Sax History – Part 1
It Came from Belgium
His name was Adolphe Sax and he invented the saxophone in 1842, making it one of the newest instruments we have on our planet. I’ve heard some people call it a brass instrument but although it’s made from a certain type of brass mixed with other metals, it uses a single reed on the mouthpiece to make the sound which puts it in the woodwind family, like the clarinet. Other woodwinds are the oboe, bassoon, and bagpipes, but these all use double reeds. The recorder and flute are woodwinds as well.
Appearantly Mr. Sax drew up plans for 14 different types of saxophones. I don’t know how far he got building them all but I’ve heard of 10 and I’ve seen 8 of the different voices. The 6 pictured below from left to right are; sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass.
The other 4 I know of that aren’t pictured here are the sopranissimo, even smaller than the sopranino, C melody, which would fit between the alto and tenor, the contrabass, and subcontrabass which are bigger than the bass! Some of these come in different shapes like the curved soprano and the straight tenor. The most popular ones are soprano, alto, tenor,and baritone and these are the voices that make up a saxophone quartet.
sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass
Hard to imagine now but the saxophone didn’t gain instant popularity… quite the opposite. Mr. Sax apparently worked hard to get his new invention to composers and band leaders but the instrumentation of the orchestra had been established for many years and nobody wanted to add a sax section, imagine that… I know a lot of sax fans that wished it would have happened differently, myself included!
Adolphe Sax became the first professor of Saxophone at the Paris Conservatory in 1858. Method books were written and a few more composers were writing for the instrument and finally in 1885 the first one was made in the United States.
Part 2 – Rudy Wiedoeft: America’s first sax star?
There was a bit of a sax craze in America in the early 1900’s and a man who was partly responsible for it was the virtuoso Saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft. Although not widely known today he was very popular in his time. He was an excellent saxophonist with classical training but recorded his own pop style, vaudville, and novelty songs. Stylistically he was rooted in ragtime and classical, pre-jazz era.
His saxes of choice were the alto and the C melody, which has been out of production since the early 1930′s.Give a listen to Rudy’s own Valse Vanite
Now into the 1930′s the classical saxophone had some well known players; Marcel Mule, from France, Sigurd Rascher, German/American, and later the American Eugene Rousseau.
These guys were performing, recording, and having music composed for them. For most saxophonists the alto was by far the most popular choice.
Listen to Eugene Rousseau’s Sonata for alto sax and piano.
The saxophone didn’t make it into the classical orchestra as a section but that didn’t stop people from writing and arranging for saxophone quartets… from Bach to Bartok to Ellington. The sax quartet… it’s a beautiful thing!
Now read the next sax history article: Saxophone History Part 2