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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A perfectly split octave would give tritones, but that would make ensemble writing rather gnarly - so it's understandable that Sax chose to alternate fourths and fifths, so we have Bb/Eb/Bb rather than C/F#/C. (Dividing the octave into three equal parts would be no better, e.g. Ab/C/E.)

However, this means that the sax types separated by fourths are much more similar to each other than those separated by fifths. Thus tenor and alto are closer to each other than A to S or T to B. I'm suggesting that this difference might be part of the reason why so many good musicians fear soprano or disdain bari. By contrast, most bari players easily transition to bass, and many soprano players will at least think about 'nino.

This may be a truism, but I haven't seen it spelled out.
 

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Well, this is of course the result of an evolution and what NOW is the situation... but it wasn’t always like that.

At the time when Sax made his first saxophones things were very different, it wasn’t him to chose for Eb and Bb , it was the players (so it was the market).


“..Since the first saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in the early 1840s,[4] saxophones have been produced in a variety of series distinguished by transpositions within instrument sets and tuning standard. Sax patented the saxophone on 28 June 1846, in two groups of seven instruments each. Each series consisted of instruments ranked by pitch, in alternating transposition. The series pitched in B♭ and E♭ soon became dominant and most saxophones encountered today are from this series. Instruments from the series pitched in C and F never gained a foothold and constituted only a small percentage of instruments made by Sax...”


Aside the instruments in F were also instruments in C and G which never really (with the temporary exception of the C-melody tenor and C soprano) took a foothold .

You have to remember that Clarinets formed the inspiration for the saxophone, Sax wanted to make an instrument, predominately, to replace clarinets ( for volume and ease of playing) in military marching bands where clarinets where overwhelmed by brass instruments. Clarinets, up to that point had been produced in almost any key so that the player, would switch clarinet rather than playing in more complex ways.

The fact that the saxophone were first introcuced in the military bands favoured the remaining of the pitches ( Bb and Eb) which were shared by most brass instruments present in those bands too , that is why only the instruments pitched in those keys are left (practically) nowadays, but, again, itwasn’t like that when it started.


“....Sax created an instrument with a single-reed mouthpiece and conical brass body. Having constructed saxophones in several sizes in the early 1840s, Sax applied for, and received, a 15-year patent for the instrument on 28 June 1846.[16] The patent encompassed 14 versions of the fundamental design, split into two categories of seven instruments each, and ranging from sopranino to contrabass. A limited number of instruments in the series pitched in F and C were produced by Sax, but the series pitched in E♭ and B♭ quickly became the standard. All the instruments were given an initial written range from the B below the treble staff to the E♭ one half-step below the third ledger line above staff, giving each saxophone a range of two and a half octaves. Sax's patent expired in 1866.[17] Thereafter, numerous other instrument manufacturers implemented their own improvements to the design and keywork.

Sax's original keywork, which was based on the Triebert system 3 oboe for the left hand and the Boehm clarinet for the right, was simplistic and made certain legato passages and wide intervals extremely difficult to finger; that system would later evolve with extra keys, linkage mechanisms, and alternate fingerings to make some intervals less difficult...
."
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yes, Sax inherited the Bb/Eb pattern, partly from the saxhorn sales which gave him the leverage to push his new saxophones. I can't think of any other reasonable way to assign pitches than with intervals of fourths and fifths. However, I'm just pointing out that this staggered pattern gives us pairs of saxophones which are near-siblings.

Similarly, the soprillo and contrabass are each separated from their nearest neighbors by jumps of a fifth, and perhaps this has been a minor factor in their limited adoption
 

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but those saxophones came way later, sax intended to have C and F instruments too. By the Way the one of the Tubax is tuned in C.

All of these did exist and were never succesful. Partly also for the LATER extension of the keywork which then gave a certain amount of overlap. What do you think of the Conn-O-Sax tuned in F and extended from Low A to high G?

This confusion and overlapping is witnessed also by the famous “ mistake” made by Ravel who wrote for a F sopranino (and instrument that only existed in theory) the part is normally played by a Bb soprano.

Marcel Mule speaks of that towards the end of this interview, he also says that some composers wrote for Alto in F ( which he doesn’t appear to know but which we know was made by several companies notably Conn and Couesnon)

 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Also, while the C instruments split a small interval in the Bb/Eb chain, G instruments would split a larger interval - and so have more chance of presenting an interesting new voice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Very interesting interview - and easy French too - thanks!
 

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especially because it’s is subtitled :)
 

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I think that the OP makes an assumption that may not be accurate; that people tend to favor instruments that are a fourth apart, because they're a fourth apart. What I see in my experience of saxophone players is that almost everyone plays alto and tenor, simply because those are the most used; but once a player ventures beyond that I think the most common thing is to go an octave from one's primary instrument thus alto/baritone, or tenor/soprano. Sopranino and bass are so rare that I don't think you can draw any conclusions about them.

Frankly I think that the majority of professional players that I've known play alto and tenor, with one or the other being their primary; and then the NEXT double (meaning in terms of how often it's chosen to play and how proficient they are) is clarinet or flute. There are a few, very few, who take baritone to be their primary instrument, but I don't think baritone players tend to play tenor as their next instrument. I don't know about sopranoists, the only examples I've known [of] are famous players like Liebman (tenor as double) or Lacy (no doubles at all, as far as I know).

For me personally, it's alto and baritone, and even though tenor is neatly sandwiched between them I have always found tenor to be more difficult both technically and musically.

I think that people who pick up doubles for their own interest are looking for a contrasting voice, not one as close as possible to the one they're already familiar with.
 

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I don't know that anyone is really thinking that much about how close the voices are to each other today. It mostly comes down to need and economics for virtually all the pro, semi-pro, and strong playing hobbyist I know. There are more alto and tenor chairs in bands and a great deal of music calls for first & second alto and tenor while there are rarely multiple soprano or bari parts. Likewise there are loads of nice playing (and often nice in appearance cosmetically) altos and tenors around to be had at very reasonable prices. Baris are expensive to buy and maintain as well as being a pain to lug around and potentially store if you're living in a small space.

Doubles seem to be largely dependent upon the particular idiom the player plays in most. Guys who play small group/combo jazz often double alto/tenor and sometimes soprano. For big band reedmen it's their primary sax and then flute, clarinet, sometimes soprano sax or bass clarinet. Pit band doublers it seems to me have another thing going on that is sort of high/low split where they play flute, piccolo, clarinet, alto sax, and oboe, or bass clarinet, tenor/bari sax, and bassoon with a bit of overlap in each direction. The funk /rock/R&B space is usually split alto/tenor and tenor/bari if there are multiple sax parts.

Personally I prefer doubling tenor and bari due to the more similar timbre and blowing characteristics though I know guys who prefer to double based upon pitch (Bb horns or Eb horns) but most just play the horns they need to do the job so I'm not sure there is any real conclusion to be drawn based upon what key the horns are pitched in.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I don't know that anyone is really thinking that much about how close the voices are to each other today. It mostly comes down to need and economics ...
Agreed. I'm not suggesting that this analysis should affect anyone's choice of sax - I'm suggesting that it DOES affect our choice of sax, a bit more than we realize. Myself, I'm omnimediocre.
 
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