Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, performed by Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony this week, requires eight (French) horn players, numbers 5-8 of whom are also required to double on a relatively rare instrument called the Wagner tuba, two on tenor Wagner tubas and two on bass Wagner tubas.
A Wagner tuba is really not a tuba at all, but rather an instrument quite similar to a French horn (and played by French horn players) but in a different shape. That different shape — with the bell up, for instance — does give it a slightly different sound than the French horn. Richard Wagner developed this instrument for use in the “Ring” cycle, it is said, to bridge a gap in the sound between the French horns and trombones. Afterwards, it was used in several orchestral works, including Bruckner’s symphonies 7-9, Strauss’s “An Alpine Symphony” and Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps.”
In the video above, you will hear the French horn players of the Berlin Philharmonic having some fun with Bruckner excerpts on both French horn and Wagner tuba. They mostly play Bruckner’s 7th, but you’ll get the idea.