwhelmed by the new quartet of tenor and bass tubas, and their inspiration led him to include Wagner tubas in his most mature three symphonies. In the early 1860s he had experimented with writing for euphonium and tenor horn but he now became captivated by the expressive possibilities of the Wagner tuba. Below: Bruckner Symphony
In 1882 at the age of 59, Bruckner decided to use them himself, not out of a conscious desire to emulate Wagner or pay him homage, but for musical reasons: to reinforce the brass section and give it structural backbone, but also to imbue the music spiritually with a sense of the numinous. So it was that the Wagner tubas first appeared in the Adagio of his Symphony No. 7 in E major (1884). Their tone colour and timbre brought one more variety of brass sound to the score. No tubas were available for the Nikisch premiere, but they appeared in the 1885 Munich performance. The work was a success and Bruckner was praised for his treatment of the Wagner tubas.
The Wagner tuba was then given a more extended role in the Symphony No. 8 in C minor, appearing in all movements except the Scherzo. Wagner tubas also feature in the Adagio of Symphony No. 9 in D minor and have a highly important role in the finale.
As with Wagner, the instrument’s notation is equally problematic for Bruckner, and discrepancies survive in his Wagner tuba parts to this day.
Even after Bruckner the use of the Wagner tuba quartet was not universally accepted. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote that tubas entered the orchestra ‘to the detriment of other groups’ and led to a ‘neutralization of brass sound’; and the influential academic Hugo Riemann asserted that the tuba choir had no place in the symphony (both Rimsky-Korsakov and Rieman condemned the instrument’s inclusion in the orchestra).
And yet, despite the notorious difficulties of idiomatic writing, choice of proper key, finding four instruments and the skilled players who could master problems of intonation, the Wagner tuba never failed to impress with its unique sound.
Next Essay – Wagner’s Heirs