Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, originally designed a family of 14 instruments, intended to be fully chromatic. Contrary to the clarinet, which overblows at the twelfth, saxophones are designed to overblow at the octave. This extensive family was split into two groups: one for orchestral use and the other tailored for military bands. Within each group were instruments of different sizes and pitches, crafted to encompass a broad spectrum of musical requirements.
The Two Groups of Saxophones
Orchestral Saxophones: These were intended for use in the orchestra and were keyed in C and F. Sax envisioned these instruments as part of the standard orchestral palette. However, they did not become as popular in orchestras as he had hoped.
Military Band Saxophones: These were keyed in B♭ and E♭, pitches more common in military bands and wind ensembles. This group became more popular and had a significant impact on the development of band music.
What were the initial saxophones created by Adolphe Sax?
Types of Saxophones
The original saxophone family included a range of sizes, similar to other woodwind and brass families:
Sopranino and Soprano Saxophones: The smaller saxophones, higher in pitch, were the sopranino and soprano. These instruments provided the top end of the saxophone's range.
Alto and Tenor Saxophones: The alto and tenor saxophones are perhaps the most well-known and widely used today. They offered a middle range that was versatile and expressive.
Baritone, Bass, and Contrabass Saxophones: These larger instruments provided the lower, more resonant sounds of the saxophone family.
Subcontrabass Saxophone: The largest of Sax's original designs, the subcontrabass saxophone, was an extremely large and low-pitched instrument.
While not all of Sax's original designs became standard in modern music, certain members of this family, particularly the alto and tenor saxophones, became staples in both classical and popular music genres, especially jazz. The initial concept of a diverse family of instruments showcased Sax's ambition to create a versatile and comprehensive range of voices within a single type of instrument. His innovation laid the foundation for the saxophone's enduring role in musical expression.