How The Saxophone Came To Beby mpn | on April 21, 2013
The saxophone was developed in 1846 byAdolphe Sax, a Belgian-born instrumentmaker, flautist, and clarinetist working inParis. While still working at his father’sinstrument shop in Brussels, Sax begandeveloping an instrument with theprojection of a brass instrument and theagility of a woodwind. He wanted it tooverblow at the octave, unlike the clarinet,which rises in pitch by a twelfth whenoverblown. An instrument that overblew atthe octave would have identical fingeringfor both registers.
Prior to his work on the saxophone, Sax had madeseveral improvements to the bass clarinet byimproving its keywork and acoustics andextending its lower range. Sax was also a makerof the then-popular ophicleide, a large conicalbrass instrument in the bass register with keyssimilar to a woodwind instrument. His experiencewith these two instruments allowed him to developthe skills and technologies needed to make thefirst saxophones. Adolphe Sax created aninstrument with a single reed mouthpiece like aclarinet, conical brass body like an ophicleide, andthe acoustic properties of both the French hornand the clarinet.
Having constructed saxophonesin several sizes in the early1840s, Sax applied for, andreceived, a 15-year patent for theinstrument on June 28, 1846.The patent encompassed 14versions of the fundamentaldesign, split into two categoriesof seven instruments each andranging from sopranino tocontrabass. Although theinstruments transposed at eitherF or C have been considered“orchestral”, there is noevidence that Sax intended this.
As only 3 percent of Sax’s surviving productionwere pitched in F and C, and as contemporarycomposers used the E alto and B bass saxophone♭ ♭freely in orchestral music, it is almost certain thatSax experimented to find the most suitable keys forthese instruments, settling upon instrumentsalternating between E and B rather than those♭ ♭pitched in F d C, for reasons of tone and economy(the saxophones were the most expensive windinstruments of their day).The C soprano saxophone was the only instrument tosound at concert pitch. All the instruments weregiven an initial written range from the B below thetreble staff to the F, one space above the three ledgerlines above staff, giving each saxophone a range oftwo and a half octaves.
How The Saxophone Came To BeSax’s patent expired in 1866; thereafter numeroussaxophonists and instrument manufacturersimplemented their own improvements to the designand keywork. The first substantial modification wasby a French manufacturer who extended the bellslightly and added an extra key to extend the rangedownwards by one semitone to B . It is suspected♭that Sax himself may have attempted thismodification. This extension is now commonplacein almost all modern designs, along with otherminor changes such as added keys for alternatefingerings.
Sax’s original keywork, which was based on theTriebert system 3 oboe for the left hand and theBoehm clarinet for the right, was very simplisticand made playing some legato passages and wideintervals extremely difficult to finger, so numerousdevelopers added extra keys and alternatefingerings to make chromatic playing less difficult.While the early saxophone had two separate octavevents to assist in the playing of the upper registersjust as modern instruments do, players of Sax’soriginal design had to operate these via twoseparate octave keys operated by the left thumb.
A substantial advancement in saxophone keywork wasthe development of a method by which the left thumboperates both tone holes with a single octave key,which is now universal on modern saxophones. One ofthe most radical, however temporary, revisions ofsaxophone keywork was made in the 1950s by M.Houvenaghel of Paris, who completely redeveloped themechanics of the system to allow a number of notes(C , B, A, G, F and E ) to be flattened by a semitone♯ ♭simply by lowering the right middle finger. This enablesa chromatic scale to be played over two octavessimply by playing the diatonic scale combined withalternately raising and lowering this one digit.However, this keywork never gained much popularity,and is no longer in use.