Adolphe Sax was born Antoine Joseph Sax on November 6, 1814 in Dinant and died February 2, 1894 in Paris.
He entered the Brussels Conservatoire and studied the flute and clarinet – the latter with Bender, who considered him one of his best pupils.
Like his father his efforts were directed mainly to the improvement of that instruments, especially the bass clarinet, and he even designed a double bass clarinet in B flat.
In the course of his endeavors to improve the tune of his favorite instrument he invented an entire family of brass instruments with a new quality of tone, which he called Saxophones.
The hope of making both fame and money led him to Paris; he arrived there in 1842, and established himself in the Rue St. Georges, in small premises which eh was afterwards forced to enlarge.
He had no capital beyond his brains and fingers, which he used both as a manufacturer and artist; but he had the active support of Berlioz, Halevy, and G. Kastner, and this soon procured him money, tools, and workmen.
He exhibited in the French Exhibition of 1844, and obtained a silver medal for his brass and wood wind instruments, a great stimulus to a man who looked down upon all his rivals, and aimed not only at eclipsing them, but at securing the monopoly of furnishing musical instruments to the French army.
In 1845 he took out a patent for the Saxhorn, a new kind of bugle, and for a family of cylinder instruments called Saxotrombas, intermediate between the saxhorn and the cylinder trumpet.
On June 22, 1846, he registered the Saxophone, which has remained his most important discovery.
A man of such inventive power naturally excited much jealousy and ill feeling among those who business suffered from his discoveries, but his tact and wisdom made numerous and powerful friends, among others General de Rumigny, Aide de camp to Louis Philippe, and a host of newspaper writers who were perpetually trumpeting his praises.
He lost no opportunity of vaunting the superiority of his instruments over those in use in the French military bands, at a special competition held between the two; and the superiority, whether deserved or not, soon resulted in a monopoly, the first effect of which was to banish from the military bands all horns, oboes, and bassoons.
The Paris Industrial Exhibition of 1849, at which Sax obtained a gold medal, brought his three families of instruments still more into notice; and he received the Council Medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
In spite of these merited honors, he became bankrupt in 1852. He soon however, made an arrangement with his creditors, and on recommencing business entered fore the Paris Exhibition of 1855 and gained another gold medal.
When the pitch was reformed in 1859 every orchestra and military band in France had to procure new wind instruments – an enormous advantage, by which any one else in Sax’s place would have made a fortune; but with all his ability and shrewdness he was not a man of business, and his affairs became more and more hopelessly involved.
There was full scope for his inventive faculties under the Second Empire, and he introduced various improvements into the different piston instruments, only one of which need be specified, viz. the substitution of a single ascending piston for the group of descending ones. This principle he adapted to both conical and cylindrical instruments.
He also invented instruments with seven bells and six separate pistons; instruments with rotary bells for altering the direction of sound, and a host of smaller improvements and experiments.
At the London International Exhibition of 1862, Sax exhibited cornets, saxhorns, and saxotrombas, with 3 pistons, and with 2, 3, 4, and 5 keys; and at Paris in 1867 he took the Grand Prix for specimens of all the instruments invented or improved by him.
He afterwards lost his powerful patrons and declined in prosperity year after year. He was obliged to give up his vast establishment in the Rue St. Georges and to sell (December 1877) his collection of musical instruments. The printed cataloge contains 467 items, and though not absolutely correct is interesting, especially for the view it gives of the numerous infringements of his patents.
The typical instruments of the collection were bought by the Museum of the Paris Conservatoire, the Musee Instrumental of Brussels, and M Cesar Snoeck of Renaix, a wealthy Belgian collector.