Sax, Adolphe (actually, Antoine-Joseph)

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Sax, Adolphe (actually, Antoine-Joseph)

Sax, Adolphe (actually, Antoine-Joseph ), Belgian inventor of the saxophone, son of Charles-Joseph Sax; b. Dinant, Nov. 6, 1814; d. Paris, Feb. 4, 1894. He acquired great skill in manipulating instruments from his early youth, and his practical and imaginative ideas led him to undertake improvements of the clarinet and other wind instruments. He studied the flute and clarinet at the Brussels Cons., and in 1842 went to Paris with a wind instrument of his invention, which he called the “saxophone,” made of metal, with a single-reed mouthpiece and conical bore. He exhibited brass and woodwind instruments at the Paris Exposition of 1844, winning a silver medal. His father joined him in Paris, and together they continued the manufacture of new instruments. They evolved the saxhorn (improved over the bugle-horn and ophicleide by replacing the keys with a valve mechanism) and the saxo-tromba, a hybrid instrument producing a tone midway between the bugle and the trumpet. Conservative critics and rival instrument makers ridiculed Sax’s innovations, but Berlioz and others warmly supported him; he also won praise from Rossini. His instruments were gradually adopted by French military bands. Sax won a gold medal at the Paris Industrial Exposition of 1849. Financially, however, he was unsuccessful, and was compelled to go into bankruptcy in 1856 and again in 1873. He taught the saxophone at the Paris Cons. from 1858 to 1871, and also publ, a method for his instrument. He exhibited his instruments in London (1862) and received the Grand Prix in Paris (1867) for his improved instruments. Although Wieprecht, Červený, and others disputed the originality and priority of his inventions, legal decisions gave the rights to Sax; the saxophone became a standard instrument, and many serious composers made use of it in their scores. The instrument fell into desuetude after Sax’s death, but about 1918 a spectacular revival of the saxophone took place, when it was adopted in jazz bands. Its popularity became worldwide, numerous methods were publ, and special schools established, and there appeared saxophone virtuosos for whom many composers wrote concertos.


T. Lajarte, Instruments S. et fanfares civiles (Paris, 1876); J. Kool, Das Saxophone (Leipzig, 1931); A. Remy, La Vie tourmentée d’A. S. (Brussels, 1939); L. Kochnitzky, A. S. and His Saxophone (N.Y., 1949); M. Perrin, Le Saxophone, Son histoire, sa technique et son utilisation dans l’orchestre (Paris, 1955); J. Lon-deix, 225 ans de musique pour saxophone (Paris, 1971); M. Haine, A. S.: Sa vie, son oeuvre, ses instruments de musique (Brussels, 1980); W. Horwood, A. S., 1814–1894: Life and Legacy (Baldock, 1983; rev. ed., 1992).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire