Opera house is determined to blow Wagner’s trumpet

Opera house is determined to blow Wagner’s trumpet


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2023

Opera Ballet Flanders in Belgium has gone to the trouble of building a natural trumpet to Richard Wagner’s specifications for playing on the arrival of Isolde’s ship in the third act of Tristan.

Wagner wanted the trumpet to sound ‘like an alphorn’ with ‘a wooden cup’ and ‘within range of nature’.

The passage itself is very short, but they say no opera house has ever made a proper Wagner horn before.

Here‘s the story.

Prove them wrong?


  • Edoardo says:

    What did they use in Solti’s Tristan DECCA recording?

  • Doc Martin says:

    Is this the start of HIP Wagner?

    In 1945, Bayreuth lost the three bespoke Steer horns used by Hagen in Gotterdammerung to summon the vassals. They were purloined by US GIs as war trophies. They are probably hanging on a wall in Texas or LA.

    Trombones were used instead subsequently. Bayreuth ought to commission replacements.

  • Bone says:

    My trumpet nerd gearhead friends will no doubt salivate at the possibility of playing this instrument.

  • Douglas2 says:

    “With a wooden cup”

    Wouldn’t that refer not to the bell, but to the mouthpiece? As is traditional for the alphorn?

    • roboeman says:

      Yes, I’m sure that’s right and grafting what looks like an early c.19 clarinet bell onto a commonplace natural trumpet is almost certainly not what Wagner intended.

  • Mischa says:

    There was a story from the time of the German occupation of Belgium that a Wagner trumpet was made by a Jewish instrument maker in Anvers on the direct orders of the local Gauleiter. I know no more than that other than it was reportedly used subsequently in both Bruxelles and Liege.

  • Heini says:

    This is what Wagner wrote in the score, “Das englische Horn soll hier die Wirkung eines sehr kräftigen Naturinstrumentes, wie das Alpenhorn, hervorbringen; es ist daher zu rathen, je nach Befund des akustischen Verhältnisses, es durch Hoboen und Clarinetten zu verstärken, falls man nicht, was das zweckmässigste wäre, ein besonderes Instrument (aus Holz) nach dem Modell der Schweizer Alpenhörner hierfür anfertigen lassen wollte, welches seiner Einfachheit wegen
    ( da es nur die Naturscala zu haben braucht) weder schwierig noch kostbar sein wird.”

    By natural scale, he means the notes of the harmonic series, not “within range of nature”, i.e. an instrument with no valves. “Wooden cup”? I guess you mean wooden bell, whereas Wagner suggests the whole instrument should be wooden.

    Google “Holztrompete Tristan” and you will find several references to it’s use and instruments which have been built especially.

    Here in the UK the passage is often played on the tarogato, a tradition which apparently goes back to Mahler.

  • Doc Martin says:

    How about recasting the Bayreuth Bell for Parsifal. The original was melted down during the 1914-18 war. I gather they make do with tubular bells.

  • Hercule says:

    Use a Büchel.

  • Jack says:

    There was a Holztrompete used in Seattle for Tristan in 2011 that was borrowed from a music museum in, I believe, South Dakota. It was a wonderful effect.

  • Arto says:

    Flemish Opera also announced that:

    The direction of Tristan und Isolde will be an immersive experience. The story and the libretto are secondary to the emotional experience and there are therefore no surtitles during the performance.
    Because of the explicit nudity the entry age is 16.

    It’s gonna be an exiting evening!

    • Nicholas says:

      So, “the searing desire that slumbers in Wagner’s music” is insufficient to the Flemish people that they need the visual aid of explicit nudity on stage to supplement their overall experience? Wouldn’t the necessary physical proportions of the body be too challenging for opera singers?

  • Doc Martin says:

    No self respecting seaman would ever use a wooden alphorn. It would be a bosun’s call (whistle) to be sure. Lord Nelson would be turning in his tomb at St. Paul’s.