Music‎ > ‎

Variations on the Baritone and Euphonium


As mentioned in the previous section, "Variations on the Trombone", I started performing music in junior high school where I learned to play the trombone in a beginning band class.

Typical style baritone horn
used in my school

While in junior high, I decided to learn the equivalent fingering for the baritone horn since the playing range and mouthpiece is the same for both.  The baritone is not as big as a tuba--the average size is about 30" in height.  The same valve system is also used on trumpets and tubas.  Each valve--used individually and in combination--adds length to the total horn just as extending the trombone slide increases its overall length.

Eb Cornet with top-action rotary valves
J.H.Foote, New York, 1865
If you've never studied how the brass instrument valve system works, here's an explanation:

The valve system adds length to the total length of the horn by selectively adding small loops of tubing.

Pictured at left is a close-up look at the valve tubing from a rotary-valve cornet.  Since the system is standardized, the same principles apply from the smallest cornet to the largest tuba.

Each valve is matched to a small loop of tubing.  The valve allows the airstream to be redirected through the loop and then back into the horn.

The first valve's tubing is twice the length of the second valve's; and the third valve's tubing is equal to the first and second combined.


Besson Euphonium piston valves
    valve 1 lowers the pitch 1 whole tone
    valve 2 lowers the pitch ½ tone
    valve 3 lowers the pitch 1½ tones
I made a chart of equivalent fingerings in the back of my music book:

Since basically everything else about the trombone and baritone horn are the same as far as the mouthpiece, harmonics and lipping up to higher notes in the overtone series, it was an easy transition and fun to play for a change.

However, the trombone was my main instrument so I continued my studies and practicing and haven't played the baritone horn again since my school days.

Until now...

Trombone slide
Baritone Horn 
valve fingering
Fundamental pitch is lowered
½ tone
1 tone
1&2 (or 3)
1½ tones
2 tones
2½ tones
1, 2, & 3
3 tones

Today, I am performing regularly as a trombonist in a symphonic wind ensemble and thought it would be fun to buy an old baritone horn, just for fun!  Amazingly, the fingering just came back to me, even after twenty-five years.  I was playing just like I had never put it down.

Then I started researching this instrument.  What I found was more confusing than the trombone.

History of low brass instruments

The trombone was the first fully chromatic brass instrument and it dates back to the 15th century.  The baritone and euphonium as we know them today have a relatively short history--only about 150 years.  So, to understand what led up to the modern valved-horn, lets take a look back at early attempts to create horns that can play scales.

Early brass instruments such as horns and trumpets had a limit to the number of notes they could play.  They could only play the notes in the overtone series for the key of their fundamental pitch (such as Bb).  If you're not familiar with this term, just think of the notes you hear in a bugle call like Reveille or Taps.  That's about all the notes they could play.  Scales just could not be played.

Notes in overtone series

In early attempts to create horns that could play all the notes of the scale, we see instruments like the serpent, a distant relative of the tuba. 

Used from 1590-1850, it was made of wood and had a cupped mouthpiece, like a trumpet, and was the bass member of a family of wooden horns called cornetts

It had finger holes--like you would see on a flute--to change its pitch; but their placement was more of a convenience to the player than for musical intonation.

Serpent - ca.1815
C. Baudouin, Paris, France

Keyed Bugle


Musical Trivia:
A Russian Bassoon is neither Russian, nor a bassoon.
It is related to the above instrument and, also having a cupped mouthpiece, is considered a brass instrument.

In an effort to make brass instruments that could play all the notes of the scale, brass makers in the late 1700's and early 1800's had invented what were called keyed trumpets and keyed bugles (left).  The tone holes and padded keys resembled those you would see today on a clarinet or saxophone. 

In 1817, Jean Hilaire Asté (a.k.a. Parisian maker Halary)  expanded on the keyed bugle idea to make a big improvement on the serpent.  He invented the "keyed serpent", the ophicleide.  The name is derived from Greek ophis (serpent) and kleis (that which serves for closing).  The invention of the term also marked the first time that a "trade name" was given to a musical instrument by its maker.

It was made of brass rather than wood and its design was borrowed from the successful "folding" style of the bassoon (see sidebar). 

Many sizes of ophicleides were made from alto down to quite large contrabass. 

Ophicleides were commonly used in orchestras and bands in the 19th century, Mendelssohn using it in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1826/42) and Berlioz employing two in his famous Symphonie Fantastique (1830).

This "tone hole and key" method died out in the mid 1800's when piston- and rotor-valved horns became the dominant design.  The ophicleide was replaced by the valved tuba.

Adding length to a horn--rather than covering holes in a horn of total length--was the key to producing a fully-chromatic horn.  Early trumpets and horns were already using extra lengths of tubing--called crooks--to change their key; but the player had to stop playing to pull out one crook and exchange it for another of different length before playing again.  This would allow a horn player to perform horn calls in one key, then as the composer changed keys, they would change crooks and continue playing.

As an alternative to using crooks, one brassmaker made a horn that included all the tubing necessary for any key.  Looking somewhat like a plumber's nightmare is the specimen shown to the right.

This is the Cor Omnitonique or "Omnitonic (many tone) Horn" made in France by Dupont in 1815.

If the player wanted his horn in a different key, he merely pulled the mouthpiece out and moved it to another leadpipe.  Notice the many choices available to the player.

Thankfully, valves were invented to instantly add small lengths of tubing to the total length with the press of a key.  Used singly or in combination, they proved to be the answer to the fully-chromatic horn.
The inventors of the 1800's spawned many designs although many credit Heinrich Stölzel with the first valve design with his patent in 1818.  Over the next twenty years, patents were granted for a great variety of valves and horns. 

The eventual valve method for adding lengths of tubing is described above as my "fingering chart".  The first valve adds enough to lower the pitch a whole tone, and so on...  After many innovators tried various combinations, this became a standard for the valves.  Over the next twenty years, there were many types of valves invented (Stölzel, Berliner pumpen, square, Vienna, et. al.) but the two that survived time are the Périnet piston and the rotor valve.

Detail of top-action rotary valves
(Wurlitzer tenor horn)
Illustrated are:  at far left, a top-action rotary valve tenor horn made between 1860-1870 by John F. Stratton in New York.

Center, another top-action rotary valve tenor horn, R. Wurlitzer & Bro., Cincinnati, OH.  See the detail of the top-action rotary valves in lower picture.

At near left, a piston-valve Sudrophone baryton, late 19th century by François Sudre, Paris.  Note the styling similarity to the "folded" look of the ophicleide.  The Sudrophone also had a unique feature--a mirliton or membrane device on the side of the bell which added a buzzing sound to the tone, simulating a string insturment.  The modern, common example of a mirliton is the kazoo.

For a while, there were variations on how the valve tubing was arranged.  Shown to the right is a detail of a German rotor valve trombone with four valves arranged in a "Bavarian" system.  From right to left in the picture: valve one lowers the tone by a semitone (half-tone); two by two semitones (whole tone); three by three semitones; and four by four semitones.

Eventually, the arrangement of "2-1-3" (semitones) became the standard valve arrangment due to the ease of placement of the smallest loop in the middle.

Even though the valves became standardized, horn designs were still quite varied. 

Four rotor-valve trombone
by Anton Schöpf, Landshut, ca. 1885

With the outbreak of the Civil War in America in 1861, many soldiers wanted to march to band music.  In New York, a military bandmaster, Allen Dodworth, had invented a new style of marching horn (patented in 1838) which was based on an old style marching trombone where the bell pointed backwards over the player's left shoulder.  With the soldiers marching behind the band, they could keep in step as they heard the music.

A complete family of "over-the-shoulder" horns became the most popular band instruments of the Civil War period and were made almost exclusively in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  There were drawbacks, however, to the new design when it came concert formation.  This led to convertible designs where the bell could be taken off and a forward pointed one substituted.

Another of the more unusual of designs is the one shown here.  This is a Centennial model Bb baritone horn made by Henry G. Lehnert in 1875, to commemorate the centennial of our country.  It utilizes rotary valves and is designed to rest on the shoulders of the player as Lehnert's own illustration shows.  There was an entire family of Centennial horns made.


Here's a rare horn from the Italy:  the flicorno basso is pitched in F, like an F tuba but has a mostly cylindrical bore and sounds more like a straight bass (F) trombone. 

Its design is that of the saxhorn family (see below), but this horn was made by Ferdinando Roth in Milan, Italy around the late 1800's. 

Respighi calls for one of these in the last movement of his orchestral tone poem "The Pines of Rome." 

The trumpet/cornet family even extended down into the baritone pitch range.  Shown is a German bass cornet in C made between 1900-1930 by Anton Schöpf in Munich.  Like most horns of the region, it has three side-action rotor valves.  Also note the pigtail bit by the mouthpiece used to bring the key down to Bb, the same pitch as a baritone or euphonium.
There were many inventors creating all kinds of horns. One innovator, a well-known instrument maker in Paris, Adolphe Sax (yes, he created the saxophone!), developed a family of horns in 1845 which he called Saxhorns

They all looked similar but were made in graduated sizes and were given names corresponding to voices in a choir--soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass horn. 

The second half of the 19th century saw increased popularity in brass bands.  That was due in part to the similarity and simplicity of these instruments.  Even the acoustically perfect trombone was fitted with valves.  The treble voices--the cornet and the flugelhorn--also used the same fingering.

Other than the trombone, which thankfully has returned to its more natural state, the family of valved horns continues to live on to this day.

In conclusion, the baritone horn or euphonium as we know it is a relatively new instrument having been around only since the mid-1800's.

Now, the confusion begins:
Step 1:  The tenor and the baritone horn were both pitched in Bb (B-flat).  Studying illustrations from early makers' catalogs (see illustration to right), they also appear about the same size, except that the tenor horn has slightly narrow tubing--or a smaller bore--and a quicker flare at the bell.  These differences affect the timbre of the instrument, giving the tenor horn a brighter sound.  So, although it may play in the same range as the baritone, the tenor horn will not sound quite the same.  More on this below.

Step 2:  Somewhere along the way, the names Tenor and Baritone Horn evolved into Baritone and Euphonium, respectively.

(Still with me?)

Step 3:  American brass makers of the 20th century began turning out what they called "Baritone Horns" but which were more conical in design than the earlier "Tenor Horns".  There were also many design variations.

So now, we have the terms Tenor Horn, Baritone Horn, and Euphonium.  And many people are confused as to which is which.

Page from J. Howard Foote catalog of 1893
Compare the tenor horn (top, center)
and baritone horn (top, right)

Add to this the differing terms used around the world for these horns including the smaller Alto Horn pitched a perfect fourth higher, in Eb:

Alto horn
Tenor horn
Flicorno tenore

Continue to page 2 for:
  • a side-by-side comparison of the baritone horn and the euphonium
  • the many variations in design in including the double-bell euphonium
  • audio examples comparing the sounds of the trombone, baritone horn, and the euphonium