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Adolphe Sax

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Subject: Bass saxophone, Saxophone, C soprano saxophone, Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Flugelhorn
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Adolphe Sax

Adolf Sax
Adolf Sax
Born (1814-11-06)6 November 1814
Dinant, province of Namur, Germany
Died c. 7 February 1894(1894-02-07) (aged 79)
Paris, France
Nationality Belgian
Occupation Inventor, musician, musical instrument designer
Known for Inventor of the saxophone

Antoine-Joseph "Adolf" Sax (6 November 1814 – c. 7 February 1894)[1] was a Belgian musical instrument designer and musician who played the flute and clarinet, and is well known for having invented the saxophone. He also invented the saxotromba, saxhorn and saxtuba.


Early life

Antoine-Joseph Sax was born in Dinant, Belgium to Mr. and Mrs. Charles-Joseph Sax. While his first name was Antoine, he was referred to as Adolf from childhood.[2] His father and mother were instrument designers themselves, who made several changes to the design of the horn. Adolf began to make his own instruments at an early age, entering two of his flutes and a clarinet into a competition at the age of 15. He subsequently studied performance on those two instruments as well as voice at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.[3]


Having left the school, Sax began to experiment with new instrument designs, while his parents continued to make conventional instruments to bring money into the household. Adolf's first important invention was an improvement of the bass clarinet design, which he patented at the age of 24. Sax relocated permanently to Paris in 1841 and began working on a new set of instruments exhibited there in 1844. These were valved bugles, and although he had not invented the instrument itself, his examples were so much more successful than those of his rivals that they became known as saxhorns. They range in approximately seven different sizes, and paved the path to the creation of the flugelhorn. Today, saxhorns are sometimes used in concert bands and orchestras. The saxhorn also laid the groundwork for the modern euphonium.

Sax also developed the saxotromba family, valved brass instruments with narrower bore than the saxhorns, in 1845, though they survived only briefly.[4]

Saxhorn instruments spread rapidly throughout the world. The saxhorn valves were accepted as state of the art and are largely unchanged today. The advances made by Adolphe Sax were soon followed by the British brass band movement which exclusively adopted the saxhorn range. The Jedforest Instrumental Band formed in 1854 and The Hawick Saxhorn Band formed in 1855, within the Scottish Borders, a decade after saxhorn models became available.

The period around 1840 saw Sax inventing the clarinette-bourdon, an early unsuccessful design of contrabass clarinet. He developed around this time the instrument for which he is now best known, the saxophone, patented on 28 June 1846. The saxophone was invented for use in both orchestras and concert bands. Composer Hector Berlioz wrote approvingly of the new instrument in 1842. By 1846 Sax had designed, on paper, a full range of saxophones (from sopranino to subcontrabass). Although they never became standard orchestral instruments, the saxophones made his reputation and secured him a job, teaching at the Paris Conservatoire in 1857.[5]

Sax continued to make instruments later in life and presided over the new saxophone class at the Paris Conservatoire. Rival instrument makers attacked the legitimacy of his patents and mounted a long campaign of litigation against Sax and his company. He was driven into bankruptcy in 1856 and again in 1873.

Sax suffered from lip cancer between 1853 and 1858 but made a full recovery. He died in 1894 in Paris and was interred in section 5 (Avenue de Montebello) at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.

Other invented instruments


  1. ^ Many sources give alternative dates for Sax's death, mainly 3 and 7 February. A sign at Sax's grave in Montmartre says 7 February, for example. However, 4 February appears in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (8th ed., Nicolas Slonimsky); and in both the first and second editions of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Fred L. Hemke, The Early History of the Saxophone, DMA diss., University of Wisconsin, 1975, 249–250.


  • Adolf Sax, Malou Haine, Ed. Bruxelles University, 1980
  • Sax, Mule & Co, Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Paris, H & D, 2004. ISBN 2-914266-03-0
  • Adolf Sax 1814-1894 — His Life and Legacy, Wally Horwood, Ed. Egon Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0 905858 18 2
  • The Cambridge Companion to the Saxophone, Richard Ingham Ed. Cambridge University Press 1998.

External links

  • Pictures of four Sax Saxophones (circa 1858–76)
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