The Saxhorn in France: From 1843 to the Present Day
by Philippe Fritsch & David Maillot
Translated by Keith Braithwaite
A Bit of History
In 1843 Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) perfected a whole family of chromatic instruments covering a large range of almost five octaves, very similar to look at and with almost identical fingerings. The Count of Rumigny awaited the opportunity to present these new instruments to the King. The chance came in 1844 with the Industrial Exhibition. The King and the court were enthralled by the morning serenade played for them by the saxhorns, and, shortly afterwards, a plan to revise the instrumentation of military bands was put into action.
A public competition was organized at the main parade ground in Paris on 22 April 1845. It was at this time that the name saxhorn for this family of instruments was adopted after their inventor. A traditional band, including notably the redoubtable ophicleides, was supported by the high school headmaster Michel Carafa against another band consisting mainly of saxhorns.
Adolphe Sax (1814-1984)
There was much at stake both financially and artistically, and a lot of rather doubtful pressure was brought to bear, but the superiority of Sax’s instruments was undeniable. On 19 August 1845, a government decision based on the jury’s findings was taken with regard to the instruments in military bands:
1 small flute in C
1 clarinet in E-flat
14 clarinets in B-flat
2 bass clarinets in B-flat
2 cornets with 3 rotary valves
4 French horns with 3 rotary valves
1 small saxhorn in E-flat
2 saxhorns in B-flat
2 saxhorns in E-flat (alto)
3 bass saxhorns in B-flat with
3 or 4 rotary valves
4 double bass saxhorns in E-flat
1 rotary valve trombone
2 slide trombones
5 percussion instruments.
The early saxhorn
The composition of the different sections of the concert band has changed little since Sax’s day, but the name saxhorn is now limited to the bass saxhorn in B-flat related to the euphonium.
In our section of the Republican Guards Band we play either the saxhorn or the euphonium according to the repertoire or quite simply the orchestration.
The brilliant sound and precision of the saxhorn makes a better bridge between the saxophones and the string or brass double basses. The use of the euphonium is limited to works with less intricate orchestrations, which show off its lyrical qualities. In France there are about twenty professional concert bands of which the best known are the Republican Guards Band, the Air Force Band, the National Police Band, and the Paris Police Band. Each of these formations has between four and seven saxhorn players. The saxhorn is rarely used in symphony orchestras except in pieces by Moussorgsky, Mahler, Strauss, Messiaen, Nunes, and Grisey, but a specialist will be brought in to perform in these works.
It is in contemporary orchestras such as Pierre Boulez’s group Inter-contemporain that the saxhorn occasionally finds pride of place. In spite of the fact that it has existed for 150 years, it is only now that great modern composers are discovering and using the sound and technical potential of our instruments.
The saxhorn section of the Republican Guards Band: (L-R) David Maillot, Jean-Luc Petitprez, Michel Thiéblemont, and Philippe Fritsch
There are 3, 500 music-teaching establishments in France, many of whom offer saxhorn tuition. Normally speaking it is the same teacher for saxhorn, euphonium, and tuba. Music teaching in France is based on a pyramid system with two national academies of music, 32 regional academies and two higher academies –one in Paris and one in Lyons, which train professional musicians. In these last two establishments the students play both saxhorn and euphonium, thus enabling them to play the whole repertoire of French and foreign works and to have a wide range of different sonorities similar to trumpet players who also play the cornet, the flugelhorn, and the D trumpet.
The first original works composed for the saxhorn were commissioned by Adolphe Sax himself and published by his own music publishing company in Rue Saint Georges in Paris. He organized musical evenings for invited guests who were entertained by such works as Le Grand Duo based on airs from Rossini’s William Tell composed for the new saxhorn, Sax’s six-piston trombone and piano. The highly celebrated Jean-Baptiste Arban was the very first saxhorn professor at the Paris Academy of Music.
Saxhorn class at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris and Dance
As from the 1950s the solo repertoire for the saxhorn starts to develop thanks to works commissioned by the Paris Academy of Music. Examples include Tubachanale by Roger Boutry, Mouvement by Jean-Claude Henry, Suite Breve by Albert Desenclos, Concertino by Jacques Murgier, Colors in Mouvement by James Moreau, and Rhizomes by Frederic Boulard. The saxhorn repertoire now contains several hundred works at all levels.
One of the main differences between the saxhorn and the euphonium is the length of the mouthpiece tubing and the placing of the tuning slide, which is to be found before the pistons in the saxhorn and after them in the euphonium. Even if the saxhorn has undergone several modifications since the original instrument brought out by Adolphe Sax, the essential elements that are responsible for its qualities have not been changed. In the above picture, David Maillot is on the left with the latest model saxhorn made by Antoine Courtois in Paris in 2004, and on the right is Philippe Fritsch with an original saxhorn made and signed by Adolphe Sax. The latest model made by Antoine Courtois incorporates four compensated pistons identical to what we find on the euphonium. This allows us to move easily from one instrument to the other here in France, and it will make the French repertoire more accessible to euphonium players.
David Maillot (left) with modern Courtois saxhorn; Philippe Fritsch with an original Saxhorn signed by Aldophe Sax
This is an exciting time for the saxhorn, and many are excited to see that it will be featured at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference this July in Budapest (ITEC 2004). Sebastian Stein and Yumi Otsu will give a recital at ITEC 2004 Budapest with a program of music for saxhorn and euphonium. In addition, the saxhorn section of the Republican Guards Band, Philippe Fritsch, David Maillot, Jean-Luc Petitprez, and Michel Thiéblemont with Yumi Otsu at the piano, will also be performing at the conference.
For more information on the saxhorn (as well tuba and euphonium) in France, please visit Luc Bernard Lefebvre’s website at www.saxhorn-euphonium.com.
Sebastian Stein, saxhorn virtuoso appearing at ITEC 2004 in Budapest Philippe Fritsch was born in 1961. After studying music at the Academy of Music in Mulhouse in France he was awarded three first prizes at the Higher Academy of Music in Paris for bass saxhorn, tuba, and chamber music. He is now saxhorn and euphonium soloist in the Republican Guards Band in Paris. He performs as soloist with major French orchestras and presents masterclasses and other courses. In 1999 he was appointed saxhorn and euphonium professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris. He is the director of a collection with the music editor Gérard Billaudot (www.billaudot.com) where his main role is to encourage the interest shown by present day composers in the saxhorn and the euphonium. With the instrument manufacturer Antoine Courtois (www.courtois-paris.com) he collaborates in the improvement of the saxhorn. He is president of the Association Saxhorn-Euphonium-Tuba, ASET, and co-organizer of the Internet site www.saxhorn-euphonium-tuba.com.
David Maillot currently performs saxhorn with the Republican Guards Band in Paris conducted by Francois Boulanger. Included in his past honors are first prize of saxhorn and euphonium of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, Gold Medal in the European competition of Luxembourg, first prize in the Rotary’s Lion Club Competition, Gold Medals in saxhorn and chamber music from the Douai Conservatory, and was also invited by Steven Mead to perform at the Royal Northern College of Music Tuba and Euphonium Festival as European Young Artist. Maillot is highly active performing in many ensembles throughout France, some of which have recently included the Ensemble Intercontemporain, National Orchestra of Paris opera, National Orchestra of France, Philarmonic Radio Orchestra of France, Ensemble Recherche (Germany), and the National Orchestra of Lille. Maillot has been teaching since 1997, and he is currently an assistant professor in saxhorn at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris.
Keith Braithwaite is a self-taught amateur musician who happens to be English and living in France for the past thirty years. He previously taught at the University of Perpignan in the south of France where he directed the university’s chorale and jazz band. After retiring four years ago he now resides in Picardy. Upon arriving in Picardy he joined the local concert band and since the group already had six alto saxophones, he was offered the opportunity to play euphonium …and he has been playing it every since. Keith also plays bass guitar and synthesizer in another concert band. He is currently involved with Tubas for Christmas –600 tubas playing Christmas carols in the open air in two major concerts each year –as well busy with publishing the compositions of Catalan singer-composer, Jordi Barre, who is a lifelong friend. More information on these events as well other items can be found at the following websites: www.jordi-barre.com/tn; www.jordi-barre.com/tn/ indextubas.html;and www.jordi-barre.com/keith.