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NPR Arts & Life

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sax

Adolphe Sax, a Belgian musician and the inventor of the saxophone, was born 200 years ago Thursday.
Adolphe Sax, a Belgian musician and the inventor of the saxophone, was born 200 years ago Thursday.

It's rare to be able to celebrate a person who invented a popular musical instrument. Mostly, from the guitar to the violin to the flute, musical instruments have evolved over time: There is no Mr. Flute or Ms. Trumpet. But there is a Mr. Sax — or, rather, a MonsieurSax.

Adolphe Sax was born in Belgium 200 years ago Thursday. As a young man, Sax worked for his father, also an instrument maker. The younger Sax made improvements to the bass clarinet and invented a family of instruments called saxhorns before creating his eponymous "phone" in the early 1840s.

Music commentator Miles Hoffman recently spoke with NPR's Renee Montagne about the history of the saxophone and how the instrument, originally designed for military bands, became so closely associated with jazz. Hear the conversation, and the sound of some of Adolphe Sax's many saxophones, at the audio link.

The National Music Museum provided research assistance for this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: November 6, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
In some broadcasts of this report, the instrument heard when a piece of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" was played was an English Horn. We have corrected that mistake. The instrument heard in the final broadcast and in the audio player put on this on this page just after noon ET is an alto saxophone.