Hidden Belgium: Maison Sax

Hidden Belgium: Maison Sax
Credit: Maison Sax

Adolphe Sax was working in his father’s instrument workshop in Brussels when he designed a new musical instrument he called the saxophone. He performed it for the first time at the International Exposition in Brussels in 1841, and patented it in Paris in 1846.

The Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels owns the oldest surviving version, a baritone saxophone made in Sax’s Paris workshop in 1846. And the town of Dinant has created a quirky little museum inside the house where Sax was born.

The new instrument became popular with 19th-century French army bands and was later adopted by composers such as Bizet and Ravel. It crossed the Atlantic as a brass band instrument and was taken up in the 1920s by New Orleans jazz bands and solo performers such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

In 1992, Bill Clinton celebrated his victory in the Democratic nomination for president by playing Heartbreak Hotel on his tenor saxophone. Some considered it a gimmick. But it won over voters and may have helped him win the 1993 election.

Exactly one hundred years after Sax’s death in 1894, Clinton travelled to Brussels to meet European leaders. He didn’t visit Dinant, although he was invited. But he did begin his speech with a word of thanks to the inventor. “I have a great personal debt of nearly 40 years’ standing to this country,” he declared, “because it was a Belgian, Adolphe Sax, who invented the saxophone.”

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day

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