Anniversary – Stony triumph: 175 years of the saxophone
Posted On March 19, 2021
His instrument shaped the jazz world like no other, and without the saxophone there wouldn’t be the legendary solos in “Money” by Pink Floyd and “The Logical Song” by Supertramp. Adolphe Sax patented it 175 years ago on March 21, 1846.
The Belgian musician and instrument maker wanted to create an instrument that sounded good even in the lower registers and could assert itself at concerts in the open air. In his patent application, he therefore described his invention as follows: an instrument that, due to its vocal character, could approximate the stringed instruments, but would have more power and intensity than the latter.
Little success at first
Sax invented the wind instrument back in the early 1840s. At that time he was still living in Brussels, where he was born on November 6, 1814. At the industrial fair there in 1841, he demonstrated his saxophone – with little success. Hoping to find happiness in Paris, he opened his workshop a short time later in the French capital, around 15 minutes’ walk from the Garnier Opera.
His saxophone found its way into French military bands, but it was rarely used in the Paris opera scores – despite the support of the music critic and composer Hector Berlioz, who was one of his most important advocates. “Once deep and calm, then dreamy and melancholy, at times tender, like the breath of an echo,” enthused Berlioz in a newspaper article. In 1843 he composed the very first work with saxophone – “Chant sacré” or also called “Hymne sacré”.
In Germany, people began to deal with the saxophone in opera and concert music in the 1930s. The German composer and conductor Edmund von Borck composed the first solo concerto for the invention of sax with “Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra op. 6” a newspaper article. It is not difficult to see what importance the use of one or more saxophones could gain in serious art music in the future, he continued.
Triumphant advance in jazz
However, the real triumph of the instrument only began with the advent of jazz. Clarinetist Sidney Bechet discovered his passion for the saxophone, as did Coleman Hawkins. The saxophone replaced the trumpet as the dominant jazz instrument.
From lounge, hip-hop to folk and pop: many styles of music have found an inexhaustible source of sound in the saxophone. What makes the enthusiasm for the saxophone? “No instrument devours its soloists like the saxophone. It drives them into intoxication, into constant self-transgression, emaciation,” wrote German intellectual and jazz fan Roger Willemsen. In the foreword to the book “Saxophone. An instrument and its inventor”, published on the occasion of Adolphe Sax’s 200th birthday in 2014, he continues: “Perhaps it is because no other instrument demands so much physical commitment from the musician has to put it in his mouth and almost hug it to get a sound out of it. “
Sax brought his invention only brief luck during his lifetime. Envious people accused him of plagiarism. Although he successfully sought lawsuits against his opponents, the legal disputes cost him a lot of money. He faced bankruptcy several times. (dpa)