Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Devil's Horn - Berlioz on Sax and His New Invention

Time to talk about saxophones.  I am reading a book called The Devil's Horn, by Michael Segell (2005).  Sax arrived in Paris in 1839 and won over Hector Berlioz, who promoted Sax in 1842 by writing:

“It cries, signs and dreams.  It possesses a crescendo and can gradually diminish its sound until it is only an echo of an echo of an echo – until its sound becomes crepuscular*.  The timbre of the saxophon has something vexing and sad about it in the high register; the low notes to the contrary are of a grandiose nature, one could say pontifical.  For works of a mysterious and solemn character, the saxophon is, in my mind, the most beautiful low voice known to this day.”

Apparently, Sax fled Brussels because other musicians hated his instruments.  Segell says it was only the first time "heads of state, local police, educators, symphonic conductors, film censors, and a host of other moral arbiters, including the Vatican" would attempt to silence the carnal and voluptuous sound.  Wow.  All of this by page 12.

*Crepuscular is one of my favorite French words, having to do with the contrasts and odd brightness of light in the shadows at twilight, evoking Manet, Pissarro, Degas, Monet, Renoir and others.

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