It's said that Nature abhors a vacuum—and so, apparently, did Richard Wagner, who devised a brass instrument to bridge a gap he perceived between the horns and the trombones in the orchestra of his day. And so the "Wagner tuba" was born, a brass instrument Wagner designed for the 1876 premiere of his cycle of four "Ring" operas in Bayreuth, Germany, which began on today's date that year with "Das Rheingold"—the first opera in the "Ring" cycle.
Other composers have also scored for Wagner tubas, including Anton Bruckner and Richard Strauss, both ardent Wagner fans, and also Igor Stravinsky, who, though certainly not a Wagnerite, did include Wagner tubas in some of the early versions of his famous ballet scores.
Some contemporary composers include parts for the Wagner tuba in their works as well, and a quartet of these instruments appears in the score of "Stele" by the contemporary Hungarian composer, György Kurtág. Kurtág wrote "Stele" in 1994 for the Berlin Philharmonic and its then music director, Claudio Abbado, after a year spent attending performances and rehearsals by that virtuoso orchestra.
"Stele" is the Greek word for a carved or inscribed stone slab that commemorates a person or event. Kurtág is noted for his short, epigrammatic and very introspective chamber works, and "Stele" is his first major work for a large, conventional, arranged symphony orchestra.