The 19th Century was a century full of experimentation, especially in France. We often have the idea that Paris was highly conservative, and in many regards, it was. In the middle of the 1800s, the music being composed there was not highly original or innovative. Berlioz was the lone bright shining star of creativity, all other composers were mired in the Conservatory’s conservatism.
However, outside of musical composition, Paris was full of innovation. One of my favorite authors, Jules Verne, can be seen as one of the most innovative and forward thinking individuals of all time. Technology and exploration was king. It is in this line that the musical instrument manufacturers fell into. In this era, we got such instruments as the saxophone, the saxhorn, and the sarrusophone as well as a whole host of other instruments that are long since forgotten.
Adolphe Sax can be credited for creating no less than 4 families of new instruments. Two are well-remembered, but two have slipped into obscurity. The saxotromba was patented in 1845. We know surprisingly little about this group as few surviving members of the family are extant. What we do know, is that these instruments were somewhere in bore shape between a trumpet and a natural horn. That is to say, they were mildly conical, but no so conical as a cornet. The mouthpiece was cup-shaped like a trumpet but unlike the deep conical cup of the saxhorn. They were used for a time in French bands, but were abandoned by the 1860s. Interestingly, Richard Wagner first envisioned the Bass Trumpet part in his Ring Cycle for the Alto Saxotromba in E-flat (and for the Wagner Tuben to be played by saxhorns). Evidently, the saxotromba was made in the exact same sizes and pitches as the saxhorns.
These were yet another creation of M. Sax. Again, little is known and only a few are extant. These are almost identical to his saxhorns except in their shape. Saxhorns were either made in tuba shape (bells up) or in trumpet shape (bells forward). Saxtubas, on the other hand, look curiously like Sousaphones. They were designed to look like Roman Buccine, and thus would be perfect for Respighi’s Pines of Rome. There seems to have been used only twice – once in an opera by Halévy and once in a parade.
Sax did not have a monopoly on creating unusual brass instruments. The most unusual of the 19th Century brass instruments is most assuredly the sudrophone. While they are very close to a saxhorn, they are shaped closer to a valved ophicleide. However, sudrophones have distinguishing one feature. Sudrophones came with a vibrating membrane in the bell. This membrane is reminiscent of the Chinese flute the Di (or Dizi) which has a similar membrane. The membrane could be switched on an off if the resultant buzzing was not desired.
Antoniophone and Orpheon
The two instruments were essentially the same thing only differing by the brand name given by the maker. Antoniophone were made by Courtois, while Orpheons were made by Boosey. These instruments were essentially saxhorns. The only difference here was the shape. They were shaped somewhat like a saxophone with a curved bell that pointed upwards. I’ll let this video do most of the explaining.
Needless to say, all of these instruments have faded from use. As they are in some way or another slight modifications of existing instruments, there seems to be absolutely no reason to revive them for modern usage.