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The History of the Alto Saxophone

The saxophone was created to be the link between the woodwind and brass section. It is a complicated type of instrument and made of brass. It is a woodwind instrument that depends on a mouthpiece and a clarinet to generate the rhythm, which becomes the tune of saxophone. The story of saxophone started in the tiny town of Dinant in Belgium city. Its inhabitant rebuilt the town after the war swept through it completely and now this is standing there same as before 1914 and reminds its musical instruments. The city’s main source of wealth has been brass since ages.

In the starting of 19th century, a maker of brass woodwind musical instruments named Charles Joseph Sax also lived in Dinant. Then in 1814 Adolph who was the first of his eleven children was born. By that time Charles shifted in Brussels as he got the contract of making band instruments for the army in the kingdom of King William I of the Lowlands. It is not uncommon if a child follows the steps of his father as Adolph also got chance from his childhood to be familiar with the various forms and shapes of all brass and woodwind instruments.

When he was just six years old he could pierce a clarinet’s body well and twist the cup of a horn. Initially he became a brilliant flutist and he learned to play clarinet from Bender who was a conductor in Belgium military band. In 1830 when he was just fifteen years old his two flutes and a clarinet made of ivory were considered extremely fine specimen in the Brussels Industrial Exhibition. At the age of twenty he invented bass-clarinet. Though this instrument had the presence before also but it did not have clear sound. Adolph’s bass-clarinet made a good place in woodwind group.

In an event at the Brussels Grande Harmonie Sax won a competition by playing his bass-clarinet and that really gave him name (Leon Kochnitzky, 1964). Gradually, Sax became popular all over Europe but for this he had to struggle a lot. He became the rival of money-lenders, jealous competitors, critics and other musicians. But he sustained also by his supporters like Napoleon III, King Louis-Phillip and he received many medals for his works. He died in 1894. There is a controversy about the invention of saxophone. Some argue that Sax’s new musical instrument- bass-clarinet was not the saxophone.

But there are some proves in the article of Hector Berlioz, which was published on June 12, 1942 that accurately describes about the presence of saxophone and also the presence of Sax in Paris. This article gave Sax a name in his career. He was greeted by the well-known musicians for his work. He got recognition as a musicologist (Leon Kochnitzky, 1964). Sax had clear thinking for music. He did some changes in his bass-clarinet. He joined a semitone to its compass in the lower scale and for doing so he stretched the tube of the soprano clarinet towards the bell and in this position the clarinet can play E flat.

The ancient clarinet had wrong B flat note but the new clarinet has the right one, which is supposed to be the best. The vibration of A to B in the lower scale , B flat to B natural, B flat to C in the medium scale, E to F sharp and from F to F is produced with excellent sound effect and they are also easy to play. Sax just fixed a small key under the mouthpiece of clarinet and these medium notes have become easy to play. The B flat is so easy to play that a performer does not have to make any effort. Sax’s bass-clarinet is similar to the old one only in name.

The new instrument does not have holes and in place of that keys are introduced to the points in association with the vibration. The new brass-clarinet has twenty two keys and has perfect sound accuracy. Its sound increases with the help of its diameter that does not obstruct the performance of octaves and fifths. This is because of the key which is placed near the mouthpiece of the instrument. The lower notes of this instrument are more appreciated (Leon Kochnitzky, 1964). The Saxophone was given its name after its inventor. It is a brass instrument with nineteen keys. Its mouthpiece is same like brass-clarinet.

Its compass of three octaves starts from the B flat. Its fingering is same like a flute. The Saxophone has become the head of the brass instrument family and no other bass instrument can be compared with it. Its sound is very soft and is rarely found. It can be considered a new sound. Because of the bass-clarinet’s lower E and F this instrument has become exceptional as the sound it creates can not be heard any of the timbers of the orchestra. Its reed helps in increasing and decreasing its sound. Its higher notes give a melodic rhythm. Berlioz calls it Le Saxophone in place of calling it Le Saxophone.

So there is a possibility that the new instruments were not completed in the spring of 1942. It is also assumed that Sax created alto, tenor and soprano saxophones after sometime when he could not bear the remarks of Berlioz who commented that it is impossible to play rapid passages on a saxophone. The Saxophone first appeared in the exhibition of Paris Industrial during the summer of 1844. It is assumed that General de Rumigny, King Louis-Philippe with Queen Marie-Amelie and the whole family spent a long time in the inventor’s stand. The Distins were also present there and they all together managed a recital to honor the royal family.

The family was so satisfied that it called the whole group to perform the concert in the court. In December of the same year Saxophone was played for the first time in an orchestra (Leon Kochnitzky, 1964). Berlioz article narrates the progress of saxophone. He tells that Gymnase Musical started giving lessons of saxophone. The French King was so much fascinated by the sound of this instrument that he became the great admirer of it and he introduced the instrument into the band and desired to listen to it solely in a particular piece of music (Leon Kochnitzky, 1964).

Adolph Sax actually made 14 different sizes of saxophone whereas seven sizes were made for orchestra pitch that is C and F and seven sizes were made for band pitch that is Bb and Eb. The commonly used saxophones are the Bb tenor saxophone, the Eb alto saxophone, and the Eb baritone saxophone. This instrument’s fantastic combination of wooden reed and metal body mix it likewise with brass or woodwind instruments. Of the many types of a saxophone the alto and the tenor are mostly liked (Bob Bernotas, 2003). It is the third smallest type of instrument in saxophone family. The classical composers generally prefer to use this.

Glazunov, Ibert and Dbussy are some names famous for their classical collection for the alto. Generally beginners start learning with alto and then tenor is secondly popular. Many tenor players first start learning with alto and then they switch on tenor. The alto’s shape is curved like backward ‘J’. It is a horn that is mostly suggested. It is mainly for those who are learning saxophone because it is very comfortable in size and shape. It generally is available in straight model with a little tipped bell. The upper range is known as altissimo register that begins with F flat and expands upwards for an octave.

Only advanced players can be mastered in this type of rage. The alto saxophone is more associated with classical music than a tenor. It is a versatile instrument and except classical music it is very common in many kinds of music like jazz, pop, rock music etc. Some alto saxophonists for jazz music are Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy and for classical music the renowned musicians are Marcel Mule, Sigurd Rascher, and Eugene Rousseau. From the mid of 1920s many band alto saxophonists have played double role like Benny Carter who was multi talented served as lead voice in saxophone section and also as a solo improviser.

In the same period Johnny Hodges opened the alto’s sensual character by using this instrument both in ballads and blues. Though the position of tenor was more dominating still, alto has engaged in a prominent role in the progress of jazz in the swing era. In 1940, Charlie Parker, an alto saxophonist who is supposed to be one of the very well known pioneers, invented some melodic pieces of jazz and his firm approach opened the way for this instrument. During 1950s, Omette Coleman attracted some listeners by making some changes in the cord and by playing his alto made of plastic in a very high manner (Bob Bernotas, 2003).

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