National Saxophone Day!
National Saxophone Day!
Today is National Saxophone Day!
Here are some tidbits about the saxophone and its inventor, Adolphe Sax
1. It Has a Unique History
The saxophone is the only instrument in wide use today that was invented by a single individual — a musical instrument designer named Adolphe Sax, hence the name saxophone.
Sax was born in Belgium in 1814. He was a versatile musician who could play many wind instruments and he set out to create one that would not only embody the soloistic and lyrical nature of a woodwind but also be better heard among brass instruments. In 1846, his invention, the saxophone, was patented in Paris.
Fun Fact: Though a creative and enthusiastic person, Sax was not the luckiest child (see further below).
2. There Once Were Fourteen Different Saxophones
Adolphe Sax thought the saxophone
would be capable of fitting in with a variety of ensembles, and so he made them
in a range of sizes; from the sopranino in the high range to the contrabass in
the low range. (He also invented the saxhorn, a brass instrument
with valves similar to today’s flugelhorn and alto horn.)
However, of the fourteen different types Adolphe invented, there are only four types in widespread use today. In pitch order they are, from high to low, the Bb soprano, Eb alto, Bb tenor and Eb baritone. Each of these saxophones has a range that spans two and a half octaves.
3. It’s the Only Brass Woodwind
From its earliest days, the saxophone was always made of brass. However, because it generates sound with a single reed, it is classified as a woodwind. The only other metallic woodwind is the flute, which was made entirely of wood at first — something that’s sometimes seen even today.
4. It’s All About Bringing Balance
Because the saxophone was designed to bridge the gap between brass and woodwinds, it plays an important role in creating tonal balance. Not only does it serve to blend the divergent tones of these two groups, but it can also help support both high and low woodwinds. Due to this degree of versatility, it plays an important role as a middle voice in a large ensemble.
5. It Has a Dynamic Personality
The dynamic range of the saxophone is the widest of all the woodwinds. Because it has a conical bore and not a cylindrical one (in other words, its tube becomes progressively narrower toward one end, as opposed to a clarinet, where the diameter of the tube remains relatively constant), the saxophone can produce a sound that is surprisingly similar to the human voice. This gives it a wide range of emotional expression and makes it ideal as a solo instrument, so it should come as no surprise that the saxophone features prominently in the history of jazz music. Less well known is the fact that the sax often plays an important role in classical music too (particularly in the works of French composers), and is used in a wide range of instrumental groupings, including chamber groups, orchestra, and wind ensembles.
Facts about Adolphe Sax
Sax faced many near-death experiences. Over the course of his childhood, he:
- fell from a height of three floors, hit his head on a stone and could barely stand afterwards.
- at the age of three, drank a bowl full of vitriolized water and later swallowed a pin.
- burnt himself seriously in a gunpowder explosion.
- fell onto a hot cast-iron frying pan, burning his side.
- survived poisoning and suffocation in his own bedroom where varnished items were kept during the night.
- was hit on the head by a cobblestone.
- fell into a river and nearly died.
- His mother once said that "he's a child condemned to misfortune; he won't live." His neighbors called him "little Sax, the ghost".
Other Facts about Adolphe Sax
- In 1894 Sax died in complete poverty.
- Adolphe Sax was featured on Belgian Franc banknotes between 1995 and 2002.
- His picture and a saxophone picture are on the 200 Belgian Francs banknote.
Happy Saxophone Day!
Director of Bands at O'Connor Elementary School