For those of you who don’t know, (Let me rephrase that: everybody) I am a composer. I write music blah blah. I recently finished a piece written for two alto saxophones, which is my primary instrument, for those of you who don’t know (again, everybody). This got me thinking (oh dear) again about the place of the saxophone.
The saxophone might just be the most badass instrument ever invented. It is the only instrument that was basically invented out of thin air by this guy right here: Adolphe Sax. He basically said, “I’m going to an instrument with the flexibility of a woodwind with the power of a brass,” so then he did. He then hauled a bunch of his new horns across Europe and brought them to every kind of instrument maker gathering he could find. Side note: He was hauling not just the smaller soprano/altos, but also the contrabass sax. The bass sax is really heavy and I’ve never seen a contra in person, but dude… Back on topic: He was laughed at and ridiculed everywhere he went. This was the guy who came up with the Boehm fingering system, so he wasn’t perfect. If you don’t know about the Boehm system, imagine something that completely goes against the laws of nature, and now add a wind instrument, that’s the Boehm system.
I’ve actually seen one of the early saxes, made by Sax himself. It looks almost exactly like a sax you’d see today. You can’t really say that about the earliest flutes and today’s flutes, or any instrument, matter of fact. Compare the early percussion (rocks) to today’s percussion (shiny rocks). Ironically, the instrument that has become synonymous with jazz, was indented for use in the orchestra. Why not jazz? It didn’t exist yet. It was 1846, long before jazz. Berlioz, being the illest cat in Europe at the time, saw the sax and was like, “I gotta add this to my 350 person orchestra,” and he was the first big name composer who wrote for the saxophone. Sadly, Berlioz was one of the few composers who did much with the sax for some, 60 years. It hasn’t found its way into many orchestral pieces; a few notable ones being Bolero, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and Rach’s Symphonic Dances. The poor saxophone mostly languishes in the wind band. Interesting note: In Hitler’s Germany, the sax was considered a Jewish instrument, thus making it not appropriate for Hindemith to write for it, but because it was against Hitler, maybe it just became that much better.
In the wind band, the sax family seems to mostly play a supportive role, coloring the band. It does this well, because it is so versatile, but not to often are really awesome part written for sax. (Grainger on the other hand…) The sax’s place now seems to be jazz (or trolling in public places), but I hope one day the sax will gain a place in orchestras and a better role in wind bands. As Mahler said about himself, the sax’s “zeit wird noch kommen.”
I will now end my rant with one of the coolest things I have seen on youtube.