Open main menu

SAXHORN, the generic name of a family of brass wind instruments (not horns but valve-bugles) with cup-shaped mouthpieces, invented by Adolphe Sax and in use chiefly in French and Belgian military bands and in small wind-bands. The saxhorns came into being in 1843, when Sax applied a modification of the valve system invented in Germany in 1815 to the keyed bugle. The saxhorn consists of a conical tube of a calibre greater than that of French horn and trumpet, but smaller than that of the tubas or bombardons, and capable therefore of producing by overblowing the members of the harmonic series from the 2nd to the 8th, in common with the cornets, bugles, valve-trombones and the Wagner tubas. The saxhorns are furnished with three valves, by means of which the compass is rendered chromatic, and which act as in other valve instruments, lowering the pitch of the instrument when depressed, respectively 1 tone, a semitone and 1½ tones; and further, when used in combination, 2 tones, 2½ tones and 3 tones. The Flügelhorns, the euphonium, the bombardon and the tubas are sometimes erroneously classed as saxhorns. The difference between saxhorns and bombardons or tubas consists in the calibre of the bore, which in the latter is sufficiently wide in proportion to the length to produce the fundamental note of the harmonic series an octave below the lowest note of the saxhorns. The consequence of this structural difference is important, for whereas the tube of the tubas is theoretically of the same length as an open organ pipe of the same pitch, the saxhorns require a tube twice that length to produce the same scale. For instance, a euphonium sounding 8 ft. C only needs a tube 8 ft. long, whereas the corresponding bass saxhorn requires one 16 ft. long. In Germany these structural differences have given rise to a classification of brass wind instruments as whole or half instruments (Ganze or Halbe),[1] according to whether the whole or only the half of the length of tubing is of practical use. The members of the saxhorn family are the small saxhorn in E♭, the soprano in B♭, the alto in E♭, the tenor in B♭, the bass in B♭ (an octave lower), the low bass in E♭, the contrabass in B♭, three octaves below the soprano. All the saxhorns are treated as transposing instruments.[2] A similar family, constructed with rotary valves and conical tubes of larger calibre than the saxhorns, but having the same harmonic scale, is known in Germany as Flügelhorn. (K. S.)

Britannica Saxhorn Harmonic Scale.png

  1. See Dr Emil Schafhäutl's article on musical instruments in sect. iv. of Bericht der Beurteilungscommission bei der allg. deutschen Industrieausstellung, 1854 (Munich, 1855), pp. 169-170.
  2. Georges Kastner, in Manuel général de musique militaire (Paris, 1848), gives full information on the saxhorns, pp. 230 et seq., 246-247, and Pls. xxii. and xxiii.