What did Chopin think of the saxophone?

  • Adolphe Sax arrived in Paris in 1842, when Chopin had been living in Paris for some years. Both Chopin and Sax lived in Paris until 1849, when Chopin died.

    It seems highly likely that Chopin heard saxophone or was at least aware of its existence. The saxophone was patented by Sax in 1846, 3 whole years before Chopin died. To make matters more convincing, Berlioz, a friend of Chopin, wrote a highly approving article about the saxophone around the time that Sax arrived in Paris (1842).

    Does anyone know of writings by Chopin where he discusses his feelings about the new instrument? I imagine there's got to be at least a sentence or 2 about it in a correspondence between him and Berlioz.

    Sure, this isn't really a practically useful question, but as a classical saxophonist, I can't help but wonder about stuff like this :)

    Edit: It's worth pointing out that Berlioz wrote saxophone into his 1844 arrangement of Chant Sacre, so if Chopin went to the premier concert (conducted by Berlioz), that would be the same as knowing that he heard saxophone.

    Just to be 100% clear, I know that Chopin certainly never considered writing for the saxophone, as his interest was (very) firmly in solo piano rep. I'm just wondering if he ever heard a saxophone being played and, even better, if he ever mentioned it in writing.

    The sax was invented in 1840 according to references at wikipedia. However, Given Chopin's failing health it's unlikely he gave a [bleep] about any new instrument. Heck, he didn't even write for such brash newcomers as the French Horn :-)

    Wow! I didn't know that the valved horn was a such a spring chicken at only 198 years old!

    This interesting article suggests that the saxophone was a bit late for Chopin, and his music suggests different interests as well. He never used orchestra outside of the context of accompanying the piano, and never did anything remotely avant-garde in orchestration. Berlioz, on the other hand, was well known for experimenting with new instruments and orchestration.

    hmm. I didn't know that tidbit about Berlioz, that he was known for experimenting with unusual orchestration. The things you learn!

    I've found a couple of references stating that Chopin disliked Berlioz's music. "Perhaps a reference to [a piece by] Berlioz, whose music Chopin disliked." ("Chopin's Letters", ed. Voynich, 2013, Dover, p120n3). "His letters contain withering statements about Liszt, Berlioz, Robert Schumann, and dozens of lesser names." (https://preview.tinyurl.com/yyyw2u4a). This would cast at least small doubt on whether Chopin would have attended a Berlioz performance. Also, no mention of Sax in the book "Chopin's Letters", but they are selected, not complete.

  • Chopin was uninterested in any instrument other than the piano. As is known, other than pure piano pieces, he only wrote the cello pieces and songs in his very early youth and the two concertos. And the concertos he only wrote because some kind of portentous orchestral work was almost a requirement to be recognized as a serious composer, not that he was keen on doing orchestral works.

    So it's unlikely than new instruments would raise more than the occasional curiosity in him, if that at all. His health condition, like pointed out by Carl above, is all the more reason why.

    This, of course, does not prove that he was not aware of the saxophone and did not express some opinion on it. But in what regards to correspondence there is no evidence easily accessible that may disprove the conjecture that he did not. A search on the polish Chopin Institute database (I don't know of other similar database accessible on line) shows a few letters from Berlioz to Chopin, but not from Chopin to Berlioz. A couple of searchs by "sax" and "sak" (from the polish "saksofon" as per some online dictionary) shows no mention of the words.

    I don't like to sound like a pedantic jerk, but Chopin **did** write for violin + piano & flute + piano, not just cello + piano. You can tell that his heart just wasn't in it though.

    If anyone was pedantic it was I for not double checking my sources. I was not aware of the works you mention, thanks for telling. I checked my "integral" edition of Chopin, it doesn't gave theses works, but has a piano trio I had completely forget about. Thanks again for getting the record straight.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM