In The Devil's Horn, Michael Segell traces the 160-year history of the saxophone-a horn that created a sound never before heard in nature, and that from the moment it debuted has aroused both positive and negative passions among all who hear it. The saxophone has insinuated itself into virtually every musical idiom that has come along since its birth as well as into music with traditions thousands of years old. But it has also been controversial, viewed as a symbol of decadence, immorality and lasciviousness: it was banned in Japan, saxophonists have been sent to Siberian lockdown by Communist officials, and a pope even indicted it.
Segell outlines the saxophone's fascinating history while he highlights many of its legendary players, including Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Branford Marsalis, and Michael Brecker. The Devil's Horn explores the saxophone's intersections with social movement and change, the innovative acoustical science behind the instrument, its struggles in the world of "legit" music, and the mystical properties that seduce all who fall under its influence. Colorful, evocative, and richly informed, The Devil's Horn is an ingenious portrait of one of the most popular instruments in the world.
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Michael Segell is an editor at the Daily News, an amateur percussionist and saxophone player, and a professional music lover. He lives with his wife and children in New York City and Long Eddy, New York.
Michael Segell's writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Esquire, where he wrote the popular column "The Male Mind" for three years. He has received two National Magazine Award nominations for his work.
The Devil's Horn
1. THE GHOST CHILD He was known as Le petit Sax, le revenant (the ghost-child) to the citizens of his village, Dinant, in Belgium. After one of his many nearly fatal accidents, his mother lamented, “The child is doomed to suffer; he won’t live.” Almost before he could walk, little Adolphe Sax, christened Antoine Joseph in 1814, was fascinated with the alchemical magic performed every day in his father’s workshop, where the most elemental materials were recombined into the finest brass, which was in turn fashioned into an exquisite musical instrument. Although Charles Joseph Sax, who had been appointed Belgium’s chief instrument maker by William I of Orange, was eager to pass on his skills to his firstborn son, agents of misfortune conspired relentlessly to remove the boy from the land of the living. When he was two Adolphe fell down a flight of stairs, smashed his head on a rock, and lay comatose for a week. A year later, toddling around his father’s atelier, he mistook sulfate of zinc for milk, gulped it down, and nearly expired. Subsequent poisonings involved white lead, copper oxide, and arsenic. He swallowed a needle, burned himself severely on a stove, and was badly scorched again by exploding gunpowder, which blew him across the workshop floor. He was again rendered comatose by a heavy slate tile that dislodged from a roof and landed on his head. When he was ten, a villager happened to spot the drowning lad when, after falling into a river, he was eddying, facedown and unconscious, in a whirlpool above a miller’s gate. The villager just managed to pluck him from the water. Before he entered adolescence, his head was scarred by the repeated blows, and one side of his body was badly disfigured by burns. But his misadventures proved instructive, hardening him for the nasty battles that would plague him as he tried to launch an ingenious musical invention, a serpentine horn whose provenance he secured by naming it after himself. From the moment his lips first touched his saxophone prototype, Adolphe Sax would face a juggernaut of slander, theft, litigation, forced bankruptcies, and attempts on his life that tried to suppress his new sound, a sound never before heard in nature, a sound that promised to change the timbre and soul of music wherever it was played.
By 1842, the twenty-eight-year-old Adolphe Sax was widely recognized as one of the world’s top acoustical craftsmen. Far more skilled and ambitious than his brilliant father, he set out on a late-winter day from Brussels for Paris, then the musical-instrument manufacturing center of the world. In addition to his personal belongings, he carried with him an enormous brass horn, almost as tall as he, that he had fabricated in his father’s workshop, where he had thrived after surviving his calamitous childhood. It was the most recent creation of his already remarkable career. At fifteen he had fabricated a clarinet and two flutes from ivory, considered exquisite specimens by judges at the 1830 Brussels Industrial Exposition. Before he was twenty he had created a new fingering system on the soprano clarinet and reinvented the bass clarinet, transforming the unreliable and mostly unplayable instrument into a regal, elegant woodwind that provided a rich bottom to any instrumental configuration and, remarkably, played in tune. The newly rehabilitated instrument had quickly been adopted as a standard member of the woodwind group and its inventor acknowledged as an engineer of great promise in the musical capitals of Europe. Despite his success, Sax was feeling grossly maligned and unappreciated. For several years the judges of the Belgian national exhibition had refused to grant him the first prize for his innovations, reasoning that though the precocious designer may have deserved them, were he to receive the exhibition’s highest honors at such a young age, he would have nothing else to aspire to. The year before, in 1841, Sax had prepared to submit for review his new bass horn, the as-yet-unnamed saxophone, the first in a proposed family of seven that would reconfigure the sonic organization of military and symphonic orchestras. After glimpsing the instrument—a brass-and-reed hybrid that joined the body of an ophicleide, a sinuous conical horn, with a clarinet-style mouthpiece—the first wholly new one to emerge since the clarinet had been invented a hundred years before, a jealous competitor apparently booted it across the floor, damaging it so badly it was unfit for exhibition. Disappointed and disgusted, Sax had packed his belongings, carefully wrapped up his mangled creation, and fled Brussels. When he arrived in Paris he had thirty francs in his pocket. It was the first of many attempts to suppress this intrusive latecomer, this interloper, which, unlike wind instruments with ancient roots, could trace its lineage only as far as the revolutionary design specifications of a visionary acoustical scientist. Like every subsequent injunction over the next century against the saxophone and its “carnal,” “voluptuous” sound—by heads of state, local police, educators, symphonic conductors, film censors, and a host of other moral arbiters, including the Vatican—it failed.
Brash, arrogant, handsome, with a lush, full beard and bedroom eyes, Adolphe Sax was the embodiment of the fiery nineteenth-century Romantic. Enormously self-confident—“In life there are conquerors and the conquered; I most prefer to be among the first,” he often said—Sax was sure that his invention would have profound and everlasting repercussions for music and its practitioners. A brief trip to Paris in the spring of 1839 had strengthened his conviction; the well-regarded composers François-Antoine Habeneck, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Jacques Fromental Halévy, to whom he had shown the new bass clarinet and a few of his retooled brass instruments, praised him lavishly during his visit. Sax was convinced he would find a learned and appreciative audience in the salons and conservatories of France and receive the recognition he had been denied in Brussels. Paris represented a fresh start in other ways, too. As a young man, Sax had shown a remarkable ability to develop enemies. Not long after he reinvented the bass clarinet, a jealous artist at the Brussels Grande Harmonie declared he would quit the orchestra if it adopted the new instrument by the designer, who was also a highly talented musician. Sax challenged him to a musical duel—a strategy he deployed frequently with his critics. In his adopted city of Paris, he decided on a new tack. He invited the composer Hector Berlioz, who wrote a feuilleton for the highbrow Journal des débats, to review his instruments, including the improved clarinets and the prototype for his new bass horn. On June 12, 1842, Berlioz devoted much of his column to Sax, “a man of lucid mind, far-seeing, tenacious, steadfast and skilled beyond words.” He called the new instrument le Saxophon, an eponym the egomaniacal young genius wholly endorsed, and predicted the instrument would “meet with the support of all friends of music.” Attempting to describe the unique effects the horn has on the human ear, Berlioz wrote elsewhere, “It cries, sighs 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.” In another article, he said, “The timbre of the saxophone 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 saxophone is, in my mind, the most beautiful low voice known to this day.” Other composers echoed the praise, even though they had heard the instrument before it underwent its final refinements. The opera composer Gioacchino Rossini declared that “it produced the finest blending of sound that I have met with.” Claude Lavoix described its “particular color of sadness and resignation.” A couple of months after Sax arrived in Paris, Fromental Halévy exhorted him, “Hurry and finish your new family of instruments and come and succour to the poor composers that are looking for something new and to the public that is demanding it, if not to the world itself.” By 1843, Sax had put the final touches on his first prototype, a B-flat bass with a main body that was still shaped like an ophicleide. The bombastic Berlioz, perhaps recognizing a kindred spirit in his feisty, irritable new friend, helped promote the instrument in every way he knew how. He scored his Chant Sacre for an ensemble of Sax’s instruments, including the B-flat bass saxophone. In early 1844 the work was performed as Hymne pour les instruments de Sax at the Salle Herz, with Sax playing his bass prototype in what was probably the first public performance of the colossal new instrument. Later that year, Georges Kastner used the saxophone, this time a bass in C, in his biblical opera The Last King of Juda, performed at the Paris Conservatory, its only performance ever. Sax also wooed French royalty. A conservatory student for much of his youth, Sax could play, and play well, virtually every woodwind and brass instrument. At the Paris Industrial Exhibition in 1844, he kept his invention hidden from view (because it was not yet patented, he was then calling it a contrabass clarinet), quietly revealing it to only a few trusted acquaintances. One of them was Lieutenant General Comte de Rumigny, the king’s aide-de-camp, who arranged a showcase for Sax and a quartet of musicians before King Louis Philippe, Queen Marie Amélie, and two of their sons at court. Sax envisioned a major ...
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Descripción Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. Nº de ref. de la librería P110374159386
Descripción Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. 0374159386 New Condition. Nº de ref. de la librería NEW6.0170270
Descripción Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. Nº de ref. de la librería DADAX0374159386