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Saxophone History From an article by Sax Fifth Avenue

Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax was born on November 6, 1814 in Dinant, Belgium.

He 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.


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 of money.

Other 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.

Later that same year, Sax passed away while still struggling to overcome his opponents.