Many consider the saxophone as the sexiest musical instrument because of its sweet and seductive sound. For this reason, we are often enthralled whenever we listen to the saxophone. Of course, the saxophone is a fairly young instrument compared to other musical instruments whose origins are traceable to ancient times. Moreover, it holds the distinction of being the only instrument known to be invented by one man, and it is named after him. His name is Adolphe Sax!
Adolphe Sax and His Inventions
Adolphe Sax’s complete name is Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax, and he lived from 1814 to 1894 and was born in Dinant, Belgium. He was an inventor and musician. His mother and father were also instrument designers who made innovations in the French horn’s design. At an early age, Adolphe already showed his penchant for inventing at an early age of 15.
He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, where he learned much about music. Sax started to experiment with many musical designs after leaving the Conservatory. He made essential innovations in the bass clarinet design, which at the age of 24, he patented.
He also worked on valved bugles producing a new set of this instrument. He also worked on the saxotromba family. He also invented the clarinette-bourdon, and in 1846, on June 28, he patented the saxophone.
The Invention of Saxophone
It was on June 28, 1846, when Sax got the saxophone patented. His initial intention was for the saxophone to be used in military bands and orchestras. He came up with various saxophone designs that same year, from sopranino to that of the sub contrabass. However, not all of his designs were actualized. Hector Berlioz once wrote positively about Sax’s new invention. Yet, the saxophone did not get included in the orchestra soon after being invented.
Nevertheless, because of the saxophone’s intrinsic characteristics, being able to play highly technical passages with ease like woodwinds, yet, capable of projecting like brass instruments led many French military bands to include the sax. Sax’s growing reputation, then, led to a job teaching in 1857 at the Paris Conservatory.
Sax still went on making instruments and also spearheaded at the Conservatory the new saxophone program. Some rival instrument makers questioned the legitimacy of Sax’s patents. Sax, in turn, sued these rival instrument makers for patent infringement. For over 20 years, these legal troubles hounded Sax, which might have led to several instances of bankruptcy.
Saxophone indeed has the brass projection and the woodwind’s agility. Sax wants the saxophone to get overblown at the octave, allowing it to have identical fingering for the two registers. He also created the saxophone with a single-reed mouthpiece along with a conical brass body. His patent of the saxophone includes 14 versions, which he split into 2 categories.
Some instruments in this series were pitched in both F and C and were made by Sax, though those pitched in Bb and Eb became the most popular and standard ones. The saxophones he invented has a range of around 2 and 1/2 octaves. His patent expired in the year 1866. Soon after, many instrument manufacturers made their innovations to the keywork and design.
Sax based his original key work on the Triebert system (left hand) and the Boehm clarinet (right hand). This design, however, was simplistic. Moreover, certain wide intervals and legato passages were difficult to finger. Later, this system was innovated by adding extra keys, alternate fingerings, and linkage mechanisms to facilitate some intervals’ fingering.
The early development of the saxophone led to the extension of the upper keyed range to E. It was further extended to F just above the staff. Buffet Crampon Company obtained the patent to extend the saxophone’s bell and add an extra key to increase the saxophone’s range downwards by a haft tone to Bb. This extension became the current standard for most modern-day saxophone designs, saved for the baritone saxophones, which are keyed to low A. The F becomes the uppermost standard for almost a century until the introduction of the Altissimo F♯ key. The saxophone was included in 1846 in Gioacchino Rossini’s Robert Bruce. In the 1840s up to 1850s, the saxophone was utilized in small classical ensembles as a solo instrument. It also got included in British and French military bands.
Moreover, saxophone method books began publications in the succeeding years, and the conservatories in France and other countries in Europe began to offer saxophone instruction. The French Garde REpublicaine band also began including in 1856 eight saxophones. Years later, saxophone had been used in orchestral scores, though these were mostly experimental. Besides, in 1853-54, Louis Antoine Jullien’s orchestra features on a concert tour the soprano saxophone in the United States.
The saxophone got early initial support from European classical music communities. This initial support and interest, however, waned in the late decades of the 19th Century. Moreover, Paris Conservatory suspended saxophone teaching from 1870 to 1900, stagnating classical saxophone repertoire development. Nevertheless, saxophone got promoted well in the United States during the same period, through Patrick Gilmore’s effort, who led the 22nd Regiment band along with Edward A. Lefebre, who had a business association with Sax. Lefebre, a Dutch immigrant, arrived in New York in 1872 along with a British opera company. That summer, Gilmore staged the World Peace Jubilee and the International Music Festival in Boston. Lefebre was the clarinetist for the Great Festival Orchestra during the event, and during the 1873 fall, Gilmore reorganized the 22nd Regiment band and solicited the service of Lefebre. Gilmore’s band featured the use of soprano-alto-tenor-baritone saxophone section that performed likewise as a quartet. The association between Gilmore and Lefebre lasted until the demise of Gilmore in 1892. Yet, during their associations, Lefebre also worked with smaller ensembles and increased the saxophone’s integration into popular and classical music repertoire. His effort brought about the broad adoption and use of the saxophone.
In the late 1880s, he liaised with C.G. Conn, a brass instrument manufacturer, to improve and begin producing enhanced saxophones for the American market. Hence, in the early 1890s, regular production of saxophones started in Conn, further increasing the available saxophones in the U.S. market. He also partnered with Carl Fischer, a music publisher, to distribute his transcriptions, original works, and arrangements for saxophones. He also partnered with Conn to increase the teaching of saxophone in the United States. The Lefebre-Conn-Fischer association lasted until the 20th Century’s first decade. Moreover, Fischer did not stop publishing new arrangements for Lefebre’s works even after Lefebre’s death.
Saxophone in the Early 20th Century
The popularity of the saxophone in the early twentieth century remained marginal. Until this point, it remained a novelty instrument relative to the classical music world, though many musical repertoires were written about it, and many musical niches arose during this period. The saxophone’s use in the Vaudeville and ragtime groups paved the groundwork for its jazz and dance orchestra utilization.
The saxophone market, however, grew steadily in the U.S. For example, the Martin Band Instrument Company began saxophone production from 1905 to 1912, followed by the Cleveland Band Instrument Company in 1916.
With the introduction of the C-melody and C-soprano saxophones in the market, saxophone’s popularity further increased. These new models of saxophones could play in key with that of the piano. However, during the Great Depression, saxophone production came to a halt. Nevertheless, Jazz groups made use of the saxophone in the 1920s, through the influence of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra.
Moreover, from the 1920s to the 1930s, classical saxophone’s modern era began, spearheaded by Marcel Mule along with Sigurd Raschèr, and the development of classical repertoire for saxophone.
Furthermore, the saxophone had been increasingly used for more technically and dynamically demanding playing styles, further enhanced the saxophone’s designs. You would find the early saxophones with two separate octave keys, which the left thumb-operated for controlling its two-octave vents, necessary for larger and alto saxophones. Around the turn of the century, these new mechanisms let the left thumb manipulate the two-octave vents using an octave key.
Besides, the design of keywork improved quickly during the 1920s and the 1930s, leading to more ergonomic designs.
These improvements led to the standardizations of the other parts of the saxophone, and during the 1920s, the supporting front F mechanism for alternate fingerings (high E and F), plus the stack-linked G# key action became the standards during this decade. Additionally, the left hand (table key) mechanisms for controlling the bell keys and G# were also improved. A new bore design also led to improved intonation, tonal qualities, and dynamic response. The 1920s also was the time for design experimentation that led to many other improvements and enhancements in the saxophone design.
The Modern-day Saxophones
Although the saxophone is a relatively new musical instrument, it quickly reached its modern-day form. Prompted by the feverish improvement in its design, the modern-day saxophone emerged from the saxophones of the 1930s and 40s. C.G. Conn introduced the right-side bell keys on baritones. King also introduced it on tenors and altos. Then, Selmer further revolutionalized the left-hand table mechanics with the introduction of Balanced action in 1936. In 1948, Selmer provided the Super Action saxophones with offset right and left-hand stack keys. Forty years after, almost every manufacturer adopted their final layout. Soon after, the high F3 was likewise accepted, although it took several decades for this innovation to get universally accepted.
In the 1940s, Marcel Mule started the study of saxophone in the Conservatoire de Paris as a classical instrument. Larry Teal also followed suit at the University of Michigan, U.S., after a decade. Other American institutions also established the study of saxophone afterward.
Since the 1950s, non-metallic bodied saxophone occasionally appeared. However, such instruments did not gain much acceptance because of some inherent issues. Saxophone’s fingering scheme did not change much since it was invented. However, such a fingering scheme is fraught with inherent acoustic problems due to closed keys under the first open tone hole. This affects response and muffles a bit some notes. The Leblanc Rationale and System (saxophones) have remedied these acoustic problems concomitant with closed keys.
Less than a century ago, saxophone’s use was only as supporting roles in orchestra or jazz bands. It can’t stand on its own because it was awkwardly pitched somewhere between the woodwind and the brass. Yet, it is useful for blending for pure comic relief.
The saxophone gained its lead role afterward, and countless men were listed as belonging to the most significant saxophonists of all time. Some of these great saxophonists include Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, and many other great names.
Saxophone will continue to amaze us, and it will also continue to evolve. After all, it is a very young instrument compared to instruments like the flute and the harp.