1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Saxophone

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(Besson & Co., Ltd.)

SAXOPHONE (Ger. Saxophon, Ital. sassofone), a modern hybrid musical instrument invented by Adolphe Sax, having the clarinet mouthpiece with single reed applied to a conical brass tube. In general appearance the saxophone resembles the bass clarinet, but the tube of the latter is cylindrical and of wood; both instruments are doubled up near the bell, which is shaped somewhat like the flower of the gloxinia. The mouthpiece in both is fixed to a serpentine tube at right angles to the main bore. On the saxophone, owing to its conical bore, the production of sound materially differs from that of the clarinet, and resembles that of the oboe. The reed mouthpiece in combination with a conical tube allows the performer to give the ordinary harmonic series unbroken, which means in practice that the octave or second member of the harmonic series is first overblown when the pressure of the breath and the tension of the lips on the reed are proportionally increased. The saxophone is therefore one of the class known as octave instruments. The fundamental note given out by the tube when the lateral holes are closed is that of an open organ pipe of the same length, whereas when, as in the clarinet family, the reed mouthpiece is combined with a cylindrical bore, the tube behaves as though it were closed at one end, and its notes are an octave lower in pitch. Hence the bass clarinet to give the same note as a bass saxophone would need to be only half as long. The closed pipe, moreover, can only overblow the uneven numbers of the harmonic series, and therefore first gives the 12th instead of the octave, which necessitates an entirely different arrangement of holes and keys and a different scheme of fingering.

The sopranino in F
The soprano in C
The alto in F
The tenor in C
The baryton in F
The bass in C

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The bore of the saxophone is large, and there are from 18 to 20 keys covering holes of large diameter to produce the fundamental scale. The first 15 semitones are obtained by opening successive keys, the rest of the compass by means of octave keys enabling the performer to sound the harmonic octave of the fundamental scale. The compass of the various saxophones extends over 2 octaves and a fifth with chromatic intervals, being one octave less than the clarinet. The complete family consists of the accompanying members. The treble clef is used in notation, and all saxophones are transposing instruments, the music being written in a higher key, according to the difference in pitch between the fundamental note of the instrument and the standard C of the notation. The keys given above are of the orchestral saxophones; the instruments used in military bands are a tone lower. The quality of tone of this family of instruments is inferior to that of the clarinets and has affinities with that of the harmonium. According to Berlioz it has vague analogies with the timbre of 'cello, clarinet and cor anglais, with, however, a brazen tinge. To a clockmaker of Lisieux named Desfontenelles, who made a clarinet with a conical bore and an upturned bell in 1807, is due the combination of single reed mouthpiece with a conical tube. In 1840 Adolphe Sax, in trying to produce a clarinet that would overblow an octave like the flute and oboe, invented the saxophone, which at once leapt into popularity in France and Belgium, where the alto, tenor and baryton have superseded the bassoon in almost all the military bands. Many modern French composers, Meyerbeer, Massenet, Ambroise Thomas and others, have scored for it in their operas. Kastner introduced it into the orchestra in Paris in 1844 in Le Dernier Roi de Juda. The saxophone has been adopted in England at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall. (K. S.)