HISTORICAL INSTRUMENT SECTION
Craig Kridel and Clifford Bevan, Editors
Adolphe Sax’s Bigger Brasses by Eugenia Mitroulia
The 2010 Clifford Bevan Award for Excellence in Research
In 2010, ITEA established the Clifford Bevan Award for Excellence in Research, a biennial program seeking to encourage the highest level of research in the area of low-brass scholarship. The Bevan Award recognizes research on contemporary as well as historical topics, including acoustics, composition, theory, scoring, organology, performance practices, and pedagogy. All of these areas were represented among the 2010 entries, and the submissions proved truly international with essays, chapters, and dissertations received from four different countries representing a cross-section of the ITEA membership, including performers, assistant professors, doctoral candidates, and undergraduate students.
We are pleased to feature the research of the first recipient of the Clifford Bevan Award for Excellence in Research, Ms. Eugenia Mitroulia, a doctoral candidate studying brasswind organology in the Department of Music at the University of Edinburgh. A native of Greece, Ms. Mitroulia studied musicology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. In 2005, she completed a Masters of Music at the University of Edinburgh and commenced doctoral studies in organology under the supervision of Professor Arnold Myers. The topic of her thesis is the brasswind production of Adolphe Sax with a focus on saxhorns and related instruments; she is currently near completion.
Ms. Mitroulia’s award-winning essay was entitled “The Saxotromba: Fact or Fiction?” One reviewer noted that, “this submission shows excellent scholarly aptitude and skills in the concept, research, and presentation. The format is stimulating and effective, and the overall arch of the essay is very successful. (Like an outstanding music composition, the shape and pacing of a document from beginning to end is quite important.)” However, since this paper is already in print, I asked for an unpublished article to include in this issue of the ITEA Journal and encourage readers to obtain a copy of Ms. Mitroulia’s original Bevan Award submission which appears in the Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 35 (2009): 123–49.
I wish to extend my thanks to the four adjudicators (each representing ITEA and the fields of modern brass, musicology, and organology) who reviewed the 2010 submissions. Forms for the 2012 Bevan Award will soon appear on ITEA Online.
~ Craig Kridel
Eugenia Mitroulia measuring the Adolphe Sax Bourdon saxhorn in 26-ft E-flat; at Henri Selmer, Paris.
Adolphe Sax was a Belgian maker who spent most of his life in Paris. He is mainly known today as the inventor of the saxophone, although he was very active in the brass instrument making field. Among other instruments, he developed the saxhorns. Saxhorns were valved instruments of intermediate bore-profile (between cylindrical and conical) made by Sax from c. 1843 onwards. Two patents granted to Sax are closely linked to saxhorns, the maker’s 1843 and 1845 brasswind patents. Instruments of similar nature were already known, especially in Germany, such as Moritz’s and Wieprecht’s Basstuba in 12-ft F, early tenorhorns in 6½-ft E-flat, and flügelhorns in 4½-ft B-flat. This is not contested, and it is an accepted fact. However, Sax through the introduction of his saxhorns created a homogenous family, with more standardized members, with same fingering, and alternating pitches between the various models of C/B-flat and F/E-flat, and he also promoted same treble clef notation. On 22 April 1845 during an open-air contest, which took place in the Champs de Mars in Paris, Sax’s band with his newly developed saxhorns competed against that of Michele Carafa, the director of the Gymnase de musique militaire.1 Sax was the winner of the competition and this led to the issue of a ministerial decision with which the composition of military bands of the cavalry and infantry would include the whole family of saxhorns in their brass sections. This article will examine the development of the lower saxhorns made in Adolphe Sax’s workshop.2
Narrow and wide-bore saxhorns in 8-ft C or 9-ft B-flat
At these pitches, narrow and wide-bore instruments were made, the baritone and bass saxhorns, respectively. The baritone group is among the least populated groups, as far as surviving instruments made by Sax are concerned. Many factors may have contributed to that. The first appearance of a narrow bore instrument in this register was in the 1845 saxotromba patent, where the instrument was called “saxotromba baryton.” In most of the early advertisements and journal references the baritone instrument was missing. It is possible that this instrument was one of the later additions to the saxhorn group. As in the case of alto saxhorns, according to recent research findings, it is believed that the baritone saxhorn is in fact the baritone saxotromba as described in the maker’s 1845 patent. Numerous references to saxotrombas were found in primary sources of that time, among which Sax’s brasswind patents. However, the exact identity of the saxotrombas was so far ambiguous. The present author’s research has shown that the saxotrombas as a complete family, so far considered so, were a fiction. There is evidence that only two members of the group were ever realized, the alto and baritone saxotrombas. Bore-profile measurements given by Sax in his 1845 patent were used by the author to prove that the alto and baritone saxotromba are not extinct today, as so far believed, but are in fact the alto and baritone saxhorns.3
Made in C and B-flat, most surviving baritones were constructed in a shape which was called by Sax “saxotromba form.” In this form, the bell pointed upwards and the valves were as particularly described in documents of that time “parallel to the bell (the plane that the valve pistons formed was parallel to that that of the bell rim).” In most alto and baritone instruments in saxotromba form, the tubing formed two turns between the valve and bell section. (See Figure 1) This form was according to Sax particularly convenient for musicians of the cavalry, since it prevented the horse’s head being hit by the instrument’s bell. Among the surviving baritones there are a few nouveaux baritones, namely instruments with six independent valves and pavillon tournants (turning bells), a particular type of movable bells patented by Sax, found in many of his instruments. None of the surviving baritones is made with Périnet valves.
Figure 1: Alto and baritone saxotrombas from Sax’s 1845 patent
In other Parisian makers’ workshops of the time, baritones were offered for sale usually in C and B-flat, although in some cases instruments pitched in B-flat were equipped with crooks for A-flat. It was usually offered with three valves, although four-valve instruments have also been listed for sale. The instrument in Sax’s handbills appears as having a compass (sounding) E3–D6 (when in B-flat and with three valves). Although its role was to complete the harmony in accompaniments, it could have had in limited cases a role in playing melodic passages, although Théodore De Lajarte reported that its timbre was not very appropriate for that.4
Surviving bass saxhorns by Sax, on the other hand, are the second most populated group following the altos. Of the surviving instruments the majority are equipped with Berlin valves and in most cases with four valves. The four-valve bass saxhorn appeared for the first time in the 1845 saxotromba patent where Sax stated that the fourth valve was added to instruments, which needed an extension in their lower register. The fourth valve became a regular addition only to the bass saxhorn, where it was placed perpendicular to the plane, which the bell rim forms. The four-valve instrument’s compass in B-flat was given by Sax as (sounding) B1–D6. The four-valve bass appears to have been the standard bass made in his workshop, although there is a surviving bass with three Berlin valves. Sax’s own method on saxhorns mentioned basses with five valves, which according to Sax had accuracy in their lower register not achieved with the four-valve instrument.5 His last surviving catalogue of the 1880s offered for sale basses with up to six regular valves.
A small number of surviving basses are nouveau saxhorns, two have Périnet valves, and only one has three Berlin valves. In basses, as in other members of the saxhorn family, there are a few surviving instruments with hybrid valves, the earliest made in 1869 (Brussels, inventory no. 1992.016). In these valves, the inclination of valve tubing, as well as the valve dimensions has been retained so that the instrument did not differ very much externally from instruments with regular Berlin valves. However, the valve ports do not enter and exit the valve piston on the same plane, as in Berlin valves but show some influence from Périnet valves. The earliest surviving bass known with Périnet valves dates from 1868 and is part of a private collection in France. It is odd that basses with hybrid valves were made by Sax after the first instruments with Périnet valves appeared.
Figure 2: Nouveau bass saxhorn in C / B-flat with six independent valves and pavillon tournant made by Sax in 1870. © Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments (inventory no. 3115). Photograph by Antonia Reeve.
Contrabass saxhorns in 12 ft-F or 13-ft E-flat and 16-ft C or 18-ft B-flat
The only contrabass instruments included in Sax’s 1843 patent were two contrebasses d’harmonie with three and six valves (see Figure 3). The three-valve instrument was pitched in E-flat and the six-valve in F. These instruments looked very similar to Moritz’s and Wieprecht’s Basstubas pitched in F and equipped with five valves. Some differences are observed in the configuration of the valves between Sax’s and Moritz’s tubas. Sax did not comment at all on his contrabasses in the patent text, and except for the instrument’s pitch no other information, such as for fingering, was provided. Pontécoulant wrote that Sax after arriving in Paris, visited Berlin to study the manufacturing techniques of brasswinds. 
Figure 3: Contrabasses from Sax’s 1843 patent drawings
Berlioz, in an article at the Journal des Débats in 1844, wrote that Sax imported the tuba from Berlin and improved the instrument’s compass.7 Sax made the instrument in E-flat instead of F and perfected its valve section. Sax also provided crooks for lowering the instrument’s pitch in D, D-flat, and C. The need for a lower contrabass instrument had obviously already occurred at that time, although contrabasses in C and B-flat appeared a few years later. Berlioz praised these instruments’ sound qualities, which he considered much superior to the ophicleide, which was not played in tune by most performers in Paris.8
From the same year (1844) comes another illustration of a contrabass instrument. L’Illustration published an image of a brass instrument exhibited by Sax during the 1844 Paris National Exhibition, which was erroneously described as a “sax-tromba” in the newspaper article. This instrument appears similar to the three-valve contrebasse d’harmonie from the 1843 patent.
Figure 4: The earliest known surviving contrabass saxhorn in E-flat made by Sax in 1845. © Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments (inventory no. 5969). Photograph by Raymond Parks.
There is no known surviving contrabass by Sax in 12-ft F. All his instruments are pitched in 13-ft E-flat, although in his 1880s catalogue Sax offered them for sale both in F and E-flat. The regular type of E-flat contrabass from the Sax workshop was made with three Berlin valves until the 1860s. The last three known surviving instruments (from 1864 onwards) are all nouveau saxhorns (with the six independent valves), and there is no surviving instrument with Périnet valves.
An exceptional contrabass in E-flat made by Sax is a saxtuba made in 1855 in 13-ft E-flat. Saxtubas were patented by Sax in 1852, and they were brasses whose form was influenced by instruments of the ancient Greece and Rome. Only two saxtubas constructed by the maker are known to survive.9 This instrument in E-flat is of a particularly wider bore profile compared to other contrabasses made by Sax at this pitch before 1855. It is the first of the second-generation contrabasses in E-flat made by Sax with a wider bore.
The 1843 and 1845 patents did not include any contrabass saxhorns in 16-ft C or 18-ft B-flat. Contrabasses at this pitch were the last addition to the saxhorn group. An advertisement of Sax’s instruments published in La Presse of Paris in December 1848 shows that contrabasses in C or B-flat were not available for sale at that point (see Figure 5).10 Kastner’s Manuel Militaire that was published the same year (1848) and Sax’s advertisement from the early 1850s do not depict instruments in 16-ft C or 18-ft B-flat either, although Gautrot’s catalogue of 1850 lists a clairon chromatique contrebasse bombardon en ut et si bémol, and the catalogue of Beauboeuf frères (1849–53) lists, although it does not depict, contrebasses in B-flat with four valves. None of the military decrees issued in 1848 regarding cavalry or infantry bands included contrabass instruments in C or B-flat, although the Austrian maker Václav František Červený had already started manufacturing contrabasses in C and B-flat in 1845.11
Figure 5: An advertisement of Sax’s production in La Presse in 1848
During the 1851 International Exhibition, Sax exhibited contrabasses at this pitch. The report of the jury mentioned characteristically that, “his Sax-Horns (double-bass in E-flat, and B-flat) have left ophicleides very far in arrear.”12 The earliest known surviving contrabass in B-flat dates from 1854 and is an instrument in the Musée de la musique (inventory no. E. 746, serial number 10868). These early instruments were made in a more elongated form with fewer bends in their tubing compared to later instruments. This was later changed, perhaps to make the instrument more convenient to hold. Contrabasses in B-flat made in the 1860s are found with hybrid type valves, between Berlin and Ps, between Berlin and Périnet. Surprisingly there are no surviving contrabasses by Sax known in E-flat after 1867 and contrabasses in B-flat after 1868. This might be a random fact or an indication that their production dropped after that point.
Figure 6: Last known contrabass saxhorn in B-flat made by Ad. Sax in 1868. © Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments (inventory no. 3229). Lent by the National War Museum of Scotland. Photograph by Raymond Parks.
The earliest surviving instrument with independent valves is a trombone (today in a private collection in France), which dates from 1862. The earliest surviving saxhorn with such valves is a bass saxhorn in B-flat (serial no. 26395) in the private collection of Bruno Kampmann in Paris, which dates from 1863. It is not known why Sax, although, having announced the application of this valve system to trombones and saxhorns through his 1859 patent, started promoting commercially the first nouveau instruments (this is how instruments with independent valves were called by the maker) so late. The earliest surviving instruments coincide with press announcements regarding this new development. Sax started promoting these instruments through concerts, which took place in his own concert hall in rue St. Georges. An article published in May 1863 reported that a séance of military music took place in Sax’s hall. There, Klosé directed some extracts from Kastner’s livres partitions played by a regimental band. In the intervals Sax introduced a trombone and saxhorn (the pitch is not reported) with independent valves demonstrating the facility with which certain passages could be executed.13 In June of the same year (1863) during a military festival, students from Sax’s saxophone and trombone classes (the latter playing on the nouveaux instruments) played with Musard’s orchestra in Pré Catelan.14 It appears that Sax’s promotion concerts continued for some time. Another long article published in Le ménestrel in July 1864 reported that Sax continued organizing concerts in his hall where music was performed almost exclusively on nouveau instruments.15 One concert included the Marche funèbre composed by Litolff (in Meyerbeer’s memory, performed by one trumpet, two trombone, a bass saxhorns, and two contrabass saxhorns all with independent valves), trumpet variations, various opera fantasies, and two duos for trombone and bass saxhorn, one based on themes from Robert le Diable, and the other from Guillaume Tell. Sax actively promoted these instruments dynamically through concerts, advertisements, and by negotiating for them to be taught in the Paris Conservatoire.
According to the ministerial decision of 11 August 1873regarding the composition of military bands, the use of nouveaux trumpets and trombones was to become obligatory in the schools of the artillery which were to be created.16 In the existing schools of the artillery and infantry bands and in the fanfares of the cavalry, the use of all instruments with six independent valves (including trumpets, trombones, cornets, saxhorns from the petit in E-flat to the contrebasse in B-flat) would be optional. It should be noted that baritone, bass, and contrabass saxhorns with independent valves were considerably heavier than instruments with regular valves and not very comfortable to hold, especially while marching. This might have contributed to the brevity of their period of use. Also, nouveau instruments were noticeably more expensive than regular instruments. These factors and the new fingering this system required prevented this system’s long-lasting adoption.
The bourdon saxhorn in 26-ft E-flat was made by Sax in 1855 for that year’s Paris International Exhibition. Such an instrument survives in the Henri Selmer collection in Paris. There is reference to another saxhorn bourdon in the Catalogue du Musée d’Adolphe Sax, where the instrument with entry number 200 is a saxhorn bourdon. It was described as having a total length of seventeen metres, three valves, and diameter of the tubing towards the bell one metre. The particular instrument, which apparently has not survived, is obviously a different instrument of a lower pitch. It was stated that this instrument was made by Sax so as to prove that people of small height can very easily play on big instruments, and that it is not the metal that gives the sound and the timbre.
The larger bourdon was exhibited in the London 1851 International Exhibition. In one source, this instrument was described as a kind of monster ophicleide.17 According to Pontécoulant, although at first one gets the impression that the instrument cannot be played by any human being, its proportions and valves were arranged in such way that the instrument was played in front of the exhibition’s jury without difficulty by a person who had never played it before.18
Gautrot in 1858 claimed that he was the first to make a brass instrument of such enormous dimensions and an octave lower “than the instruments were usually made,” without clarifying if his instrument was in E-flat and B-flat.19 He asserted that other makers copied his idea and made similar instruments in various proportions. Sax was one of them and only three months after Gautrot made his instrument he exhibited—presumably at the Paris 1855 International Exhibition—an instrument of a similar nature but of “gigantic proportions.” In 1867, Couturier exhibited a sub-contrabass saxhorn in 26-ft E-flat in that year’s International Exhibition held in Paris.20
Sax developed the saxhorns as a homogenous family with instruments in alternate pitches, two instruments per octave, same fingering and similar acoustical properties. Although instruments similar to saxhorns existed prior to his patents, in Germany in particular, Sax brought order, which had not existed previously. He promoted the same treble clef notation for all instruments of the saxhorn/saxotromba group. In his view, this would provide the opportunity for a musician with relatively little practice could play all the instruments of the group. Sax had realized the importance of creating instrument families, an approach which is thought to have had both pedagogical and marketing incentives. Lower saxhorns made in the Sax workshop do not present major changes through time. Their form remained almost constant. Berlin valves were used in the maker’s saxhorns for a very long time. Although some of Sax’s surviving saxhorns have Périnet valves, the majority have Berlin valves. However, Sax appears to have realized the efficiency of the Périnet valve, against which he talked frequently during the lawsuits between him and his contemporary makers. He found indirect ways of adopting aspects of the Périnet valves in his saxhorns, without altering radically the external appearance of his instruments. Not only did the wrap of saxhorns remain almost unchanged, the bore profile of instruments of the family also does not show any evolutionary changes throughout their period of production. The only exception is the group of contrabass saxhorns in 13-ft E-flat, which, after the mid-1850s, appears to have evolved towards larger bores and more conical bore profiles. The first known specimen reflecting this evolution was the contrabass saxtuba. Saxhorn production numbers must have dropped dramatically in the 1870s and 1880s, judging from the very low number of surviving instruments coming from that period and Sax’s production must have focused on saxophones and regular brass instruments. Saxhorns might have never become standard orchestral instruments, but their extensive use in mixed wind and brass bands is a fact. This was a result of many different circumstances, but not least due to Sax’s strong vision for the development and perfecting of brass instruments.
1. For more see Oscar Comettant, Histoire d’un inventeur au dix-neuvième siècle: Adolphe Sax, ses ouvrages et ses luttes (Paris: Pagnerre, 1860), 102–10.
2. For a list of extant Adolphe Sax musical instruments see Eugenia Mitroulia and Arnold Myers, List of Adolphe Sax Instruments at http://www.galpinsociety.org/gdsl.html. Readers aware of any Adolphe Sax instruments not included in this list are welcome to inform the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
3. For more see, Eugenia Mitroulia, “The Saxotromba: Fact or Fiction?,” Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 35 (2009): 123–49.
4. Instruments-Sax et fanfares civiles (Paris: Librairie des auteurs et compositeurs, 1867), 27.
5. Adolphe Sax, Méthode complète pour saxhorn et saxotromba, soprano, alto, ténor, baryton, basse et contrebasse à 3, 4 et 5 cylindres suivi d’exercices pour l’emploi de compensateur (Paris: Brandus et Cie, ), 8.
6. Adolphe le Doulcet marquis de Pontécoulant, Organographie: Essai sur le la facture instrumentale. Art, industrie, et commerce (Paris: Castel, 1861), 2:225.
7. Hector Berlioz, “De la réorganisation des musiques militaires,” Journal des Débats (1 April, 1845): 1.
9. For more on the saxtuba see Clifford Bevan, “The Saxtuba and Organological Vituperation,” Galpin Society Journal 43 (1990): 135–46.
10. See “Beaux-arts,” La Presse 4543 (3 December, 1848): 4.
11. Herbert Heyde, Das Ventilblasintrument (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1987), 224.
12. Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851. Reports by the juries on the subjects in the thirty classes into which the Exhibition was divided (London: William Clowes, 1852), 332.
13. “Séance de musique militaire” L’univers musical journal et abonnement musical (7 May, 1863): 154.
14. “Nouvelles diverses” Le ménestrel 30 (28 June, 1863): 239
15. J. D’Ortigue, “Nouveau instruments à six pistons et à tubes indépendants” Le ménestrel 33 (17 July, 1864): 261-62.
16. E. Charbonneau, Recueil administrative a l’usage des corps de troupe de toutes armes ou code manuel (Paris: Henri Charles-Lavauzelle, 1885): 273.
17. William Newton and Charles Frederic Partington (Eds.), The London Journal of Arts, Sciences and Manufactures and Repertory of Patent Inventions 39 (London: W. Newton, 1852): 399.
18. Pontécoulant, Organographie, 2: 424.
19. See Explication des perfectionnements faisant le véritable objet du brevet pris par Monsieur Sax, le 13 Octobre 1845 (Paris: impr. Madame Veuve Dondey-Dupré, 1858), 14.
20. Pontécoulant, La musique à l’Exposition universelle de 1867 (Paris: au Bureau du Journal l’Art Musical, 1868), 161.