[Fr. saxophone; Ger. Saxophon; It. sassofone]
A single-reed wind instrument invented by the Belgian-born maker Adolphe Sax in about 1840, and granted a 15-year patent in 1846. Sax originally intended the instrument for use in orchestras and military bands. The saxophone combines a single-reed mouthpiece with a wide-bore conical tube of metal. Acoustically, it behaves as do other cone-bodied reed instruments, ‘overblowing’ at the octave to yield a second register.
In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification the saxophone is classed as a clarinet.
The sound-producing element on a saxophone is a single beating reed which operates on the same principal as that of the clarinet.
Saxophones are complex musical tools consisting of over three hundred separate parts, most of which have to be assembled by hand. Adolphe Sax used brass for his saxophones, and the majority of modern instruments are still made of this alloy. Some firms make sections of the body, or all of it, of copper, bronze or precious metals such as silver. Besides making professional instruments, some manufacturers also offer semi-professional saxophones and models for learners.
Saxophones were conceived as a family of instruments. Military band instruments were pitched in Eb and Bb, orchestral ones in F and C. Each group comprised the seven sizes of sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass and contrabass. With the exception of the soprano instrument in C, all saxophones are transposing instruments. Alto and tenor saxophones are by far the most frequently played sizes, followed by the soprano and baritone instruments. The sopranino, bass and contrabass saxophones are not played very often. At the end of the 20th century the contrabass (in Eb) was made only by the Italian firm of Orsi.
Saxophones are held by a neck strap, although sopranino and soprano instruments can be played without this aid, like a clarinet. Because of their great weight, baritone and bass saxophones can be mounted on a frame with rollers enabling them to be moved into any comfortable position for performance. In line with the usual practice of European wind instruments, the left hand is placed above the right, closer to the mouthpiece.
The saxophone began to be taught at music colleges and conservatories, such as Paris (1857–70, but not again until 1942), Brussels (from 1867), Lille (from 1879), Berlin (Stern Conservatory from 1902; Musikhochschule from 1931), and Trinity College of Music, London (from 1931). At first the instrument was taught by clarinettists, with the aid of gramophone records, or was very often self-taught from printed tutors, which were thus of great significance for the acceptance and distribution of the saxophone. Most 19th-century saxophone tutors were published in Paris; these include works by Kastner (1846), Victor Cornette (c1854), L.-A. Mayeur (1868, 1879 and 1896) and H.E. Klosé (1877–81).
Orchestral works and operas which incorporate saxophones in the score include: Ambroise Thomas, Hamlet, 1868; Bizet, L'Arlésienne, 1872; Massenet, Hérodiade, 1881, and Werther, 1892; Strauss, Symphonia domestica, 1902–3; Milhaud, La Création du monde, 1923; Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue, 1924; and Ravel, Bolero, 1928. Solo concert pieces for saxophone have been composed by Gilson, 1902; Florent Schmitt, 1918; Debussy, 1904/1919; Borck, 1932; Hindemith, 1933; Ibert, 1934; Glazunov, 1936; and Frank Martin, 1938.
Saxophones were also employed in military bands from the time of their invention. French bands initially had two saxophones as standard (1845–8); this number rose to eight after 1854, but dropped back to four in 1894. Different countries employed varying numbers of saxophones; in the European military band competition at the Paris Exposition of 1867 the Parisian Garde performed with eight, the Garde Impériale with six, the Imperial Russian Band with eight, and the Dutch and Belgian bands with four saxophones each. In Italian military bands three saxophones were introduced in 1901; statistics for 1884 mention eight saxophones in Spanish bands and as many as ten in Japanese bands.
Military and touring bands, circus and music hall performances all contributed to the dissemination of the saxophone before the First World War. Saxophones were recommended as the ideal musical instrument for old and young, home and church, beginners and advanced performers, and they were produced to a high standard of quality and sold in large quantities. Unusually talented soloists such as Wiedöft and Krüger encouraged this trend with their popular gramophone records in the 1920s, and saxophone bands with up to 100 players existed.
Saxophones became increasingly prominent in the field of jazz after about 1920. Their use became characteristic of Kansas City jazz, a style that developed around 1925 and produced such outstanding soloists as Lester Young (1909–54), Coleman Hawkins (1904–69) and, later, Charlie Parker (1920–55). When the Big Bands became popular in the swing era of the 1930s, saxophones were among their leading instruments. Performers who came to prominence in the 40s and 50s include Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderly (1928–75), John Coltrane (1926–67), Herb Geller (b 1928), Lee Konitz (b 1927), Emil Mangelsdorff (b 1925), Gerry Mulligan (1927–96), Bud Shank (b 1926) and Phil Woods (b 1931). Jazz and classical saxophonists of the next generation include Bill Evans (b 1958), Jean-Yves Fourmeau, Frederick Hemke, Bernd Konrad, Dave Liebman (b 1946), Jean-Marie Londeix, Branford Marsalis (b 1960), Leo van Oostrom, Paquito d'Rivera, Eugene Rousseau and Heiner Wiberny.
Reference (with liberty): New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, (editors), 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Jean Lahoud
- Khaled Hindawi
- Tamim Hilal
- Thomas Hornig
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