Adolphe Sax, was a Belgian-French maker of musical instruments, who invented the saxophone. He was born in France ruled Belgium but lived in Paris throughout his professional life. Adolphe Sax’s parents were musical instrument designers and hence he became interested in the vocation from a very early age. In fact, he started making his own instruments at an early age and exhibited his flutes and a clarinet at a competition at the age of 15. However, it is also important to point out that other than his parents; he also got to learn a lot about musical instruments and the intricacies involved in them at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. Later on, he moved to Paris in order to pursue his objective of becoming a musical instruments designer. One of his most important inventions was the saxophone, an instrument that was patented and remains his greatest invention. However, many of his patents ran into trouble as his rivals questioned the legality of many of them and the legal costs involved in the process drove him to bankruptcy twice.
Childhood & Early Life
Antoine-Joseph Sax was born in Dinant, in modern day Belgium, on November 6, 1814. At the time of his birth the region was under French rule. His father, Charles-Joseph Sax, was a designer of musical instruments and his mother too was engaged in the same profession. He was called Adolphe by everyone and he became better known by that name.
Very little information is available in relation to Adolphe Sax’s early education but chroniclers have noted that the he showed an interest in music instrument design from an early age. In fact, he had designed a flute as well as a clarinet when he was only 15 and took part in a competition with those two designs as his entries. He studied those instruments at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.
Throughout his childhood Adolphe Sax suffered a series of life threatening accidents including a fall from a tall tree, a fall into a pan that caused severe burns and a fall into a river that could have drowned him among others. Even his parents are known to have convinced themselves that Sax would not live for long.
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Following his stint at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Adolphe Sax started designing music instruments as a professional and while his parents stuck to what they knew best, he decided to look for ways to design new instruments. When Sax was 24 years old, he designed an improved version of the bass clarinet.
Adolphe Sax moved to Paris in 1841 in order to pursue his profession as a music instrument designer and within three years he was able to lay out an exhibition of his creations in the city known for being a hot bed of creative individuals. One of the instruments he created was an improvement on the prevalent models of the valved bugles and Sax’s instrument came to be known as saxhorns.
In 1845, Adolphe Sax developed another set of valved instruments made of brass that came to be known as the saxotromba family; but, the instruments did not prove to be as popular as expected. However, the saxhorn became extremely popular due to its modern design and the saxhorn became popular outside France as well, as it became one of the instruments used by the British brass movement.
On June 28, 1846 Adolphe Sax’s most famous invention the saxophone was awarded a patent and the unique thing about the instrument was that it was versatile enough to be part of bands as well as orchestras. Well known composers like Hector Berlioz had also written about the saxophone in glowing terms.
Following his success with the saxophone, Adolphe Sax became a well known inventor and in 1857, the Paris Conservatory decided to hire him as a teacher. The previous year he had been bankrupted after he had to fight court cases against instrument manufacturers who cast doubts regarding the patents that he had been awarded and the cycle would repeat itself 17 years later. However, in spite of his poverty, Sax continued to work on new instruments throughout the rest of his life.
Adolphe Sax’s most important work in a career in which he designed plenty of musical instruments was that of designing the saxophone that went on to become one of the most popular musical instruments in the world.
Awards & Achievements
Adolphe Sax was honoured with a Legion of Honour, in 1849.
Personal Life & Legacy
Adolphe Sax never got married but he did have a romantic relationship with Louise-Adele Maor. They had five children and one of them, Adolph-Edouard Sax, went into the same profession as his father.
Although Adolphe Sax suffered from lip cancer between 1853 and 1858, but he managed to recover from the illness completely.
He died on February 7, 1894, in Paris, at the age of 79.