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Classical 101

Adolphe Sax: Inventor of the Saxophone's 200th Birthday

Happy 200th birthday to Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, born on November 6, 1814.  When I think of the Belgian musical instrument designer and musician's most famous creation, I have to admit it's American jazz that first comes to mind for me, particularly the sound of some of its greatest players and their recordings from the late 1940's through the 50's and 60's such as, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, and Sonny Rollins, among the luminaries.  But of course there is much more than that. Ubiquitous in marching bands across the land, military bands, and sometimes used in symphony orchestras, this single-reed  instrument of the woodwind family was patented in 1846 by its inventor.  By 1842, early versions of Sax's most popular creation were already being approved and used by composers such as Hector Berlioz.  A little later, people like Georges Bizet, Jules Massenet, and Leo Delibes used the new saxophone in some of their works. It was in the 20th century though, that the saxophone started to appear more frequently in classical compositions, with composers such as Claude Debussy, Darious Milhaud,  Jacques Ibert, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Alexander Glazunov and others writing pieces for the instrument.  Some familiar works that have the saxophone as a noticeable part of the orchestral sound include, Bolero by Ravel, and his orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Romeo and Juliet, and Lt. Kije by Prokofiev, and the Symphonic Dances of Rachmaninoff. On Thursday on Classical 101, you'll hear a selection of pieces in varying styles and ensembles featuring Adolphe Sax's most popular instrument. Most of us probably know what the saxophone sounds like in marching bands and in jazz ensembles, but above is a good example of one woven into the orchestral sound of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, listen particularly about 4 minutes into the first movement.