Aïda trumpet


At the time Sax set up in business in Paris, the opera genre held an important place in musical life. Within the particular musical microcosmos of that city - with musicians on the look-out for reliable instruments and composers contemplating new sonorities - the excellent fame enjoyed by his instruments spread rapidly. It happened that his instruments were only rarely, if at all, included in the complement of a symphony orchestra, but a different situation prevailed in the opera orchestra, one that offered a propitious setting for experiments, particularly in the largest works of grand opera.

In 1847, Sax's instruments made a veritable 'grand entrance' into the Paris Opera, Sax having been commissioned to supply and conduct twenty musicians from outside the Opera's ranks, to be used in Verdi's opera Jérusalem. Thereafter, the Opera's management used this brass band, varying its strength, in numerous productions that demanded the ceremony and splendour, and additional sound effects typical for grand opera: between 1847 and 1892, recourse to Sax's banda had for no less than thirty-nine operas.

Throughout his 'career' at the Opera, Sax allowed himself the liberty of integrating his inventions and improvements as regards musical instrument building into his band; besides the bass clarinet, he also introduced saxophones, saxhorns and saxotrombas, saxtubas, instruments with six independent valves, the parabolic bell and others. Composers and Sax himself often revised the original orchestration to adapt it to his instruments.

Certain operas incorporated instruments developed by Sax especially for the occasion: they included Halévy's Le Juif errant, with its impressive saxtubas, and Verdi's Aida, with the famous Theban trumpets. Aida was created in Cairo in 1871 and began to be performed in Paris in 1876. In 1880, with great ceremony, the Paris Opera ushered in the French version, which was conducted by the composer in person. Adolphe Sax built valve trumpets specially for performances of the opera, Verdi calling for six trumpets on stage to ring out the martial air that has since become so famous; indeed, it was encored by the rapturous
audience at the première.

Verdi nevertheless felt that Sax's trumpets looked too modern and not at all like trumpets of Antiquity. In any event, Sax also made straight trumpets without valves for the Paris Opera. The audience was deeply impressed by the effect obtained. The straight trumpet with two valves of the Berlin type, or 'Aida trumpet' was part of a series of similar trumpets with consecutive manufacturing numbers, dated 1883. The example here bears the number 41205.

Aïda trumpet
Aïda trumpet
A few Sax instruments in use at the Paris opera. (c) Dinant, AIAS