baritone saxophone


In 1841, a saxophone made by Adolphe Sax was heard in public for the first time. This recital took place in Brussels, just a stone's throw from the current location of the mim, in the context of the Belgian National Exhibition of Industrial Products. Independently of his father Charles-Joseph, with whom he still lived at the time, the young Adolphe exhibited clarinets, including his already renowned bass clarinet. According to the exhibition catalogue, Adolphe was also meant to exhibit his first saxophone. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, he did not have time to finish the instrument. Nevertheless, he decided to reveal its acoustic character from behind a curtain, producing sounds that had never been heard before. This prototype was a bass saxophone.

The following year, Adolphe Sax presented his instrument in Paris to several musical luminaries including the eminent composer Hector Berlioz who went on to publish a laudatory article in the Journal des débats in which he praised Sax and his "saxophon". In this article, Berlioz compared the instrument to the ophicleide and the bass clarinet, while also recognizing its unique personality. Sax's intention to create a complete family of saxophones was clear from the very start. On 21 March 1846, he filed a patent for 15 years for a "system of wind instruments, called saxophones". After his bass prototype (in C or B flat), Sax developed another saxophone in the bass register, the baritone (in E flat). It's interesting to note that one of his original ideas, as stipulated in the patent, was to improve bass wind instruments. Drawings accompanying the patent only show two complete instruments: the bass and the baritone (also called "tenor" at the time). The other instruments are just sketches. Therefore, not all the members of the saxophone family materialised at the same moment. Even if contemporary accounts documenting these first developments (such as the Manuel général de musique militaire by Kastner) mention a variety of "theoretical" members of the saxophone family, actual production spanned several years. Thus, the alto saxophone in E flat was made shortly after the bass and baritone instruments, quickly followed by the soprano in B flat (1849), the tenor in B flat (1853), and the sopranino in E flat (1855). As of 1866, the year Sax's patent expired (he had meanwhile extended it by five years) other instrument makers began to produce saxophones and make improvements of their own, firstly in France and Belgium, then in the United States and elsewhere in the world. This opened a new chapter in the story of the saxophone, on a par with the instrument's runaway success in the 20th century. But that's another story...

The oldest currently known and located saxophone - because it is exhibited in SAX200 - is a baritone bearing the serial number (2686) which dates it from the year of filing the original patent, 1846. Its complete inscription indicates that it has indeed been sold and we also find an additional name, probably that of its first proud owner: No. 2686/baritone Saxophone in E flat patented/Adolphe Sax, Paris/Charles Fontaine.

baritone saxophone in E flat, Adolphe Sax, Paris, 1846. Koster collection
patent #3226 dated March 21, 1846. INPI, Paris
"Manuel général de musique militaire", G. Kastner, Paris, 1848
engraving on baritone saxophone Adolphe Sax, Paris, 1846, Koster collection