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Fun facts about the saxophone

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1. So you probably know the saxophone family is made of the sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass and sub-contrabass (from the smallest to the biggest). Soprano, alto, tenor and baritone are the most common today but do you know which model was created first by Adolphe Sax?

Adolphe Sax got the idea to try using a bass clarinet mouthpiece on an ophicleide. It’s a low instrument and the first model of saxophone Adolphe Sax created was a bass saxophone in C.

ophicleide

Ophicleide

bass sax

Bass Saxophone

2. Here is what a subcontrabass saxophone sounds like:

3. Adolphe Sax invented 4 families of instruments: the saxhorn, saxtromba, saxtuba, and the saxophone!

4. Although the saxophone is largely made of metal, it is in the woodwind category (flute, clarinet, oboe etc…) and not in the brass-wind (trombone, trumpet, tuba etc…). Why?

– The saxophone needs a mouthpiece with a single reed, like the clarinet. Brass-wind instruments have a different mouthpiece, without reed, musicians use their lips instead.

– The tube of the saxophone has holes that are closed with keys, like the clarinet, oboe etc… Brass-wind instruments have a closed tube (trombone, trumpets, tuba)

5. Today the saxophones are either in B-flat or E-flat. Some saxophones have been made in C (soprano, tenor) and F (mezzo-soprano) and there is one unique bass saxophone in C in the world.

6. Which composer wrote the very first piece for saxophone?

Hector Berlioz in 1844 (before the patent of the saxophone was officially registered!) composed L’hymne sacré. It was a sextet for Adolphe Sax instruments, with saxhorn, saxtuba, saxtromba and one saxophone.

7. Claude Debussy talked about the saxophone as an “aquatic instrument”. He wrote Rhapsody for orchestra and Saxophone, commissioned by Elisa Hall, a wealthy woman from Boston who was told that playing the saxophone would improve her health.

8. Not everyone likes the saxophone:

– In 1903, Pope Pius X wrote the Motu Proprio On Sacred Music in which he bans the saxophone because it “may give reasonable cause for disgust or scandal”. He explains that this instrument “is unworthy of the House of Prayer and of the Majesty of God”. It appears that the saxophone is still officially banned from the Church. I guess not everyone is aware of God’s will because I have myself played numerous times the saxophone in churches. Not sure if it pleased the Majesty, but the little people seemed pretty happy.

– The Nazis saw the saxophone as the epitome of American “jungle music”.

– You were in no luck if you wanted to play the saxophone in USSR, Stalin rounded up “capitalist” sax players and sent them to Siberia.

9. In the Muppet Show, the sax player Zoot was named after Zoot Sims and adopted the style of Gato Barbieri.

sax_zoots_muppet

zoot sims

Zoot Sims

gato barbieri

Gato Barbieri

10. Dig the Conn saxophones? How about a Conn-O-Sax? In the 1920’s Conn built this saxophone in F, surprisingly this wasn’t the big success they were expecting.

sax_connosax

Any fun fact you want to share with us? Write in the comment section 🙂

 

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4 Comments

  • Manuel Bernal Says

    Wow !
    Fantastic , thanks for this info, i love Debussy =O

    • hey Manuel Bernal! I love Debussy too! when I was in school back in Paris we analyzed his piece “La Mer” for a whole year, fantastic music!
      This list will be updated so check back sometimes. And if you hear about some fun/interesting/weird facts about the saxophone please share with the JVL community 🙂

      • Manuel Bernal Says

        Wow you lucky man ! How it was ? , how much did you learn analyzing it ?
        When i was at the school i was practicing some piano pieces of him, what a wonderful time haha =D i always have been intrigued of the way he composed i love all of his work, some time ago i was reading a book about his biography and there was a part where mentioned he usually did not like his compositions i couldn’t believe that i was in shock.

        Yes of course the saxophone is a beautiful instrument , my sister has one but she doesn’t let me play it , its a shame but i´m still learning guitar i don’t know if it could be a good idea give it a try =P, i´ll be looking for some interesting facts and i´ll pos them.

        • it was amazing, I learned a lot! it’s not unusual not to be completely satisfied with one’s composition. Of course it depends where you put your standard, I guess he had his pretty high!

          That makes me remember a phrase from one of my teacher that goes something like “It’s by pursuing perfection that you might reach excellence”. Could be a mantra before practicing!

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