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A “Revolution in the Making”: Rediscovering the Historical Sonic Production of the Early Saxophone


The saxophone was invented in the 1840s by Antoine (Adolphe) Joseph Sax (1814-1894) and immediately received attention from prominent composers like Hector Berlioz (1803-1869.) The work done by the ambitious inventor to promote his new instrument included presentations at exhibitions in Belgium and France, which led to military bands adopting the instrument. In addition, Sax opened a 400-seat theater on the premises of his factory in Paris to present concerts featuring his innovations. Coupled with this, Sax established a prolific publishing house, Chez Adolphe Sax, that published at least 35 works for saxophone with piano accompaniment.

When considering this early repertory, modern performers lack adequate resources that provide specific details regarding the sonic characteristics of the early saxophone. How might these performers form a sonic concept reminiscent of the early saxophone when there are so few early recordings? The contributing factors that shaped this sonic concept include the design of the instrument and how it influenced the acoustic properties of the same, the intention of the composer in creating it, the performers who adopted it and the performing practices that informed their performances, and the repertoire published by Sax that they performed. These factors are worthy of consideration for the modern saxophonist wishing to perform the repertoire that helped to build the popularity of the instrument.

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