Sunbury School of Music

Adolphe Sax
1814 to 1894
His Life and Legacy by Wally Horwood

If you want to know the whole story behind the beginning of the Saxophone, then this book is the essential reference. Although currently out of print, you may be able to find it at Abe Books.

The story starts with the unsung hero Charles Sax, father of Adolphe. Born in Belgium, he developed skills in musical instrument making having started out as a cabinet maker, draughtsman and engineer. Charles Sax made instruments of the day such as Flutes, Serpents and Clarinets and making particularly important improvements to the French Horn. Significantly he developed scientific calculations for the placement of holes in the instrument rather than relying on the span of the hand, as had previously been the practice.

Adolphe Sax (actually christened Antoine Joseph Sax) learned from his father, making his own toys as a child and learned aspects of instrument making before his teenage years. Adolphe learned flute and then clarinet with great skill. In fact he probably could have made a career as a clarinet virtuoso, but returned to his father's workshop to improve the limitations of the instrument. His own instruments were exhibited in 1830 at the age of 16! He kept working at the clarinet until by 1840 he had added an impressive list of improvements to the instrument, his great skill as a player and instrument maker enabled him to become aware of the instrumental limitations, conceive and construct the improvements, and then demonstrate the new instrument.

Adolphe Sax then went on to make significant improvements to the bass clarinet, and produced a range of fine wind instruments of both wood and brass. This was in contrast to the majority of instrument makers who would work either with wood or brass but not both. Sax was one of many instrument makers at the time that tinkered with the design of brass instrument valves, and notably produced a full range of fine matched instruments from cornets to tubas that became known as Saxhorns.

Adolphe Sax's greatest contribution, however, was the invention of the Saxophone. Brass was chosen simply because wood was impractical for larger instruments, it being the method of vibrating the air column with a reed and the proportions of the bore that make the greatest contributions to the tonal results. Doubtless, Sax's experience with making horns, combined with his improvements to the bass clarinet lead him toward the Saxophone, perhaps by initially allying a bass clarinet mouthpiece with an Ophicleide. The first Saxophone was of a bass pitch, being displayed at the Paris Industrial Exhibition in 1844 and a patent on a family of eight Saxophones was taken out on 21 March 1846.

Our classes are on weekdays, during the daytime or evening, and on Saturday mornings. So if you are looking for a teacher, please make an online enrolment enquiry for further information.