Talk:Wagner tuba

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I wonder if the passage I just added on the sound of the Wagner tuba more properly belongs in an orchestration book rather than an encyclopedia. Also, I freely acknowledge that I am more familiar with the scores of Bruckner than those of Wagner. - Dmetric

Proper name[edit]

The name "Wagner tuba" is a misnomer. The proper name for this instrument is "Wagner tuben." But, I will admit that I'm still learning how to do everything around here. Is there a way the name can be changed?--Frontierbrass 18:07, 6 December 2005 (UTC)

"Wagner tuben" may be more proper, but "Wagner tuba" is so widely used in orchestration books and concert programmes that it would take a major campaign to get it changed (just ask the kid who tried to get Columbus Day renamed Native American Day because the native Americans were already here). Anyway, Wikipedia is not in the business of trying to correct nomenclature.
But this is an encyclopedia. Shouldn't the information contained within be accurate? This isn't just nomenclature, it's a misinterpretation of the original German; the Wager tuben has no relation to the tuba. The German word for tuba is "tuba," not tuben, which means tubes. The confusion most likely comes from Bruckner, who for some reason decided to start referring to them as "tenor tubas" (which they are not; euphoniums are tenor tubas).--Frontierbrass 03:04, 8 December 2005 (UTC)

Just for the record, I am looking at editing the page to be more accurate, but I'm trying to look up some more sources since "this is what I've learned in the course of going to college" isn't exactly a good source to cite.--Frontierbrass 03:10, 8 December 2005 (UTC)

There might be cases when there is a bona fide reason to change the name of a Wikipedia article. In such a case you move the page using the "move" tab, but then it becomes your responsibility to doublecheck "what links here." Anton Mravcek 22:22, 6 December 2005 (UTC)
I added an article under the title "Wagner tuben" that redirects here. Not a complete solution, but perhaps an improvement?--Btwied 17:00, 15 June 2006 (UTC)
That is helpful. But if we can edit to our satisfaction the paragraph on the article about why the name is a misnomer, then that should be good enough for Wikipedia. If I want to go on a campaign to have the name changed to "Wagner-Sax modified horn," that's my business. Anton Mravcek 17:19, 15 June 2006 (UTC)

Well, the German name *is* Wagnertuba (no space inbetween), cf. de:Wagnertuba. "Tuben" is the German plural of "Tuba", hence the confusion. --DerHerrMigo 21:36, 26 June 2006 (UTC)

The name of this instrument is NOT "Wagnertuba" as stated immediately above and unbelievably used at the top of the German WP article. That is just nonsense. When I saw the the name "Wagnertuba" listed on this present article page, I practically fell out of my chair. The person, DerHerrMigo, who wrote that doesn't know what he is writing about. Apparently no musician who plays a Horn or Wagnertube in the last seven years saw that entry in the German WP and corrected it there, so I will have to change that, too. DerHerrMigo is the one who is creating the confusion. "Tuben" is the German plural of "Tube," not "Tuba," an English word.

The correct name is "Wagnertube," as several pointed out above, which is pronounced in German as wag'ner too'ba, i.e., "Wagnertube" pronounced in German sounds identical to "Wagner tuba" pronounced in English. Wagnertube literally translates to "Wagner tube" in English, NOT "Wagner tuba." The word "tube" refers to the then-new instrument's brass tubing without pre-existing instrument identification. The German word for the English "tuba" is "Tuba," just as someone else pointed out above. The plural of Wagnertube in German is Wagnertuben; this literally translates to "Wagner tubes," NOT "Wagner tubas." Richard Wagner, who invented them, first named them "Tuben," NOT "Tubas." It is true that the most common English term for this horn is "Wagner tuba," (NOT Wagnertuba, which is an absurd English hybrid word and not a German word at all) but this is a poor translation and based on the phonetic mistake I just described. German Horn players call a single instrument a Wagnertube (yes, pronouncing it correctly as "wag-ner too-ba") and to several instruments Wagnertuben (pronounced wag-ner too-ben). That phonetic coincidence is what has created the confusion in English. Today, as yet another person correctly stated, the mistranslation has become commonplace and essentially all English speakers refer to these instruments as Wagner Tubas and we will have to live with that usage; I would not object to that term in English because it has become standard despite being ridiculous.

No musician thinks of this instrument as a tuba, because it isn't. Wagnertuben or Wagner Tubas have a sonority or timbre most similar to a Horn. They are played by Horn players (i.e. "French" Horn players--however, the word French is itself inaccurate since the Horn is German in origin) using a Horn mouthpiece. Their most distinctive difference from a Horn is that they have a lower tessitura or range and have a more brazen or brassy tone. If you think of traditional Horns as being Alto Horns, then Wagnertuben are Tenor Horns and Baritone Horns (Wagnertuben come in two pitches). Soprano Horns and Bass/Contrabass Horns also exist but they are extremely rare today; there is plenty of Baroque music for the Soprano Horn or Corno da Caccia and essentially no music for the Contrabass Horn, which is a modern vanity instrument (it sounds like a tuba). No one calls Wagnertuben "Wagner Horns," however, because (1) Wagner named them "Tuben," not Tenor or Baritone Horns, and (2) they were conceived by Wagner to have a timbre that bridged the gap between Horns and Trombones. That is, it's timbre is not identical to a horn's but has a slightly more brassy quality edging toward a trombone's timbre. You sometimes read that Tuben are a cross between Horns and Tubas, but that's complete nonsense. Tubas, Euphoniums, and Horns have an extremely conical bore that creates a soft and mellow timbre. Trumpets and Trombones have an extremely cylindrical bore that creates a bright and brassy timbre. Traditional Horns with their conical bore have the wonderful soft and mellow tone that blends well with woodwinds. Wagner wanted an instrument that bridged the gap between mellow Horn and brassy Trombone and the bore of Tuben have a hybrid conical-cylindrical bore, one that is conical but not strongly so as with Horns and Tubas and not as cylindrical as trumpets and trombones. This is why it is just maddening to call this instrument a tuba. It is true that Wagner tubas (Tuben) have a superficial resemblance to euphoniums, which are baritone tubas, but that is a coincidence; euphoniums have a distinctly more conical bore than Wagner tubas and sound completely different. Wagner tubas have an even stronger resemblance to baritone horns or baritones, but that is a coincidence, too. Baritones have a cylindrical bore like trombones and so have a different timbre than Wagner tubas. Wagner tubas are a true tonal hybrid, which is exactly what Wagner wanted in his tone palette.

English-speaking Horn players who play Wagnertuben use the term "Wagner Tuba" when writing or speaking in English. There is today no way to avoid this because the term has been in such common use since the Nineteenth Century (despite the usage being a colossal mistake). Thus, the solution is to keep the official English WP name "Wagner Tuba" but qualify this by correctly explaining what I have described here--and include references, of course. I'm going to change a few words now that are the most egregious mistakes and add the history later. I'm also going to change the German WP entry to correct it. BTW, just go to to see what Germans REALLY call this instrument. NOT "Wagnertuba"! Steven (talk) 01:14, 14 November 2013 (UTC)


I have played Wagner (he usually won!) and the horn players I know who played that thing always called it a "Wagnerian tuba".

I added a line in the article about rotary valves, conical bore and horn mouthpiece. I deleted the request image tag at the top of this discussion page since someone has added a photo to the article. Jeffmatt 10:00, 9 January 2006 (UTC)

Is there such a thing as a "request better image" tag? The current one suffers from severe JPEG splotchiness and even some pixellation... --Rschmertz 01:07, 24 September 2006 (UTC)

Stephen Caudel[edit]

I have written a brief page on Stephen Caudel who wrote the Edel rhapsody for the wagner tuba :-

Edel rhapsody

Do you think this is a valid addition to the main page or getting a little away from the core article?

In my opinion, it is a very valid addition. It shows that the Wagner tuba is transcending its original milieu, that it could become a viable instrument in musical genres besides classical and opera. Anton Mravcek 20:39, 8 March 2006 (UTC)

Also consider teh Alec Wilder nonet which is a great piece using tubas in a jazzy idiom.

Good Job![edit]

I am pleased to see an article devoted to my favourite instrument. Thanks for your work. Just to throw more fuel on the fire, I have heard/read the instrument referred to as a Bruchner tuba as well. Perhaps a reference from an orchestration manual would settle the name question. --Ambassadorhorn 00:41, 28 March 2006 (UTC)

I don't see any reason to call it a "Bruckner tuba," much less a "Bruchner tuba." The article already has (and has had almost since the beginning) "a reference from an orchestration manual," though it does not settle the question. Anton Mravcek 22:06, 7 July 2006 (UTC)

It would, at best, be silly to call it anything but Wagner Tuba. Also, this is not a great article. It is very small, there are no pictures, there is no chart showing the scale of the instrument and no score examples of it. Gingermint (talk) 03:10, 9 May 2011 (UTC)

Modern Instrument[edit]

Could someone familiar with the modern instrument that plays the two different keys, explain how the different keys changes are obtained? It seems difficult to do in a "brass" instrument. Maybe the explanation is obvious, but it escapes me at the moment. Dr. Dan 21:44, 5 July 2006 (UTC)

It works the same as a Double Horn (See Horn). A fourth key switches between tubing sets for the valves. It is really two insturments in one, a bit like having a double-necked guitar with different tuning on each neck. Heavy Metal Cellisttalkcontribs

second paragraph of intro[edit]

The second paragraph of the introduction needs some major work, and maybe should just be deleted. Fundamentally, the only difference between a Wagner Tuba and a horn is which way it points. There are definitely some differences in tubing lengths, but fundamentally, the only difference is the direction the bell points, and the fact that you don't put your hand in the bell. Many modern band composers get the same sound as a Wagner tuba just by having the hornists hold their bells up with their right hands as opposed to just keeping the hand in the bell.

The way the paragraph is written, it makes it seem like the Wagner tuba is a completely different insturment from the Horn. They actually have a conical bore, the use the same mouthpiece, and they are even written in the same keys (sometimes). Heavy Metal Cellisttalkcontribs

The tubas really are very different from horns in quite an intangible way. Having played both F and B tubas and had a go with a double tuba (which didn't seem to me to capture the tuba spirit) I feel that quite a distinct sound and style results. There is a lot less resistance than on the horn, and you tend to get gentler fronts, smoother slurs(maybe my technical deficiencies?) and a more 'grainy' sound. This is a better fit in my opinion to Bruckner's writing rather than that of Wagner or Strauss. They certainly feel different and sound different from the stage!

Just so we're clear, you're referring to the paragraph partially quoted below?
"Wagner was inspired to invent this instrument after a brief visit to Paris in 1853, when he visited the shop of Adolphe Sax, ... Wagner wanted an instrument that could intone the Valhalla motif somberly like a trombone but with a less incisive tone like that of a horn. That effect was obtained by a conical bore (like a horn) and the use of the horn mouthpiece (tapered as opposed to a cup mouthpiece such as on a trombone). The instrument is built with rotary valves which, like those on the French horn, are played with the left hand."
It is important to say what Wagner's motives were for wanting the instrument. And if it's not at least a little different from a horn, why go through all the trouble of inventing an instrument? Anton Mravcek 19:46, 15 July 2006 (UTC)

Who exactly invented it?[edit]

This page currently says that Wagner invented this horn. But from the history page at, "It was in the mid 19th century that instrument maker Adolphe Sax produced the instrument, demonstrating it to German composer Richard Wagner when they met (circa 1853). Wagner was struck by the horn's rich sound and soon began to incorporate it into his orchestral composition." So it sounds like Wagner was looking for a certain sound, and found it in Sax's instrument, which the latter had already invented. After hearing it, he ordered four, becoming the first composer to adopt it. That's my understanding from the site; is my understanding correct? Is the wagner-tuba site correct? --Rschmertz 06:43, 3 January 2007 (UTC)

That's a good question. I have always believed that Adolphe Sax did the nuts and bolts of the inventing (measuring the metals, testing the sound, etc.) I had never questioned the chronology of it: did Wagner go to Sax's shop saying "I want an instrument that sounds like such and such," and Sax said "I have just the thing"? Or did Sax say "come back next week"? And even if we can answer these questions satisfactorily, we can split hairs over what exactly it is to invent. Is giving an idea enough, or is one required to build a prototype? Anton Mravcek 23:13, 3 January 2007 (UTC)
Recent scholarship says that neither of these two actually invented the instrument that played Wagner's parts in the the Ring although Wagner's visit to Sax's shop may have inspired him to write for the tuben. See:
AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE ORIGINS OF THE WAGNER TUBA by KEAYS, JAMES HARVEY, D.M.A., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1977, 97 pages; p. 24 "The first tuben were built by the C.W. Moritz firm of Berlin in 1877."
Greetings from Heaven, or Demonic Noise? A History of the Wagner Tuba - Part 4: Fruition by William Melton, The Horn Call - Journal of the International Horn Society 32:3 [May 2002] p. 43-53 "In 1877, Moritz responded to Wagner's wishes by delivering a quartet of instruments, designated horn-tubas by their maker, of a still-reduced bore size (though the bell throat remained huge by modern standards)." --Ambassadorhorn 22:17, 16 April 2007 (UTC)

The first entry above is based on the page at That page STILL has incorrect information and should frankly be revised. Adolphe Sax showed Wagner a Saxhorn, which has a conical bore but one that was too cylindrical for Wagner's taste (the tone was too brassy since Saxhorns were designed to be played in brass bands!). The Saxhorn certainly gave Wagner the idea for what would later be called a Wagnertube (English: Wagner Tuba, although it is not a tuba), but he had another instrument maker, Moritz, create the first Wagner Tube to Wagner's specifications, one with a more conical and narrower bore that sounded more like a traditional Horn (i.e., "French" Horn). Fortunately, several subsequent writers have correctly stated the best history we have and their references. Steven (talk) 01:35, 14 November 2013 (UTC)

So what makes a Wagner Tuba different than a horn.[edit]

" That effect was obtained by a conical bore (like a horn) and the use of the horn mouthpiece (tapered as opposed to a cup mouthpiece such as on a trombone). The instrument is built with rotary valves which, like those on the horn, are played with the left hand."

The above quote gives 3 similarities to the horn, but no differences. What is the significant differnce in the way the horn is built, that causes it to sound different from a horn.

So you are asking for technical (e.g., acoustical or manufacturing differences)? The article does talk about how the instrument sounds different from the horn, but it wouldn't hurt to talk about technical things like differences in tubing shape and length, etc. Anton Mravcek 21:53, 20 July 2007 (UTC)

Composers who've used it[edit]

Is it supposed to be a comprehensive list or a sample as the Composer's Datebook mentioned Gyorgy Kurtag composing a piece for it in 1994 for the Berlin Philharmonic and he is not on the list. (talk) 00:34, 15 August 2008 (UTC)

What Bartok piece uses this instrument? I'm not aware of any. Eclindholm (talk) 15:40, 23 August 2009 (UTC)

This site mentions two: Kossuth & The Miraculous Mandarin. WeisheitSuchen (talk) 16:47, 23 August 2009 (UTC)

Who plays it?[edit]

From the article's oddly-named "Impact" section:

"Where on the orchestral score the Wagner tubas are placed depend on who plays them."

So if "Fred" plays it, it's placed about the tubas; if "Barney" plays it, it's placed above the horns; and if "John Cale" plays it, it's placed below the violas? (talk) 01:33, 10 March 2016 (UTC)