Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax was born on November
6, 1814 in Dinant, Belgium.
was the son of Charles-Joseph Sax, a manufacturer
who built a factory for brass and woodwind instruments.
While working under his father, Adolphe began
to develop the technique and imagination necessary
for the trade. He studied the flute and clarinet
at the Brussels Conservatory, and soon formed
his own ideas for the improvement of these instruments.
One of his first patents involved the refinement
of the bass clarinet. During this project, Sax
began outlining his plans for a new instrument.
This instrument would fill many duties by incorporating
elements from the string, woodwind, and brass
families. Hence, the saxophone was born.
Adolphe displayed his saxophone for the first
time at the 1841 Brussels Exhibition. Searching
for a broader audience, he moved to Paris in 1842
where he began his own instrument making business.
In 1846, the saxophone was finally given official
15-year patent. This new invention was ready to
be introduced to the world.
Sax was determined to make the saxophone familiar
to the music industry. Initially, the public was
unsure of the change it presented. He sparked
the interest of a few classical composers including
Donizetti and Bizet. Some even attempted to write
parts in their scores specifically for the saxophone,
but the musicians refused to taking any part in
advancing the inventor’s cause.
An opportunity arose in 1845 when the French government
showed its disapproval for the quality of its
infantry music. Adolphe took advantage of this
chance and recommended to the Minister of War
that a contest be held between a band of his instruments
and one of traditional military instruments. The
competition was a success as Sax’s band overwhelmed
the audience. From there on, Sax’s instruments
were adopted into French military music. The saxophone
was used to fill the weak middle and lower registers.
ALONG THE WAY
Adolphe Sax was met with even heavier opposition
from his competitors after the debut. They were
afraid of the ambitions of such a young rival.
But Sax never built large factories to mass produce
his instruments. Instead, he maintained a small
workshop in Paris and never made a great deal
instrument makers placed lawsuits on him in hopes
to nullify his patents. They eventually pushed
him into a life of poverty as he declared bankruptcy
twice, in 1856 and 1873. The vicious plot went
as far as physical attacks and arson to his workshop.
Unfortunately, Adolphe spent over ten years of
his life fighting this battle. At the age of 80,
three composers, Emmanuel Chabrier, Jules Massenet,
and Camille Saint-Saens, petitioned the French
Minister of Fine Arts to come to his aid.
that same year, Sax passed away while still struggling
to overcome his opponents.