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A modern bass saxhorn in B-flat

The saxhorn is a valved brass instrument with a tapered bore and deep cup-shaped mouthpiece. The sound has a characteristic mellow quality, and blends well with other brass.

The saxhorn family

The saxhorns form a family of seven instruments (although at one point ten different sizes seem to have existed). Designed for band use, they are pitched alternately in E-flat and B-flat, like the saxophone group. There was a parallel family built in F and C for orchestral use, but this seems to have died out.[citation needed]

There is much confusion as to nomenclature of the various instruments in different languages. This has been exacerbated by the debate as to whether the saxhorn family was truly new, or rather a development of members of the previously existing cornet and tuba families. The saxhorn is also commonly confused with the flügelhorn, a German instrument which has a different configuration and predates the saxhorn. This confusion is not helped by the fact that most instruments referred to today as flügelhorns are actually soprano saxhorns.[citation needed]

The following table lists the members of the saxhorn family as described in the orchestration texts of Hector Berlioz and Cecil Forsyth, the J. Howard Foote catalog of 1893, and modern names.

Foote Berlioz Forsyth Modern
--- Sopranino in C/B-flat --- ---
--- Soprano in E-flat Sopranino in E-flat Sopranino/Soprano in E-flat
--- Alto in B-flat Soprano in B-flat Soprano/Alto in B-flat
Alto in E-flat Tenor in E-flat Alto in E-flat Alto/Tenor in E-flat
Tenor in B-flat Baritone in B-flat Tenor in B-flat Tenor/Baritone in B-flat
Baritone in B-flat Bass in B-flat Bass in B-flat Baritone/Bass in B-flat
Bass in E-flat Contrabass in E-flat Bass in E-flat Bass in E-flat
Contrabass in E-flat Contrabass in B-flat Contrabass in B-flat Contrabass in B-flat
--- Contrabass in low E-flat --- ---
--- Bourdon in B-flat --- ---


Band of 10th Veteran Reserve Corps, Washington, D.C., April, 1865

Developed during the mid to late 1830s, the saxhorn family was patented in Paris in 1845 by Adolphe Sax. Sax's claim to have invented the instrument was hotly contested by other brass instrument makers during his lifetime, leading to various lawsuits. Throughout the mid-1850s, he continued to experiment with the instrument's valve pattern.

Saxhorns were popularized by the distinguished Distin Quintet, who toured Europe during the mid-nineteenth century. This family of musicians, publishers and instrument manufacturers had a significant impact on the growth of the brass band movement in Britain during the mid-to late-1800s.

The saxhorn was the most common brass instrument in American Civil War bands. The over-the-shoulder variety of the instrument was used, as the backward-pointing bell of the instrument allowed troops marching behind the band to hear the music.

Contemporary works featuring this instrument are Désiré Dondeyne's "Tubissimo" for bass tuba or saxhorn and piano (1983) and Olivier Messiaen's "Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum" (1984).



  • Saxhorn et piano - Hybrid'Music Label - october 2008

David Maillot, saxhorn - Géraldine Dutroncy, piano - Works by Eugène Bozza, Marcel Bitsch, Jacques Castérède, Alain Bernaud, Henri Tomasi, Claude Pascal, Gérard Devos and Roger Boutry.

14 Volumes of saxhorn band are available featuring The First Brigade Band

See also

External links

fr:Saxhorn io:Saxhorno it:Flicorni ja:サクソルン no:Saxhorn oc:Saxhorn