Object 4

Adolphe Sax
Trumpet with six valves and seven bells
Paris, 1869
Musical Instruments Museum (Royal Museums of Art and History, 4th dep.)

Inv. 2465


Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) from Dinant was one of the most talented musical instrument makers of the 19th century. He worked first in his father's workshops in Brussels, before settling in Paris where he opened his own factory. He was a skilled craftsman who incorporated industrial principles while developing the skills of an extraordinary inventor, in the musical field and beyond. His most famous invention remains the saxophone, which was patented in 1846 but only became a worldwide success after his death, thanks to jazz.

He also invented the saxhorn, saxotromba and saxtuba family, and made a number of improvements to wind and percussion instruments. A perfectionist at heart, he set about improving many existing musical instruments, such as the clarinet, the flute, the trumpet, the bugle, the horn, the trombone, the timbal, the bell and even the triangle!

To make valved instruments more balanced, he devised a six-valve system that, in theory, only played sounds with perfect intonation. Trumpets were given this ingenious mechanism, which is equivalent to combining several instruments into one. He filed a patent for this idea in 1852, followed by two others in 1859 and 1867.

Each of the six valves is independent from the others and produces its own series of natural sounds. If we add the notes acquired without using valves, we obtain seven harmonic series that produce all the notes on the scale. Each tube is connected either to a single bell or to seven distinct bells. The latter type produces particularly impressive, aesthetic and acoustically reliable instruments, although they are heavy and difficult to make. The fact that it is hard for musicians to learn new fingering was another disadvantage that prevented the system from taking off. It was kept only on the trombone, particularly in Belgium, until the mid-20th century. Several composers wrote beautiful scores for this type of instrument, including Giuseppe Verdi in his opera Don Carlos (1867).



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