Euphonium is a conical-bore, baritone-voiced brass instrument. The euphonium derives its name from the Greek word euphonos, meaning “well-sounding” or “sweet-voiced” (eu means “well” or “good” and phonos means “of sound”, so “of good sound”). The euphonium is a valved instrument; nearly all current models are piston valved, though rotary valved models do exist. The euphonium is a non-transposing instrument known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, variety of character and agility A person who plays the euphonium is sometimes called a euphoniumist, euphophonist, or a euphonist, while British players often colloquially refer to themselves as euphists, or euphologists. Similarly, the instrument itself is often referred to as eupho or euph.
Name recognition and misconceptions
The euphonium is part of the family of brass instruments. It is sometimes confused with the baritone horn. The euphonium and the baritone differ in that the bore size of the baritone horn is typically smaller than that of the euphonium, (leading to a “darker” tone from the euphonium and a brighter sound from the baritone horn) and the baritone is primarily cylindrical bore, whereas the euphonium is predominantly conical bore. The two instruments are easily interchangeable to the player, with some modification of breath and embouchure, since the two have identical range and essentially identical fingering. The cylindrical baritone offers a brighter sound and the conical euphonium offers a mellower sound.
The so-called American baritone, featuring three valves on the front of the instrument and a curved, forward-pointing bell, was dominant in American school bands throughout most of the 20th century, its weight, shape and configuration conforming to the needs of the marching band. While this instrument is in reality a conical-cylindrical bore hybrid, neither fully euphonium nor baritone, it was almost universally labeled a “baritone” by both band directors and composers, thus contributing to the confusion of terminology in the United States.
Several late 19th century music catalogs (such as Pepper and Lyon & Healy) sold a euphonium-like instrument called the “B♭ Bass” (to distinguish it from the E♭ and BB♭ bass). In these catalog drawings, the B♭ Bass had thicker tubing than the baritone; both had 3 valves. Along the same lines, drum and bugle corps introduced the “Bass-baritone”, and distinguished it from the baritone. The thicker tubing of the 3-valve B♭ Bass allowed for production of strong false-tones, providing chromatic access to the pedal register.
History and development
As a baritone-voiced brass instrument, the euphonium traces its ancestry to the ophicleide and ultimately back to the serpent. The search for a satisfactory foundational wind instrument that could support masses of sound above it took some time. While the serpent was used for over two centuries dating back to the late Renaissance, it was notoriously difficult to control its pitch and tone quality due to its disproportionately small open finger holes. The ophicleide, which was used in bands and orchestras for a few decades in the early to mid-19th century, used a system of keys and was an improvement over the serpent but was still unreliable, especially in the high register.
With the invention of the piston valve system c. 1818, the construction of brass instruments with an even sound and facility of playing in all registers became possible. The euphonium is said to have been invented, as a “wide-bore, valved bugle of baritone range”, by Ferdinand Sommer of Weimar in 1843, though Carl Moritz in 1838 and Adolphe Sax in 1843 have also been credited. While Sax’s family of saxhorns were invented at about the same time and the bass saxhorn is very similar to a euphonium, there are also differences.
The “British-style” compensating euphonium was developed by David Blaikley in 1874, and has been in use in Britain ever since; since this time, the basic construction of the euphonium in Britain has changed little.
Construction and general characteristics
The euphonium, like tenor trombone, is pitched in concert B♭. For a valved brass instrument like the euphonium, this means that when no valves are in use the instrument will produce partials of the B♭ harmonic series. It is generally orchestrated as a non-transposing instrument like the trombone, written at concert pitch in the bass clef with higher passages in the tenor clef. Treble clef euphonium parts transposing down a major ninth are included in much concert band music: in the British-style brass band tradition, euphonium music is always written this way. In continental European band music, parts for the euphonium may be written in the bass clef as a B♭ transposing instrument sounding a major second lower than written.
Professional models have three top-action valves, played with the first three fingers of the right hand, plus a “compensating” fourth valve, generally found midway down the right side of the instrument, played with the left index finger; such an instrument is shown at the top of this page. Beginner models often have only the three top-action valves, while some intermediate “student” models may have a fourth top-action valve, played with the fourth finger of the right hand. Compensating systems are expensive to build, and there is in general a substantial difference in price between compensating and non-compensating models. For a thorough discussion of the valves and the compensation system, see the article on brass instruments.
The euphonium has an extensive range, comfortably from E2 to about B♭4 for intermediate players (using scientific pitch notation). In professional hands this may extend from B0 to as high as B♭5. The lowest notes obtainable depend on the valve set-up of the instrument. All instruments are chromatic down to E2, but 4-valved instruments extend that down to at least C2. Non-compensating four-valved instruments suffer from intonation problems from E♭2 down to C2 and cannot produce the low B1; compensating instruments do not have such intonation problems and can play the low B-natural.[note 2] From B♭1 down lies the “pedal range”, i.e. the fundamentals of the instrument’s harmonic series. They are easily produced on the euphonium as compared to other brass instruments, and the extent of the range depends on the make of the instrument in exactly the same way as just described. Thus, on a compensating four-valved instrument, the lowest note possible is B0, sometimes called double pedal B, which is six ledger lines below the bass clef.
As with the other conical-bore instruments, the cornet, flugelhorn, horn, and tuba, the euphonium’s tubing gradually increases in diameter throughout its length, resulting in a softer, gentler tone compared to cylindrical-bore instruments such as the trumpet, trombone, sudrophone, and baritone horn. While a truly characteristic euphonium sound is rather hard to define precisely, most players would agree that an ideal sound is dark, rich, warm, and velvety, with virtually no hardness to it. On the other hand, the desired sound varies geographically; European players, especially British ones, generally use a faster, more constant vibrato and a more veiled tone, while Americans tend to prefer a more straightforward, open sound with slower and less frequent vibrato. This also has to do with the different models preferred by British and American players.
Though the euphonium’s fingerings are no different from those of the trumpet or tuba, beginning euphoniumists will likely experience significant problems with intonation, response, and range compared to other beginning brass players. In addition, it is very difficult for students, even of high-school age, to develop the rich sound characteristic of the euphonium, due partly to the instrument models used in schools and partly to the lack of awareness of good euphonium sound models.
Very generally speaking, the most popular professional models of euphonium in the United Kingdom are Besson Prestige and Sovereign models. The most popular in the United States are the Wilson 2900 and 2950. In both cases, these models have gained popularity through the use and sponsorship of extremely highly respected players and teachers; in Britain, by Steven Mead, and in America, by Dr. Brian Bowman. In recent years, the Yamaha YEP-842 Custom has gained popularity in the United States due to similar activities by Adam Frey. Most recently, Demondrae Thurman has worked in conjunction with Miraphone to develop the Ambassador 5050.
In recent years, the Besson company got into financial difficulties and various aspects of the business and name were acquired by Buffet Crampon of France. The remaining assets were acquired by the German company Schreiber-Keilwerth who lost no time in bringing rival instruments, with the York brand name, to market. In 2010, Schrieber-Keilwerth was also acquired by Buffet Crampon, and the York brand was dropped.
Other highly regarded professional models found around the world are the Yamaha 642, the Hirsbrunner Standard, Exclusive, and Stealth, the Sterling Virtuoso, and the Meinl-Weston 451 and 551. A well-selling and school-inventoried intermediate-model horn in the United States is the Yamaha YEP-321 (and silver-plate 321S), which has four valves and is non-compensating (though a removable 5th valve was offered as an option early on, but discontinued pushing buyers to their “professional” instruments). Other similar models of euphonium are made by Besson, Willson, Jupiter, and under the names of many storied American manufacturers now within the Conn-Selmer umbrella among others. Besson produces a four-valve non-compensating euphonium with the fourth valve on the side.
A creation unique to the United States was the double-bell euphonium, featuring a second smaller bell in addition to the main one; the player could switch bells for certain passages or even for individual notes by use of an additional valve, operated with the left hand. Ostensibly, the smaller bell was intended to emulate the sound of a trombone (it was cylindrical-bore) and was possibly intended for performance situations in which trombones were not available. The extent to which the difference in sound and timbre was apparent to the listener, however, is up for debate. Harry Whittier of the Patrick S. Gilmore band introduced the instrument in 1888, and it was used widely in both school and service bands for several decades. Harold Brasch (see “List of important players” below) brought the British-style compensating euphonium to the United States c. 1939, but the double-belled euphonium may have remained in common use even into the 1950s and 1960s. In any case, they have become rare (they were last in Conn’s advertisements in the 1940s, and King’s catalog in the 1960s), and are generally unknown to younger players. They are chiefly known now through their mention in the song “Seventy-Six Trombones” from the musical The Music Man by Meredith Willson.
A marching version of the euphonium may be found in marching band, though it is often replaced by its smaller, easier-to-carry cousin, the marching baritone (which has a similar bell and valve configuration to a trumpet). Marching euphoniums are used by marching bands in schools, and in Drum and Bugle Corps, and some corps (such as the Blue Devils and Phantom Regiment) march all-euphonium sections rather than only marching Baritone or a mix of both. Depending on the manufacturer, the weight of these instruments can be straining to the average marcher and require great strength to hold during practices and performances, leading to nerve problems in the right pinky, a callous on the left hand, and possibly back and arm problems. Another form of the marching euphonium is the convertible euphonium. Recently widely produced, the horn resembles a convertible tuba, being able to change from a concert upright to a marching forward bell on either the left or right shoulder. These are mainly produced by Jupiter or Yamaha, but other less expensive versions can be found.
Five valve euphonium
The five valve euphonium (noncompensating) is an extremely rare variation of the euphonium manufactured in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Britain’s Besson musical instrument company and Highams of Manchester Musical Instrument Company. Besson and Highams’s Clearbore five valve vintage euphoniums are among the rarest and most valuable in existence.
The Besson five valve euphonium featured the standard three piston valves horizontally on top, but had an additional two piston valves off the side. The standard euphonium has eight possible fingering and non-fingering positions by which sound is produced. The Besson and the Highams ‘clearbore’ model rare fourth and fifth extra ‘side’ valves change the possible fingering and non-fingering positions from eight to thirty-two.
The term ‘five valve euphonium’ does not refer to variations of the double bell euphonium made by various brass instrument companies during the same time period.Some of the double-bell euphoniums had five valves, with the fifth valve either on top with the other four, or by itself off to the side, but the double-bell fifth valve was used for switching the sound to the second smaller trombone-sized bell, and not for changing the fingering pitch of the instrument. Also, Cerveny Musical Instruments
manufactures several euphoniums with five vertical rotary valves today, but this is an unrelated recent development.
Performance venues and professional job opportunities
The euphonium has historically been exclusively a band instrument (rather than an orchestra or jazz instrument), whether of the wind or brass variety, where it is frequently featured as a solo instrument. Because of this, the euphonium has been called the “king of band instruments”, or the “cello of the band”, because of its similarity in timbre and ensemble role to the stringed instrument. Euphoniums typically have extremely important parts in many marches (such as those by John Philip Sousa), and in brass band music of the British tradition.
Other performance venues for the euphonium are the tuba-euphonium quartet or larger tuba-euphonium ensemble; the brass quintet, where it can supply the tenor voice, though the trombone is much more common in this role; or in mixed brass ensembles. Though these are legitimate performance venues, paid professional jobs in these areas are almost non-existent; they are much more likely to be semi-professional or amateur in nature. Most of the United States Armed Forces service bands include a tuba-euphonium quartet made up of players from the band that occasionally performs in its own right.
The euphonium is not traditionally an orchestral instrument and has never been common in symphony orchestras. However, there are a handful of works, mostly from the late Romantic period, in which composers wrote a part for baryton (German) or tenor tuba (most notably, Holst’s Planets Suite, which has many solos for baritone and euphonium), and these are universally played on euphonium, frequently by a trombone player. In addition, the euphonium is sometimes used in older orchestral works as a replacement for its predecessors, such as the ophicleide, or, less correctly, the bass trumpet or the Wagner tuba, both of which are significantly different instruments, and still in use today. At the bottom of the article are some of the well-known orchestral works in which the euphonium is commonly used (whether or not the composer originally specified it).
Finally, while the euphonium was not historically part of the standard jazz big band or combo, the instrument’s technical facility and large range make it well-suited to a jazz solo role, and a jazz euphonium niche has been carved out over the last 40 or so years, largely starting with the pioneer Rich Matteson (see “List of important players” below). The euphonium can also double on a trombone part in a jazz combo. Jazz euphoniums are most likely to be found in tuba-euphonium groups, though modern funk or rock bands occasionally feature a brass player doubling on euphonium, and this trend is growing.
Due to this dearth of performance opportunities, aspiring euphonium players in the United States are in a rather inconvenient position when seeking future employment. Often, college players must either obtain a graduate degree and go on to teach at the college level, or audition for one of the major or regional military service bands.
Because these bands are relatively few in number and the number of euphonium positions in the bands is small (2–4 in most service bands), job openings do not occur very often and when they do are highly competitive; before the current slate of openings in four separate bands, the last opening for a euphonium player in an American service band was in May 2004. A career strictly as a solo performer, unaffiliated with any university or performing ensemble, is a very rare sight, but some performers, such as Riki McDonnell, have managed to do it.
In Britain the strongest euphonium players are most likely to find a position in a brass band, but even though they often play at world-class levels, the members of the top brass bands are in most cases unpaid amateurs. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of brass bands in Britain ranging in standard from world class to local bands. Almost all brass bands in Britain perform regularly, particularly during the summer months. A large number of bands also enter contests against other brass bands of a similar standard. Each band requires two euphoniums (principal and second) and consequently there are considerable opportunities for euphonium players.
Due to limited vocational opportunities, there are a considerable number of relatively serious, quasi-professional avocational euphonium players participating in many higher-caliber unpaid ensembles.
College use in the United States
Unlike a generation or two ago, many colleges with music programs now offer students the opportunity to major in euphonium. However, due to the small number of euphonium students at most schools , it is possible, and even likely, that they will study with a professor whose major instrument is not the euphonium. Most often tubas and euphoniums will be combined into a studio taught by one professor, and at small schools they may be grouped with trombones and/or French horns as well, taught
by one low brass professor. Universities will usually require professors in this situation to have a high level of proficiency on all the instruments they teach, and some of the best college euphonium studios are taught by non-euphonium players.
The euphonium world is and has become more crowded than is commonly thought, and there have been many noteworthy players throughout the instrument’s history. Traditionally, three main national schools of euphonium playing have been discernible: American, British, and Japanese. Now, euphoniumists are able to learn this specific art in many other countries around the world today.
German Ferdinand Sommer, if one discounts the claims of Moritz and Sax each of whose horns also approached a euphonium in nature, in addition to being credited with inventing the euphonium as the Sommerhorn in 1843, as a soloist on the horn, qualifies as the first euphonium player to significantly advance and alter the understanding of the instrument. Below are a select few of the players most famous and influential in their respective countries, and whose contributions to the euphonium world are undeniable, in terms of recordings, commissions, pedagogy, and increased recognition of the instrument.
Alfred James Phasey (1834-1888), English ophicleide, baritone and euphonium artist credited with modifying the bore of the baritone saxhorn, precursor of the baritone horn, to enlarge it and make it more reasonant thereby creating the first true euphonium which he went on to popularize as a performer and author of an early instructional method for tenor brass. Steven Mead, English euphonium soloist and professor at the Royal Northern College of Music noted internationally for advancing the British euphonium sound. David Thornton, principal euphonium of the Brighouse and Rastrick Band and student of Steven Mead noted for winning several prestigious international competitions and advancing the British euphonium sound through broadcast as well as recording media.
Simone Mantia (1873–1951), an Italian-born American baritone horn/euphonium virtuoso and also trombone artist at the start of the 20th century. Playing as soloist with the Sousa and the Pryor Bands, Mantia was the first euphonium virtuoso to record and popularized this non-orchestral instrument in the United States.
Leonard Falcone (1899–1985), Italian-born American baritone/euphonium soloist, arranger, professor, Director of Bands at Michigan State University, and teacher of many noted euphonium artists. Falcone advanced an operatic passionate baritone style and is the namesake of the Leonard Falcone International Tuba and Euphonium Festival, the leading venue for the instrument in the United States.
Arthur W. Lehman, (1917–2009), American euphonium soloist known as ‘Art’, Recording Artist, United States Marine Band, noted euphonium author of works such as The Art of Euphonium. Lehman was a student of Harold Brasch and Simone Mantia and advanced the concept of a rich resonant sound with no vibrato pioneered by Mantia.
Brian Bowman, former soloist with the U.S. Navy Band (1971–75) and U.S. Air Force Band (1976–91); now professor of euphonium at the University of North Texas, co-editor of “Arban’s Method for Trombone and Euphonium”. Bowman innovated a fusion of the mellow British sound with deep passion heard in Falcone recordings, becoming the best known American artist at the end of the 20th century through recording, teaching and the first euphonium recital at Carnegie Hall.
Toru Miura, professor of euphonium at the Kunitachi College of Music; soloist and clinician who was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the International Tuba Euphonium Association (formerly TUBA) for his role in promoting the instrument.
The euphonium repertoire consists of solo literature and orchestral or, more commonly, band parts written for the euphonium. Since its invention in 1843, the euphonium has always had an important role in ensembles, but solo literature was slow to appear, consisting of only a handful of lighter solos until the 1960s. Since then, however, the breadth and depth of the solo euphonium repertoire has increased dramatically. In the current age, there has been a huge number of new commissions and repertoire development and promotion through Steven Mead’s World of the Euphonium Series and the Beyond the Horizon series from Euphonium.com. There has also been a vast number of new commissions by more and more players and a proliferation of large scale Consortium Commissions that are occurring including current ones in 2008 and 2009 organized by Brian Meixner (Libby Larson), Adam Frey (The Euphonium Foundation Consortium), and Jason Ham (David Gillingham).
Upon its invention, it was clear that the euphonium had, compared to its predecessors the serpent and ophicleide, a wide range and had a consistently rich, pleasing sound throughout that range. It was flexible both in tone quality and intonation and could blend well with a variety of ensembles, gaining it immediate popularity with composers and conductors as the principal tenor-voices solo instrument in brass band settings, especially in Britain. It is no surprise, then, that when British composers – some of the same ones who were writing for brass bands – began to write serious, original music for the concert band in the early 20th century, they used the euphonium in a very similar role.
When American composers also began writing for the concert band as its own artistic medium in the 1930s and 1940s, they continued the British brass and concert band tradition of using the euphonium as the principal tenor-voiced solo. This is not to say that composers, then and now, valued the euphonium only for its lyrical capabilities. Indeed, examination of a large body of concert band literature reveals that the euphonium functions as a “jack of all trades.”
Though the euphonium was, as previously noted, embraced from its earliest days by composers and arrangers in band settings, orchestral composers have, by and large, not taken advantage of this capability. There are, nevertheless, several orchestral works, a few of which are standard repertoire, in which composers have called for instruments, such as the Wagner tuba, for which euphonium is commonly substituted today.
In contrast to the long-standing practice of extensive euphonium use in wind bands and orchestras, there was until approximately forty years ago literally no body of solo literature written specifically for the euphonium, and euphoniumists were forced to borrow the literature of other instruments. Fortunately, given the instrument’s multifaceted capabilities discussed above, solos for many different instruments are easily adaptable to performance on the euphonium.
The earliest surviving solo composition written specifically for euphonium or one of its saxhorn cousins is the Concerto per Flicorno Basso (1872) by Amilcare Ponchielli. For almost a century after this, the euphonium solo repertoire consisted of only a dozen or so virtuosic pieces, mostly light in character. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, American composers began to write the first of the “new school” of serious, artistic solo works specifically for euphonium. Since then, there has been a virtual explosion of solo repertoire for the euphonium. In a mere four decades, the solo literature has expanded from virtually zero to thousands of pieces. More and more composers have become aware of the tremendous soloistic capabilities of the euphonium, and have constantly “pushed the envelope” with new literature in terms of tessitura, endurance, technical demands, and extended techniques.
Finally, the euphonium has, thanks to a handful of enterprising individuals, begun to make inroads in jazz, pop and other non-concert performance settings.