Two hundred years ago this month, Adolphe Sax was born in Dinant, Belgium. The son of a music maker, he went on to invent an instrument which is the only one to bear the name of its inventor: the #saxophone. Last Monday, the Recorded Music Society, to mark the anniversary of his birth, listened to a programme of orchestral music using this instrument. It is a standard feature of jazz ensembles but it is only occasionally heard in orchestras and the repertoire for it is not large.
The presenter of the evenings programme was Ed Tinline – joint chair of the Society – who provided a fascinating history of the inventor himself and played examples of music from soon after its invention to the present day. One of the first composers to use it was the now unknown Jean-Baptiste Singelée who composed Premier Quatour from which we heard the andante played using four instruments actually made by Sax himself.
Strangely, it was the Russian composers who were keenest to compose work for the instrument and Ed played excerpts from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and also compositions by Glazunov: Concerto for alto saxophone and string orchestra, Jazz Suite No 1 by Shostakovich and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Georges Bizet was a fan and the intermezzo from L’Arlésienne features the instrument. Despite attempts by composers such as Walton, Britten and Vaughan Williams to include it into their music, it remains an ‘affiliate’ rather than a permanent feature of orchestras.
It has gained an odd reputation for itself and some feel there is an element of sleaze to it possibly because of its jazz connections. This was sufficient for the ecclesiastical authorities in Worcester Cathedral to ask for a section of a Vaughan Williams composition not to be played because it contained some music for the instrument!
The next meeting is a members evening and is on December 1st.