21st Century Wagner Tuben

So here’s a good one: Richard Wagner goes to Paris in 1853 to visit saxomaphone creator Adolphe Sax. Why? Because he was working on the Ring Cycle and was searching for something (according to Wikipedia, at least) “that could intone the Valhalla motif somberly like a trombone but with a less incisive tone like that of a horn.”

The results of that fateful meeting? The Wagner tuba – a mashup of the very worst characteristics of two rather noble instruments – classical music’s moose, if you will. This bastard child is tempermental, weird looking and impossible to tune.

Orchestras generally have a set kicking around in the back somewhere for the occasional performance of Bruckner 7. As you can imagine, they don’t get much love and it isn’t until a few weeks before the concert that the horn players charged with driving them discover they are in desperate need of maintenance.

Miss Mussel played one once in a brass-only run-through of Bruckner 7 at music college.

It was not a good scene.

If you’ll excuse a little brass nerd-out for a moment – horns are set in F and the thumb trigger is pressed to set the horn in B flat. Wagner tubas are oppositely appointed. This is a problem when sightreading, because all the fingerings are backwards and the transposition interval is different.

On the left, some lads sitting round a kitchen table deep in Bulgaria seem have the hang of it. Note: the non-reactionary mom hanging with the tuben crew. On the right, American students introduce Herr Richard to Beyoncé.

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