Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

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Haiku Wednesday: Tubas and More

Bass Tuba

A euphonium
Is not a sousaphone, nor
A tuba, oh no.

Though the sound goes round
And round, and emerges deep
In tone, soft or loud,
Do not believe that
Oom-pah-pah is all that you
Will ever hear—no.
For mellow is one
Of the tones that will surprise,
And, yes, delight you.

Oh, when the saints go
Marching in, the angels play
harps, cherubim, flutes;
But somewhere in the
Line, I know, you are sure to
Find, yes, a tuba.

I thought this post would be easy.

I thought I could simply contrast the tuba, euphonium, sousaphone, add some pictures, some samples, and done!

But no.

It wasn’t long before I found the saxtuba, the helicon and its ancestors the buccina and cornu, and, then Wagner came along, and…

Anyway, let’s get started.  Most folks have heard of a tuba.  It is the lowest-pitched of the brass instruments.  There are contrabass tubas, the lowest of all, and slightly smaller (and slightly higher-pitched) bass tubas.  The fundamental pitch of a contrabass tuba can be 32 Hz or 29 Hz.  The threshold of human hearing is 20 Hz.  Click this link to see how a tuba is madeSee the world’s largest tuba here.

A euphonium is pitched an octave higher than the lowest contrabass tuba.  It is also somewhat smaller.  Here’s a comparison picture, showing the euphonium on the left and tuba on the right.

Euphonium and tuba

The brass instrument you’re likely to see in a marching band, its bright bell shining in the sun, is a sousaphone.  It was popularized by John Philip Sousa, the American march king.  Sousa was unhappy with the predecessor of the sousaphone, the helicon.  He wanted the sound to go up over the band.  And so the sousaphone was created.  But the original bells pointed skyward, which became a problem when marching on a rainy day. So eventually the bell shifted to a forward-pointing position.





The helicon was derived from the saxtuba, which in turn was derived from the cornu and buccina, which signaled the Roman legions in ancient times.



Cornu players (cornicen) on Trajan's Column

Cornu players (cornicen) on Trajan’s Column

You’ve probably noted the “sax” tacked onto saxtuba.  There’s also a family of instruments called saxhorns.  That’s because Adolphe Sax, father of the saxophone (which is actually a woodwind, not a brass instrument), was prolific in his production of brass instruments.  Here’s a page cataloging various Sax instruments.

Adolphe Sax's instrument catalogue

One day, Richard Wagner entered Adolphe Sax’s shop.  He was looking for a certain sound for his new opera.  He was shown a saxhorn, but it wasn’t quite what he wanted, so he had another instrument builder create a Wagner tuba for use in Das Rheingold, for the Valhalla theme.  You can hear it here.

Double Wagner tuba

Double Wagner tuba

And now to the music!

Here is the Concerto in F Minor for Bass Tuba and Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Here is John Williams’s Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra featuring some flying finger passages for the tuba.

And finally, the soulful Czardas by Vittorio Monti, arranged here for solo tuba and three trombones.

Wishing you a happy Tuba Thursday!


Image attributions

Euphonium and Tuba by user Elf at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons,

Sousaphone by Yamaha Corporation (Yamaha Music Europe) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons,

Helicon by Matthias Bramboeck (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons,

Saxtuba by Anonymous ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

Cornu players (cornice) carved on Trajan’s column, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,’s_column.JPG

Sax instrument chart by Adolphe Sax [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

Wagner tuba by Zanetta (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,


There’s Always Another Way

Highlighting the fact that there are no obstacles, only opportunities, here is today’s special video on Allegri’s Miserere

I hope you enjoyed that (of course, if you want to hear the whole Miserere, this time without elemental assistance and much more serious, you can find it here).

If you’re at the Catapulting into Classical website on 1 April, you’ve already seen my modified header illustration.  If not, here is a link to my special edition, uniquely overpopulated header.

And it wouldn’t be April Fools’ Day without a little PDQ Bach, this time proving the point that there is always another way to play an instrument.  Here is a little known, less understood piece of virtuosic writing, the Sonata for Viola 4 Hands and Harpsichord, Schickele number S 440.

And if that only whetted your appetite for more PDQ Bach (I’m sorry), may I suggest this vintage recording of the Konzertschtick for Two Violins mit Orchestra, featuring soloists Peter Schickele and Itzhak Perlman (really).  Oh, and John Williams is conducting.  Schickele’s violin technique can only be described as…creative.

Enjoy your day!

PS.  Yes, that’s supposed to be Feynman, with Feynman diagrams on the bongos–it’s hard to draw them that small.

PSS. Yes, the bassoon player is surrounded by reed shavings.  Well, just because.