The Wagner tuba: the orchestra’s least known brass member

What is the most recently member of the orchestra? The tuba, invented in 1835 would seem to qualify, except that Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and some other very important works require an even newer instrument called the Wagner tuba. The invention of valves in 1815 led to the development of numerous new brass instruments. None of them produced the kind of sound Wagner envisioned as he started work on Das Rheingold. In 1854 he set out to find someone who could design something suitable. Playable specimens of the ancient Norse lur, when played by hornists of Wagner’s time had a … Continue reading

Musical predictions for the new year

No, I’m not going to try to make predictions for musical happenings in 2011. It’s much more fun to look at someone else’s predictions from years past and see how they turned out. I just got back from Christmas vacation, and I confess to hunting for something I could type out quickly. This gem of a prediction appears in the January 1, 1895 issue of The Musical Times. One Arthur E. Grimshaw wrote a letter to the editor in response to a concert review the previous month. It seems that the critic had complained that the loud trombones spoiled an … Continue reading

Rossini on Wagner

Some scholars have theorized that Rossini retired from composing operas after Guillaume Tell because he disliked the direction opera was going and the kinds of things he had to write in order to maintain  his popularity. He became really upset with Wagner’s music. Two of his comments are very well known: Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour. One cannot judge ‘Lohengrin’ from a first hearing, and I certainly do not intend to hear it a second time. Those were his polite comments. Once he was talking with a singer about Wagner’s music when he decided to … Continue reading