Adolphe Sax, the brillant inventor of the saxophone (patented in 1846), held the position of Director of Stage Music at the Paris Opera from 1847 to 1894. It was the ideal situation for promoting and testing his instruments in an orchestra - the inventor managed to impose the saxophone in certain operatic works, symphonies, ballet music and of course military music.
Numerous appearances of the instrument have been catalogued, first timidly blended into the orchestra, then in actual colourful solos.
If the presence of saxophones in the Corona d'Italia by G. Rossini, Tannhaüser by R. Wagner, la Damnation de Faust by H. Berlioz, Ondine et le pêcheur by P. Dukas, Hulda by C. Franck ou 1st symphonie by A. Magnard seems a half hearted attempt, other composers like G. Bizet, C. Saint-Saëns, A. Thomas, V. d'Indy, L. Delibes, G. Charpentier or J. Massenet gave the instrument beautiful singing phrases from the heart of the orchestra.
Only a handful of mixed chamber music works were written before 1900. However the combination of saxophone accompanied by piano (or brass band) was commonly used. The music was generally written by the inventor's friends, often conductors of military bands, using a simple and classical style to meet the needs of open-air entertainment (themes and variations far removed from the great romantic masterpieces of the period).
This little musical suite outlines the chronology of saxophone solos before 1900, to be played with a piano reduction for harmonic support.
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), a true defender of Sax's inventions, sings the saxophone's praises in his Treatise on Instrumentation. It was he who used the instrument for the first time in a work for 6 wind instruments as an enthusiastic tribute to the famous Belgian instrument maker's inventions. Hymne pour les instruments de Sax was performed in public on February 3, 1844 in Paris at the Salle Hertz, Adolphe Sax himself playing the Eb bass saxophone part. Though the score unfortunately remains unaccounted for, we do know that the Hymne was an adaptation of his Chant sacré for choir, which had been composed several months earlier. The 1st solo presented here is a possible reconstruction of the saxophone solo.
The Berceuse, a solo originally played on soprano saxophone, is an excerpt from the Santa Claus Symphony (1853) by William Henry Fry (1813-1854). The American born composer was a fervent admirer of Adolphe Sax and the first American composer to write for large orchestra. This solo is symbolic, and deemed to be the first use of the saxophone in the United States, 50 years before Dixieland jazz.
Récit, a true cadenza for the alto saxophone, is accompanied by string pizzicati and held brass notes. This Récit is an excerpt from récit et prologue from the second scene of Act II from Ambroise Thomas' (1811-1896) opera Hamlet (1868). The 2 chants du Pérou (1865) were originally skifully harmonised for 3 saxophones, as inspired by songs played by Peruvian Indians on the "Quena", the national instrument.
Orient is a saxophone solo drawn from the great military march Orient et Occident opus 25 (1869). Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) often included a saxophone section, as often in symphonic as in operatic works.
The Ouverture and the Intermezzo de Georges Bizet (1838-1875) are the most remarkable alto saxophone solos. They were taken from orchestral suites based on stage music for the Arlésienne (1872).
The Barcarolle, by Léo Delibes (1836-1891) is drawn from his alluring ballet Sylvia (1876). A very elegant solo is heard on the alto saxophone.
Jules Massenet (1842-1912) used the saxophone numerous times. We are definitely charmed by the waltz using the saxophone in his opera Le Roi de Lahore, but it is above all thanks to his opera Werther that the saxophone became accepted. In Air des larmes de Werther (1892), the saxophone converses superbly with the character Charlotte. The solo from Vision is the singing reply given by the alto saxophone to Herod in Hérodiade (1881).
The Fantaisie is this album is an excerpt from the Fantaisie variée for saxophone and piano (1889). An essential of the saxophonist's historical heritage, this piece is typical of the simple light music of the time. Léon Wettge (1844-1909) conducted the 28th Artillery Regiment of Versailles before becoming conductor of the Garde Républicaine.
BERLIOZ : 1er Solo - BIZET : Ouverture - BIZET : Intermezzo - DELIBES : Barcarolle - FRY : Berceuse - MASSENET : Vision - MASSENET : Air des Larmes - SAINT-SAENS : Orient - THOMAS : Deux chants du Pérou - THOMAS : Récit - WETTGE : Fantaisie