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Birth of Antoine-Joseph ‘Adolphe’ Sax

The inventor of the saxotromba, saxhorn, saxtuba and saxophone was born on 6 November 1814.

Antoine-Joseph Sax was one of the most prolific musical instrument designers of the 19th century. Many of his instruments, including the saxotromba, saxhorn, saxtuba and the saxophone, came about as a response to a growing belief among the authorities that French military music was in decline.

His prototype saxophone received rave reviews almost by accident. At a demonstration, Sax was so concerned that his unfinished instrument might fall apart that he lost his place in the music. Holding a single note while he refound his place, the audience thought the long note was deliberate and, never having heard such a thing before from a brass instrument, applauded wildly.

A year later Sax wrote to King Louis-Philippe’s aide-de-camp, proposing to reform military bands by incorporating his instruments. In 1845 a public test was arranged, pitting a traditional full military band against a band of Sax’s instruments. The jury overwhelmingly voted for Sax, giving him a virtual monopoly on French military instrument-making overnight.

Reeling from the loss of revenue, rival instrument makers banded together in a club, challenging and breaking Sax’s patents, as well as orchestrating anti-Sax newspaper campaigns and poaching his best staff.

Sax died in 1894 in complete poverty in Paris, all his money having gone on legal fees.

Cartoon by Robert G. Fresson
Text by Justin and Stephanie Pollard

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