Tenor horn


Through the history of music, several instruments are located in a median position, between the instruments dedicated to the main melody and those intended for the low register. Within the wind orchestras, an instrument has found its place in the fanfare bands and in British-style brass bands, under various names: alto saxhorn, alto or tenor flugelhorn, tenor horn, Althorn, E-flat horn, etc.

This instrument comes directly from the improvements made by Adolphe Sax, in the 1840s, to brass instruments. The Belgian maker, who emigrated to Paris, tried to modernize French military music. He perfected the large family of flugelhorns, valve instruments played with a mouthpiece, with a rather conical and wide bore, which will soon be called "saxhorns". First, he improved the valves in a patent he took out in 1843. Two years later, he took out a new patent for the "saxotromba", which is both a family of instruments and a well-defined form. This saxotromba shape, which is characterized by a vertical bell and valves parallel to the bell, could be applied to existing instruments such as cornets, trombones, horns, saxhorns. The specific form of the bell, directed upwards, was practical for musicians of cavalry regiments who could easily handle their instrument on horseback. In fact, it seems that the middle register instruments, called tenor or alto by Sax, were saxotrombas and not saxhorns, the latter theoretically having a larger bore. However, the term "saxhorn" finally prevailed for all sizes, before fading in favor of other names (alto, euphonium, bombardon, bass, etc.).

The saxhorns were quickly integrated into French military music, then to civil bands in France, Belgium and Great Britain. They are the backbone of fanfare bands and, above all, of British-style brass bands.

The alto or tenor saxhorn/saxotromba in E flat, more commonly known as "tenor horn" in English, was first manufactured exclusively by Adolphe Sax. But the demand was such that he allowed some other makers to make it under license. Once in the public domain, after 1865, its design was widely adopted in many countries. In Belgium, Van Engelen and Mahillon were among the first makers to adopt Sax's ideas.

The Mahillon company also developed a special model of tenor horn, presented at the 1867 World Fair in Paris. It was imagined by Victor-Charles Mahillon, who would be the first curator of our museum ten years later. The instrument has five valves that offered additional possibilities to ensure a better accuracy of the pitch. It is also equipped with a special water key: a small sponge integrated into an evacuation tube makes it possible to silently collect the condensation water generated by the musician's breath. This instrument is truly unique, since its production was limited to one exemplar. Mahillon, as he wrote himself in his Catalogue descriptif et analytique du Musée instrumental (1912), was "convinced by previous attempts at the unsuccessful success of a system of any kind, from the moment it brings changes in the habits of Lady Routine, [and he] renounced the popularization of his idea".

This tenor horn can be seen in the Adolphe Sax showcase (saxhorns' side), on the 2nd floor of the museum.

Tenor horn in E flat, Charles Mahillon, Brussels, 1866, inv. 2471
Tenor horn in E flat, Charles Mahillon, Brussels, 1866, inv. 2471
Fig. 2 from Adrien Lagard, Méthode de sax-horn (...), Paris, A. Ikelmer, 1876