Hero of the Day - Adolphie Sax

Antoine-Joseph "Adolphe" Sax (6 November 1814 – c. 7 February 1894) was a Belgian musical instrument designer and musician who played the flute and clarinet, and is well known for having invented the saxophone. He also invented the saxotromba, saxhorn and saxtuba.


Early life

Antoine-Joseph Sax was born in Dinant, Belgium. His father, Charles-Joseph Sax, was an instrument designer himself, who made several changes to the design of the horn. Adolphe began to make his own instruments at an early age, entering two of his flutes and a clarinet into a competition at the age of 15. He subsequently studied those two instruments at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.


Having left the school, Sax began to experiment with new instrument designs, while his father continued to make conventional instruments to bring money into the household. Adolphe's first important invention was an improvement of the bass clarinet design, which he patented at the age of 24. Sax relocated permanently to Paris in 1841 and began working on a new set of instruments exhibited there in 1844. These were valved bugles, and although he had not invented the instrument itself, his examples were so much more successful than those of his rivals that they became known as saxhorns. They range in approximately seven different sizes, and paved the path to the creation of the flugelhorn. Saxhorns are widely used today in concert bands and sometimes in orchestras. The saxhorn also laid the groundwork for the modern euphonium.

Sax also developed the saxotromba family, valved brass instruments with narrower bore than the saxhorns, in 1845, though they survived only briefly.
Saxhorn instruments spread rapidly throughout the world. The saxhorn valves were accepted as state of the art and are largely unchanged today. The advances made by Adolphe Sax were soon followed by the British brass band movement which exclusively adopted the saxhorn range. The Jedforest Instrumental Band formed in 1854 and The Hawick Saxhorn Band formed in 1855, within the Scottish Borders, a decade after saxhorn models became available.

The period around 1840 saw Sax inventing the clarinette-bourdon, an early unsuccessful design of contrabass clarinet. He developed around this time the instrument for which he is now best known, the saxophone, patented on 28 June 1846. The saxophone was invented for use in both orchestras and concert bands. Composer Hector Berlioz wrote approvingly of the new instrument in 1842. By 1846 Sax had designed, on paper, a full range of saxophones (from sopranino to subcontrabass). Although they never became standard orchestral instruments, the saxophones made his reputation and secured him a job, teaching at the Paris Conservatoire in 1857.

Sax continued to make instruments later in life and presided over a new saxophone class at the Paris Conservatoire. Rival instrument makers attacked the legitimacy of his patents and mounted a long campaign of litigation against Sax and his company. He was driven into bankruptcy in 1856 and again in 1873.
Sax suffered from lip cancer between 1853 and 1858 but made a full recovery. He died in 1894 in Paris and was interred in section 5 (Avenue de Montebello) at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.

Wikipedia: Adolphe Sax

Lived in Shed

When he arrived in Paris, he was forced to live in a shed and to borrow money in order to get himself established. But his fortunes turned around when Halévy introduced him to Hector Berlioz, who in addition to being France's most controversial composer was also an influential music critic. In 1842 Sax showed Berlioz an early version of the baritone saxophone, an instrument different from any other that had been made up to that time. It had the power of brass instruments, but it was sounded with a reed and had the expressive, voice-like qualities of reed woodwinds. Berlioz sent Sax away with the remark that on the following day Sax would know what he, Berlioz, thought of the instrument. Sax spent a nervous night before picking up the Journal des Débats, the most influential arts publication of the day in Paris, where he read Berlioz's words, as quoted in an article contained on the Saxgourmet Web site: “He [Sax] is a calculator, an acoustician, and when required, a smelter, a turner and, if need be, at the same time an embosser. He can think and act. He invents, and he accomplishes.”

Received His Patent

Sax received his patent in 1846 and won his gold medal at the Paris Industrial Exposition in 1849. This did not end his legal problems, however, as lawsuits continued to plague him for years. Sax's workshop sold some 20,000 instruments between 1843 and 1860, but he was not a talented money manager, and sales were not enough to keep him solvent. He filed for bankruptcy three times, in 1852, 1873, and 1877, and he was saved from a fourth debacle only by the intervention of another of his admirers, Emperor Napoleon III. Sax continued to devise improvements to his instruments, and he taught at the Paris Conservatory beginning in 1858.

In 1858 Sax was diagnosed with lip cancer, generally a death sentence at the time, but he was successfully treated by an Afro-French herbalist. He had five children by a Spanish-born mistress, Louise-Adèle Maor, whom he never married, reportedly because he did not want to acknowledge the liaison because he felt her family was too poor. Sax's son Adolphe-Edouard followed him into the business and maintained the Sax workshop into the twentieth century; it was absorbed by the Selmer company, which still exists today, in 1928. Sax wrote a method or learners' manual for the saxophone and continued to promote it vigorously in the field of classical music, but it never caught on strongly in the symphony orchestra.

In 1870 Sax's position at the Paris Conservatory was terminated in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, and he lived his final years in straitened circumstances, kept out of poverty only by a small pension arranged for him by an admirer. By the time of his death on February 7, 1894, at the age of 80, Sax may have feared that his life's work had been compromised; the saxophone was well entrenched in band music but had little presence in the classical sphere. He had no way of knowing that his creation, transplanted to the United States and dispersed around the city of New Orleans by military bandsmen returning from the Spanish-American War around 1900, would evolve into an icon of American music, played enthusiastically by musicians ranging from schoolchildren up to Bill Clinton, the forty-second president of the United States.

Encyclopedia.com: Adolphe Sax