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The Contrabass Saxophone is a very large reeded brass instrument that is a member of the saxophone family, developed by Adolphe Sax through the middle of the 19th Century. It really is a silly instrument, in the same category of grandeur as many of the Victorian estates that were redeveloped across Britain during this time. The resonant chamber is exceptionally long, and the horn itself stands 1.9 meters tall, as tall as a man of significant stature, and pitched in the key of E, one octave beneath the Baritone Sax.
Weight of Instrument:
Weighing nearly twenty kilograms, the Contrabass Sax is not for the faint hearted, and is in fact so rare that there are less than a hundred of these instruments still functional today.Modern instrument makers have revived the Contrabass Sax and there is an increasing level of demand for the instrument, but the sheer size, weight and magnitude of the instrument, combined with its extremely costly construction make it a rarity that is seldom seen in instrumental performance.
History of Instrument:
Its humble beginnings were on the journeyman's route, around tradeshows and concert hall exhibitions, with Adolphe Sax displaying the new tools with which the budding musician at the forefront of musical composition could ply their trade. The first recorded usage of a Contrabass Sax in an orchestral setting was by Jules Massenet in 1879. Massenet placed the Contrabass into the opera 'La vierge' and later, in 1881, it was also utilized in 'Herodiade'.
The notable maker of these instruments, the Steinway of Contrabass Saxophone Constructors, was the Evette Schaeffer Company. The main purpose of their building the Contrabass Saxophone was for the grandiose display of pride filled ceremonialism that is the US Military Brass Band. There were at least a dozen of these instruments made for this purpose around the turn of the century. Though popular with sax ensembles for the novelty factor of its size and appearance, it was understandably expensive, difficult to transport and an immense undertaking to obtain. The occurrence of the Great Depression led to the decline in popularity of the Saxophone, and the Contrabass became relegated to the ranks of expensive historical curios.
Challenge to play:
Similar in sound to the other members of the Saxophone family, pitched significantly lower, and operating on the same principles as the majority of woodwind instruments, a Contrabass is relatively difficult to play, even if one is an experienced player of this style. This is result of the size of the contraption responsible for adjusting the pitch of the instruments notes. The volume of air needed to make the lower notes audible is ridiculous, and a powerful cardiovascular system is a must if one is to play successfully.
Play with another Instrument:
The deepness of the lower notes and the extremely low pitch that they occur at, can result in melodies that are difficult to decipher when it is used in solo performance. The sensible thing to do is to use the low notes to provide fullness to higher notes played on another instrument, which will synergize and reinforce the melody.
Transporting the Instrument:
It’s important to use tender loving care when transporting a Contrabass, due to the extreme size of a Contrabass considerable care needs to be taken when transporting, however, due to its rarity this is seldom a consideration, usually the person responsible for its transport usually understands what is required of them in order to facilitate the safe transport of the heavy instrument. The Contrabass Sax is a jewel in Adolphe Sax's crown of inventiveness, and should the chance occur, have a listen.