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The saxhorn is a valved brass instrument with a conical bore and deep cup-shaped mouthpiece. The sound has a characteristic mellow quality, and blends well with other brass.


The saxhorn family

The saxhorns form a family of seven instruments (although at one point ten different sizes seem to have existed). Designed for band use, they are pitched alternately in E-flat and B-flat, like the saxophone group.

There is much confusion as to nomenclature of the various instruments in different languages. This has been exacerbated by the debate as to whether the saxhorn family was truly new, or rather a development of members of the previously existing cornet and tuba families. The saxhorn is also commonly confused with the flügelhorn, a German instrument which has a different configuration and predates the saxhorn. This confusion is not helped by the fact that most instruments referred to today as flügelhorns are actually soprano saxhorns.[citation needed]

The following table lists the members of the saxhorn family as described in the orchestration texts of Hector Berlioz and Cecil Forsyth, the J. Howard Foote catalog of 1893, and modern names.

Ranges of individual members

The saxhorn is based on the same three-valve system as most other valved brass instruments. Each member of the family is named after the root note produced by the second partial with no valves actuated. Each member nominally possesses or possessed the typical three-valve brass range from the note one tritone below that root note (second partial, all valves actuated) to the note produced by eighth partial with no valves actuated, i.e., the note two octaves above the root note.

All the modern members of the family are transposing instruments written in the treble clef with the root note produced by the second partial with no valves actuated being written as middle C, though baritone often plays bass clef parts, especially those written for the trombone.


Developed during the mid-to-late 1830s, the saxhorn family was patented in Paris in 1845 by Adolphe Sax. Sax's claim to have invented the instrument was hotly contested by other brass instrument makers during his lifetime, leading to various lawsuits. Throughout the mid-1850s, he continued to experiment with the instrument's valve pattern.

Saxhorns were popularized by the distinguished Distin Quintet, who toured Europe during the mid-19th century. This family of musicians, publishers and instrument manufacturers had a significant impact on the growth of the brass band movement in Britain during the mid-to late-19th century.

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