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Thread: Theoretical question about French tuba in C

  1. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    The Netherlands
    There are some valid points made by all. So in conclusion, the French Tuba in C is only practical for those purists who need to play the French repertoire as intended? It really isn't useful for anything else?
    Martin Monné
    • Wessex Festivo, 4-valve compensating (2017)
    • Hirsbrunner HBS 378 Standard, 4-valve compensating (1983)
    • Mahillon Bass Saxhorn, 4-valve (1927)
    • Anton Hüller Tenor Horn, 3-valve (Early 20th Century, HP, wallhanger)

  2. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by MarChant View Post
    There are some valid points made by all. So in conclusion, the French Tuba in C is only practical for those purists who need to play the French repertoire as intended? It really isn't useful for anything else?
    Out of curiosity, I've been reading Carl Kleinstuber's written dissertation. His argument, in short, is that the unique color of the French tuba should be preserved so that the intent of French composers who called for it can continue to be realized. Kleinstuber argues that in Berlioz, Ravel, Poulenc, etc., the bigger tubas (bass in F and Eb and contrabass in C or Bb) are wholly inappropriate, which his dissertation videos demonstrate.

    From the dissertation:

    The French tuba proliferated in late nineteenth- and early twentieth century Paris partly because French composers sought an orchestral ensemble full of strong individual timbres, each with its own clear aural identity. This attitude contrasts a more Germanic/Austrian approach to ensemble sonorities such as that of Anton Bruckner, where the entire group is meant to combine, often entering as tutti instrumental groups and even emulating the pipe organ. The Cambridge Companion to the Orchestra says that “...lack of blend was particularly marked in French orchestras, in which individual instruments tended to be quite distinct from each other in tone-colour.” This same source goes on to describe the tonal colors of French brass players as “pungent” which to the experienced listener seems an apt description. Virgil Thomson once wrote of the French orchestral approach to timbres that “the French orchestral style is one of equilibration (sic), of clear balances and clean colors, of poetic luminosity rather than of animal warmth. And the whole repertoire of French music composed since Berlioz is designed to profit by this delicate performing style.” Leonard Bernstein in his renowned Young Peoples’ Concerts described the French orchestral sound as “thin, transparent, delicate.” Henry Dutilleux used the term sites auriculaires – or “points of beauty for the ear” to describe the French approach to orchestration.
    Looking at the argument for broader application of French tuba in band music, the reverse would be true. The standard in American band music, dating back to Sousa, has been contrabass tuba in Bb. The blend and balance conceptions present in American band scores would be severely distorted by a French tuba. The pitches may be the same, however the breadth of sound and color would be completely different. It would be the same for the English-speaking and German-speaking worlds at large.

    The issue is similar with the Euphonium in band music. Listening to Bydlo as played by Kleinstuber, the French tuba takes on character distinct from the euphonium in its upper range. This color would be difficult to manage in the many instances in American and British wind literature where the euphonium is required to blend with the woodwind choir.

    Taking the issue in a slightly different direction, in the American band world there has been a similar loss of color in low brass with the predominance of the British-style euphonium. The American baritone offers a distinct color that is what composers in the American band tradition would have expected. This video by Dave of a 1935 double bell euphonium offers one of the clearest examples I can find of an American baritone in the hands of a truly excellent player. Compare it to Dave playing the same piece on his Adams. While the modern compensating euphonium is the most versatile all-around instrument for band literature, to my ear early American band works lose a little color with the broader, more veiled sound.

    In a similar vein, a German friend of mine was mentioning to me recently that there's been a trend there of using the Bariton for both Bariton and Tenorhorn parts. Like the American baritone/euphonium issue, the economic issue of not having to own two distinct instruments is obvious. However, again, I can't help but feel that something distinct and valuable is being lost.
    Adrian L. Quince
    Composer, Conductor, Euphoniumist

    Kanstul 976 - SM4U

  3. The French C tuba may work in a wind band substituting for a euphonium, if that is all available, but it is a smaller instrument than the modern compensated euphonium and is more difficult to play. It is ideal for playing in an orchestra for appropriate music, mainly French repertoire and I think it would make a good ‘travel tuba’ for the professional orchestral tubist - one that can be used in the concert if required. May also work in brass quintet, although I have not heard in that setting.

    For using as bass in a band, forget it - would not have the weight or breath of tone
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  4. #14
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Central North Carolina
    These kinds of questions -- as is usually the case -- start to resolve along the lines of a distinction between what a composer intended or expected in terms of a particular sound vs. what can be achieved by means of what would normally and reasonably be regarded as the sound of "improved" (i.e., more "contemporary") instruments. On the extremes of this kind of divide we end up with (a) the view that a particular piece "should" be played only by the instrumentation available at the time of its composition and which was (therefore) "intended" by the composer; contrasted with the view that (b) a particular piece "should" be played with the "best" instrumentation available at the time of the performance.

    Both of these -- as prescriptive views -- are nutty since they assume that there is some "absolute measure" of "goodness" in music that in fact forms some sort of continuum. And, I think, nothing could be further than the truth. They also, in so far as they're coherent, argue along independent "dimensions" of musical quality and appropriateness. And any such argument is at cross purposes and unresolveable.

    If we look back at the original "Theoretical question" we really need to see that it's not a theoretical question at all -- and in fact that there's no THEORETICAL question in the matter. It's a practical question about when it's appropriate, or best, to use one instrument or another. And that practical question needs to be addressed on practical -- and not theoretical -- grounds. And so, in specific (as opposed to abstract or vague) formulations, the answer in those cases seems always to be pretty obvious.

    If we MUST address the "theoretical" question as originally posed -- i.e., the "What if ...?" question about using the French tuba as a sort of generic tuba/euphonium -- then the answer to that has to be "No. That's not a good idea. But in circumstances where it works -- or works well enough or you can't do any better -- then go ahead." And as a practical matter, if you choose to employ a French C tuba as your tuba and as your euphonium, you're going to have a lot fewer opportunities and a lot less success.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

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