E-flat Baritone Saxophone

Baritone Saxophone

Baritone Saxophone range

This is one of my favorite voices in the band, and probably the instrument that is most often over looked by all bandestrators.  The instrument is universally present in all bands, but who has really used it well?  I can think of no great moments for the Baritone Saxophone in the band literature with the exception of the second phrase of Grainger’s Children’s March where the Baritone Saxophone doubles the 2nd Bassoon and creates the sound of a whole new instrument.

All modern Baritone Saxophones now possess a low A extension, though many older instruments do not.  It is usually safe to write this note.  Why the other saxophones have not been extended to this note (which sounds as either a C or a G depending of the key of the instrument), I do not know?

Being a recovering marching band “Bari” player, I can attest to the volume that is capable on this instrument, and I am ashamed to say that I mistreated this noble instrument on many an occasion.  I wish to rectify this here.

The one thing that is missing in a band is a unifying bass sound.  In the orchestra we have the Cellos, but in the band we have Bass Clarinets, Bassoons, Baritone Saxophones, Euphoniums, etc.  Which of these sounds is most akin to the Cello?  For my money, it is the Baritone Saxophone.  They have the same range (both descend to the concert C below the bass clef), and their use of vibrato and expression is very similar.  Yet, it has never been attempted to wholly replace the Cellos with a small section of Baritone Saxophones.  It might make for an interesting experiment.

As a solo voice, it is full of expression and pathos.  Its upper register has a hollow and mournful voice.  Combinations with any of the double reeds are beautiful as are mixtures with the low clarinets.

Unlike the other four common members of the saxophone family, the Baritone Saxophone in F seems to be a mythical beast.  Either none were ever made, or those that were made never survived.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Symphony 2 – Long Baritone Saxophone solo at 1:25.  It is the only time in the piece where the instrument plays.

Singleé’s Septieme Solo de Concert – one of the earliest solos for the saxophone.  This performance is done on all original Adolph Sax instruments (the Baritone Saxophone itself is from 1861).

Czardas on Baritone Saxophone

Another piece on an original Sax instrument

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9 thoughts on “E-flat Baritone Saxophone

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  7. Steve

    “The one thing that is missing in a band is a unifying bass sound. In the orchestra we have the Cellos, but in the band we have Bass Clarinets, Bassoons, Baritone Saxophones, Euphoniums, etc. Which of these sounds is most akin to the Cello? For my money, it is the Baritone Saxophone. They have the same range (both descend to the concert C below the bass clef), and their use of vibrato and expression is very similar. Yet, it has never been attempted to wholly replace the Cellos with a small section of Baritone Saxophones. It might make for an interesting experiment.”

    This is a very interesting thought, although the complete replacement of Cellos by Sax would lose too many string effects (pizz., harmonics, col legno etc) to be practical. However the use of a Baritone or Tenor Sax would add a greater fluidity and evenness to the sound of Violas and Cellos. This would be particularly useful for accompaniment figuration. I’m not sure how many Saxes would be required for that function, leaving aside normal (wood) wind section duties. I suspect that one or two might suffice, though.

      1. Cade Bryant

        Interesting discussion about the similarities between the baritone sax and the cello. I’ve actually played both instruments, as well as tenor and alto sax and other string and keyboard instruments. As one who played both the cello and the bari sax, my impression is that the latter is really only good for covering the lowest part of the cello’s register. White it’s true that the lowest note of the bari sax is C2 (the same as the cello’s open C string), keep in mind that the cello has 4 strings, each tuned a fifth higher than the one before it – and the bari sax is a monophonic instrument, sort of like a cello which has only the low C string.

        What this means in a practical sense is that the cello can play quite comfortably in a much higher range than the bari sax (or for that matter, any other low wind instrument such as the bassoon, bass clarinet, or euphonium). And, in fact, professional cellists do play quite frequently in their upper range. These high cello passages – which are quite frequent in orchestral literature (and especially in the solo literature) would be better suited to a tenor or alto sax, or even a clarinet, rather than a bari.

        The cello, in my experience, produces its most beautiful tone when it is played in the range of a tenor vocalist. When I pick up my cello and start noodling, I find myself instinctively playing in a tenor range. While the bari sax, in the hands of a very good player, can indeed play expressively in this range, it seems (in my experience playing it) to have more of a “bias” for being played in a baritone or bass range.

        But what about altissimo? One could argue that a bari sax, utilizing the altissimo register, could in fact cover much of the cello’s upper range. This is true – however when a saxophonist utilizes altissimo, he/she is playing harmonics/overtones, and the resulting sound is of a different character than normal (non-harmonic) notes. The cello, as with other string instruments, can utilize a form of “altissimo” as well, in the form of false harmonics – and this extends its register even farther beyond what a saxophonist could be expected to play even with exceptionally good altissimo technique.

        Another thing to keep in mind is that the bari sax has a coarser, thicker tone than the cello. For this reason, when I transcribe orchestral works for wind band, I typically only score heavy, low-range passages for the bari sax. I try as much as possible to utilize the euphonium, bass clarinet, and tenor (rather than bari) sax for transcribing middle-register cello passages. And for the higher cello passages, I like to use the alto sax. (In fact, a sterling example of a cello solo effectively scored for an alto sax is found in the Henry Fillmore arrangement of Suppé’s Poet and Peasant Overture).

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