The name ‘saxophone’ is a composite word that is a derivative of two words. One is Greek, ‘phone’ which means vocal sound. The other ‘sax’ refers to the saxophone’s inventor, Adolphe Sax. So, ‘saxophone’ literally means ‘sound of Sax’. This ‘vocal’ quality of the saxophone is well documented across musical idioms, and often it has been associated as being the closest an instrument gets to sounding like the human voice.

The date of the saxophone’s invention is not at all clear. Although generally viewed as being between 1840-1846 (the year of its patent), Sax’s close friend Henry Hamel, commented that it was created in 1838. Sax first presented a saxophone at the Brussels Exhibition of 1841. Unfortunately, his youthful age at that time was not to work in his favour. In fact, although Sax was recommended to receive the Premier Gold Medal for his creation, the Central Jury rejected the recommendation mentioning that there would be nowhere for him to progress from the following year if Sax was to have already received the grand prize, and so early in his career! Sax responded, “If I am too young for the gold medal, I am too old for the silver’.

Soon after, a prominent military aide to the French King Louis-Philippe visited the young inventor, mentioning the King’s plans to reinvigorate French military bands, and saw the saxophone as a worthy fit. Sax then moved to Paris in 1842.

The composer, Hector Berlioz was thrilled to hear of Sax’s arrival, writing in the Journal des debats,

“M. Adolphe Sax of Brussels, whose work we have just examined… He is a man of penetrating mind; lucid, tenacious, with a perseverance against all trials, and great skills… He is at the same time a calculator, acousticians, and as necessary also a smelter, turner, and engraver. He can think and act. He invents and accomplishes.”

Soon after arriving in Paris, Sax went on to win the Royal commission of 1845 to reinvigorate French military band with the production of the saxophone family.

post by Andrew McNeill