Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax (6 November 1814 – c. 7 February 1894) was a Belgian inventor and musician who invented the saxophone. He played the flute and clarinet, and his other creations are the saxotromba, saxhorn and saxtuba.

Early life

Antoine-Joseph Sax was born on November 6, 1814 in Dinant, Belgium to Mr. and Mrs. Charles-Joseph Sax. While his first name was Antoine, he was referred to as Adolphe from childhood. His father and mother were instrument designers themselves, who made several changes to the design of the horn. Adolphe began to make his own instruments at an early age, entering two of his flutes and a clarinet into a competition at the age of 15. He subsequently studied performance on those two instruments as well as voice at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

According to the biography of Adolphe Sax, published on the city of Dinant’s website, Sax faced many near-death experiences. Firstly, he fell from a height of three floors, hit his head on a stone hard and could barely stand. He was considered dead. Secondly, at the age of three, he drank a bowl full of vitriolized water and later on swallowed a pin. Thirdly, he burnt himself seriously in a gunpowder explosion. Fourthly, he fell onto a hot cast iron frying pan, burning his one side as a result. Fifthly, he escaped from death due to poisoning and suffocation in his own bedroom, where varnished items were kept during the night. Sixthly, he was hit on the head by a cobblestone. Lastly, he fell into a river and was saved by the skin of his teeth. In short, Sax had a tragic childhood. As per the biography, his mother once said that “He’s a child condemned to misfortune; he won’t live”. His neighbors called him “little Sax, the ghost”.


Having left the school, Sax began to experiment with new instrument designs, while his parents continued to make conventional instruments to bring money into the household. Adolphe’s first important invention was an improvement of the bass clarinet design, which he patented at the age of 24. Sax relocated permanently to Paris in 1841 and began working on a new set of instruments exhibited there in 1844. These were valved bugles, and although he had not invented the instrument itself, his examples were so much more successful than those of his rivals that they became known as saxhorns. They range in approximately seven different sizes, and paved the path to the creation of the flugelhorn. Today, saxhorns are sometimes used in concert bands and orchestras. The saxhorn also laid the groundwork for the modern euphonium.

Sax also developed the saxotromba family, valved brass instruments with narrower bore than the saxhorns, in 1845, though they survived only briefly.

Saxhorn instruments spread rapidly throughout the world. The saxhorn valves were accepted as state of the art and are largely unchanged today. The advances made by Adolphe Sax were soon followed by the British brass band movement which exclusively adopted the saxhorn range. The Jedforest Instrumental Band formed in 1854 and The Hawick Saxhorn Band formed in 1855, within the Scottish Borders, a decade after saxhorn models became available.

Saxophone produced by Sax- Photo: Mikael Bodner

The period around 1840 saw Sax inventing the clarinette-bourdon, an early unsuccessful design of contrabass clarinet. He developed around this time the instrument for which he is now best known, the saxophone, patented on 28 June 1846. The saxophone was invented for use in both orchestras and concert bands. Composer Hector Berlioz wrote approvingly of the new instrument in 1842. By 1846 Sax had designed, on paper, a full range of saxophones (from sopranino to subcontrabass). Although they never became standard orchestral instruments, the saxophones made his reputation and secured him a job, teaching at the Paris Conservatoire in 1857.

Sax continued to make instruments later in life and presided over the new saxophone class at the Paris Conservatoire. Rival instrument makers attacked the legitimacy of his patents and mounted a long campaign of litigation against Sax and his company. He was driven into bankruptcy in 1856 and again in 1873.

Sax suffered from lip cancer between 1853 and 1858 but made a full recovery. He died in 1894 in Paris and was interred in section 5 (Avenue de Montebello) at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris. (Wikipedia)


Google Doodle to celebrate Adolphe Sax’s 201st birthday- November 6, 2015

In today’s music scene (particularly Jazz) the world has a lot to thank Adolphe Sax for his invention. Some of the most memorable ballads and hits have included the Saxophone as part of the musical piece. Countless musicians around the world attribute their success to him.


Brasserie Caracole is a Belgian artisanal brewery based in Falmignoul (near Dinant) that is one of the last breweries that used a wood-fired oven to heat their brewing kettles. The bottling and labelling are still done manually. The family that runs the brewery lives right next door- talk about a easy commute!

The brewery was already existing in 1766 under the name Brasserie Moussoux, then changed its name Brasserie Lamotte in 1941 and was finally taken over in 1992 to become the Brasserie Caracole. (Source: Wikipedia)

The product by Brasserie Caracole that pays homage to Adolphe Sax is their SAXO blond ale. It has  an unusual hoppiness, bitterness and a touch of spice. Bizzare grainy punch of taste preceding hops and waves of flavors whizzing over the tongue. (D&V International)

Belgian Beer Journal wants to celebrate Adolphe Sax’s 201st birthday, and to say thank you for inventing such a great musical instrument!

Brasserie Caracole’s SAXO available in the USA from D&V International.

#AdolpheSax #InventorOfTheSaxophone

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