Instruments | Saxophone | Late Romantic | Classical
Adolphe Sax’s most famous invention, the saxophone, was patented in 1846. This new family of instruments is a cross between the single-reed woodwind family and the keyed brass instruments of the early nineteenth century such as the ophicleides, which are said to have influenced him. Each member of the family combines the single reed and mouthpiece, familiar from the clarinet, with a wide, conical brass body. It is fingered entirely with keys and is another instrument to have felt the effects of Theobald Boehm’s arrangement for flute keywork and fingering.
The saxophone, which is generally thought to come in four sizes (soprano, alto, tenor and bass are the most frequently encountered), was originally conceived of as a family of 14, comprising orchestral and military band subsets of seven each. The early instruments could manage about three octaves between them, though the highest notes were of poor quality. The range has been extended since Sax’s lifetime and additional instruments, such as the sub-contrabass, have been built. The sopranino in E flat, the highest of the family, can be heard in Ravel’s Boléro. In the orchestra, the saxophone was initially written for by French composers such as Saint-Saëns, Delibes and Bizet. Because the saxophone’s early successes were in France and in band music, when Strauss took his Symphonia domestica to New York in 1904 finding the necessary four saxophonists proved a major headache.
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