This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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A Soprano Saxhorn in Eb

10 March 2010

This gentleman poses for the photographer with his Soprano Saxhorn in Eb. This is the lead solo instrument of brass bands from around 1850 to 1875. It has top action rotary valves (TARV) instead of side action rotary valves (SARV) or the piston valves of later instruments in the cornet/trumpet family. It is pitched in Eb, a fourth higher than the modern cornet in Bb.

The National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota has a very similar instrument in their collection. You can see it here:  Soprano Saxhorn

Though it is possible, it seems unlikely that this instrument was made by Adolphe Sax, who designed many of the early brass instruments. The information from the NMM website explains that this style of Saxhorn could only be made after the expiration of Monsieur Sax's patent in 1865.

There was an amazing variety of brass instruments that came out of the 19th century industrial revolution. Some were designed with the bell facing backwards, called over-the-shoulder bells and are characteristic of the American Civil War miltary bands which marched at the head of a parade. The Saxhorn is a bell-upright style coming out of France in 1845 from the Sax company. Sax also had a Saxotromba instrument similarly designed for bands on horse back. All of these early brass instruments came voiced from soprano to alto to tenor to bass, just as instruments had been designed since renaissance times. The modern saxophone, designed by Sax of course, retains that same idea of a consort of similar but differently sized instruments.

The photo is a small carte de visite and sadly has no photographer's name or other identification. I believe it is American from around 1865-1870 but even that is hard to prove. I like how the gentleman poses in a casual way with crossed legs. Note the music on the table which suggests a skilled musician. Perhaps he was an early band leader and soloist.

UPDATE:   I found this photo of a similar instrument, with Top-mounted American rotary valves using string action, manufactured by Isaac Fiske, of Worcester, MA circa 1850 - 1860.

It is from a great website for the
1st Brigade Band from Watertown, WI.  They are a brass band performing on period instruments and specializing in music of the civil war. 

Here is a video of one of their concerts and after the camera zooms in on a sleepy President Lincoln, there is a brief closeup of a Bell-Up cornet at about 0:56.

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