A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Saxophone

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SAXOPHONE. Another instrument invented by Sax. It consists essentially of a conical brass tube furnished with twenty lateral orifices covered by keys, and with six studs or finger-plates for the first three fingers of either hand, and is played by means of a mouthpiece and single reed of the clarinet kind.

Like the Saxhorns, it is made in a number of sizes, representing in all seven different keys; namely, the sopranino in C and B♭; the soprano in F and E♭; the mezzo soprano in C and B♭; the contralto in F and E♭; the barytone in C and E♭; the bass in F and E♭, and the double bass or bourdon in C and B♭. The last of these can be played with a double-bassoon reed.

Those most used are the contralto and barytone varieties. In French military bands, however, five or more are in use; having to a great degree superseded the more difficult but more flexible clarinet, and having quite replaced the bassoon.

The compass of the five highest Saxophones is the same, viz. from

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with all the chromatic intervals. The bass and double bass ones descend to the C below the bass stave, and reach upwards to the same F as the rest of the family. In the former case the scale is of 19 notes, in the latter of 18, or of 31 or 30 semitones in all. The fingering adopted is the same for all, being that somewhat erroneously named after Boehm. [See Flute; Clarinet.]

The Saxophone, though inferior in compass, quality, and power of articulation to the clarinet, and bassethorn, and especially to the bassoon, has great value in military combinations. It reproduces on a magnified scale something of the violoncello quality, and gives great sustaining power to the full chorus of brass instruments, by introducing a mass of harmonic overtones very wanting in Sax's other contrivance. In the orchestra, except to replace the bass clarinet, it is all but unknown.

[ W. H. S. ]


Appendix p.780:

Add that R. Wagner gave to instruments of this class the formidable-looking name of 'Raçenkreuzungsklangwerkzeuge,' which may be translated by *tonal hybrids.'

For the second paragraph of the article, substitute the following:—

It is manufactured in different sizes, comprising a complete choir of its class. A. Sax says he made eight varieties; namely, 1. Sopranino in E♭; 2. Soprano in B♭; 3. Alto in E♭; 4. Tenor in B♭; 5. Baritone in E♭; 6. Bass in B♭; 7. Bass in E♭ (an octave lower than the baritone); 8. Contrabass in B♭ (an octave lower than the bass). Of these the first and the two last-named kinds have, however, never come into general use.

It is rather singular that an instrument of considerable artistic capacity, and very effective when manipulated by an artist, should never have been accepted as a means of enlarging the tonal resources of our modern orchestras. Georg Kastner introduced it into the score of his biblical opera, 'Le dernier roi de Juda,' which was performed at the Conservatoire in Paris in Dec. 1844; A. Adam gives an effective solo to the E♭ Alto Saxophone in his opera 'Hamlet,' and we are told that it is also employed by Berlioz in his opera 'Les Troyens.' This last work remaining in MS. it is not easy to get precise information on the point; in none of the published works of Berlioz is the Saxophone to be found. Wagner, the greatest tone-painter of our time, has never given it a place in his scores, and the instrument remains outside the recognized orchestral resources.

The reason for this neglect lies probably in its unsympathetic tone, combining two characteristic tone colours, 'reed' and 'brass,' which are preferable when rendered separately and pure by either the clarinet or a brass instrument.

It has, however, been accepted as a valuable addition to Wind-bands, where its hybrid tone forms a most effective link between reed and brass instruments. When represented by a full choir it materially improves the tone quality, while its capacity for distinct rendering of very rapid passages, combined with its powerful tone, make it a valuable adjunct for obtaining a good balance of instrumentation of wind-bands.

The Saxophone is extensively employed in most military reed-bands of the south of Europe, especially those of France; but in the infantry bands of Germany and Austria it remains almost unknown.

Even in France it has had a rather chequered career. Adopted by a decree of the Minister of War (published in the 'Moniteur de l'armée,' of Sept. 10, 1845), it came into general use with all infantry bands. In the year 1848 it was suppressed, to be again reintroduced in 1854, since which time it has obtained a permanent footing.

[ J. A. K. ]