Adolphe Sax’s marketing campaign for new brass instruments

If people know only one thing about Adolphe Sax, it’s that he invented a lot of new instruments in the nineteenth century. Today, the saxophone is the most successful. That basically amounts to an ophicleide (a forerunner of the tuba with keys instead of valves) fitted with a clarinet reed. His redesign of the trombone with six independent valves, first introduced in 1852, was much more radical than any of the new instruments he invented. I’d like to look at at least part of his marketing campaign for that instrument as an illustration of his business methods. The important journal … Continue reading

Serpent, ophicleide, bombardon: the tuba’s forerunners

The tuba is the youngest regular member of the orchestra. Quite a bit of orchestral music is older, and it had to depend on one of three other instruments to provide a bass voice for the brass section. The serpent, ophicleide, and bombardon long ago disappeared from public view, but with the rise of historically informed performance, they have returned to concert halls at least occasionally. Serpent Of all brass instruments before the invention of valves in 1815, only the trombone could play a complete chromatic scale. Trombones were among the major instrument groups during the Renaissance. They were made … Continue reading

The Wagner tuba: the orchestra’s least known brass member

What is the most recently member of the orchestra? The tuba, invented in 1835 would seem to qualify, except that Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and some other very important works require an even newer instrument called the Wagner tuba. The invention of valves in 1815 led to the development of numerous new brass instruments. None of them produced the kind of sound Wagner envisioned as he started work on Das Rheingold. In 1854 he set out to find someone who could design something suitable. Playable specimens of the ancient Norse lur, when played by hornists of Wagner’s time had a … Continue reading