24 Sep 2017

The Wagner Tuba

From Appointment, 2:00 pm on 24 September 2017
Wagner Tuba

Wagner Tuba Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

As he worked on his epic Ring Cycle of operas, Richard Wagner wanted a sound with a relationship to the Nordic gods and heroes of Germany’s mythical past. His quest for that new sound only started around 1853. Wagner knew that horns were important in Norse mythology: Heimdall, god of light and guardian of the rainbow bridge to Valhalla, carried the Giallar Horn whose sound would be heard through all the worlds, calling gods and men to the final battle at the world’s ending. The horn was also symbolic of the moon, which in turn symbolised the eye Wotan sacrificed to gain knowledge.

So Wagner cast around for an instrument that would be a kind of godlike super-horn, a sound to represent lost world of Norse myth.

For years he consulted with various instrument makers and horn-players to achieve the grave yet luminous sound he’d imagined. Around 1874 a Munich instrument maker, Georg Ottensteiner, finally fulfilled Wagner’s requirements. In the process he created a mongrel instrument so unplayable that for many years most orchestras tended to fire the horn-players using them after the first rehearsal, replacing them with band musicians playing band instruments. But when they did work, they were glorious.

Sometimes playing the Wagner tuba is a bit like wrestling with alligators. There’s a sense that things might just slip horribly out of control at any moment. Wagner’s own Bayreuth tubists used to rush to the pub after each performance, blaming their unslakeable thirst on Wagner!

Music Details:

BRUCKNER: Symphony No 7 - Pentatone PTC 5186 051

T GOSS (NZ): Seven Deadly Sins of a Dog - Private CD

MCCARTHY: Star Trek, Deep Space 9 - Telarc CD 80383

WAGNER: Gotterdammerung, Death of Siegfried - EMI CDH 7 63044

WAGNER: Rheingold - Philips 412 475

WAGNER: Siegfried’s Funeral March - Decca 421 313

BRUCKNER: Symphony No 8 - DG 459 678

STRAUSS: Elektra - Decca 417 345

STRAVINSKY: Rite of Spring - Naxos 8.557501

JANACEK: Sinfonietta - Decca 410 138

RAUTAVAARA: Symphony No 3 - Naxos 8.554147

SALONEN: Insomnia - DG 477 5375

MASON WILLIAMS: Classical Gas - Connoisseur Wone CD 23

MIKE POST: The Rockford Files - Polydor 45rpm  815 096-7

GOLDSMITH: Air Force One - Telarc CD 80535

WILDER: Nonet for Brass - The Modern Wagner Tuba

BRUCKNER: Symphony No 7 - Pentatone PTC 5186 051

WAGNER: Das Rheingold, Entry of the gods - Philips 412 475


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