Are Saxophones In Orchestra? (Find Out Here)

Are Saxophones In Orchestra? (Find Out Here)
Written by Corey Morgan

Here’s a summary of why saxophones are not used in orchestra:

  • The saxophone Doesn’t Blend Well With Orchestra
  • The Saxophone Is Too New Of An Instrument To Be Accepted

You will observe that there are no saxophonists playing in contemporary settings and the vast majority of traditional orchestras out there, and even if there ever are, they are rarely seen in performance anyhow. It piques one’s interest to wonder whether or not that is in fact the situation. Saxophones provide a pleasant melody and have a wide dynamic range; given these qualities, why are they not included in the orchestra?

Generally speaking, saxophones are not used in orchestra settings. It is possible to find a saxophone part in some orchestral works, but it is far from the norm. That is why saxophonists are rarely used in orchestras. In this article, we’ll have an in-depth knowledge of why saxophones are rarely employed in orchestras.

Why Are Saxophones Not Used In Orchestra?

Given the saxophone’s potential for lovely melody, it is puzzling that more classical composers do not use it in Orchestra. Here are some reasons why;

Though Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in the early 1840s, it took some time for the instrument to gain popularity. Sax was known to be somewhat egotistical, and his normal response to criticism of his instruments was to propose a competition to establish whether or not they were superior to the prevalent instruments of the day.

Although he typically prevailed in these competitions, the French performers and instrument manufacturers with whom he was in direct competition felt hatred toward him as a result. Saxophone players of all stripes became insecure about their jobs when they realised that the instrument’s adaptability meant that it could be replaced by other instruments

Sax was the target of a number of lawsuits brought by instrument manufacturers; however, despite the fact that Sax prevailed in most of these cases, the legal battles hindered the instrument’s rise to prominence. A number of composers had an interest in producing music for the saxophone, but they were deterred from doing so by manufacturers as well as their own performers, who threatened to quit if they continued writing music for the instrument.

As a direct consequence of this, relatively few true symphonic pieces ended up having saxophone sections integrated within them. The majority of composers were afraid of the negative reception they would get if they wrote for the saxophone, so they either completely avoided writing for it or created portions for it that could be performed by other instruments.

While the early opposition to the saxophone has eased down, the orchestra’s equipment has remained unchanged for a century, leaving no room for saxophones. It is not common to hear a saxophone in an orchestra because most groups exclusively play works by dead composers.

However, modern composers have a tough time securing performances of their works from orchestras. Composers who wish to incorporate, say, a saxophone or other unusual orchestral instrument into their works would require the orchestras to engage additional players to play these parts.

Most orchestras will not perform music that does not work with their instrumentation because of the time and money it would require. Since the only other option is to never have their music performed, this causes even contemporary composers to avoid writing for the saxophone.

This essentially creates a catch-22 situation in which musicians do not produce symphonic music for the saxophone since the saxophone is not a typical instrument in orchestras, and performers do not play the saxophone because there is not much music written for it. Saxophones have been accepted in military bands and jazz bands, but the instrument has yet to become a standard in orchestras due to its initial stigma and the orthodoxy of many composers.

Common Myths About Why The Saxophones Are Not Used In Orchestra

In the classical music world, there are some accepted reasons why the saxophone isn’t found in orchestra settings. Let’s review them below;

1) The saxophone Doesn’t Blend Well With Orchestras

Anyone familiar with saxophones knows they can project sound at very high decibel levels. Many do not know that it also has one of the largest loudness ranges of any instrument, and can be played quite softly.

There is a common misconception that the saxophone can not harmonise with other instruments because it is too loud or annoying. This is the most frequently mentioned justification for why the saxophone is rarely heard in orchestras.

This, however, is far from the truth. Adolphe Sax created the saxophone to be adaptable and compatible with a wide variety of musical styles and instruments. In fact, this was one of the main reasons why composers were so eager to make music for the saxophone once Sax revealed its powers (and would have done so if Sax’s competitors had not stifled them).

Expert classical saxophonists may create a considerably more delicate tone, resembling that of a string instrument, despite the saxophone’s reputation for having a powerful sound, especially in jazz and pop music. There is nothing better suited to harmonising with a full orchestra.

There is also the theory that having saxophones in orchestras will throw everyone out of tune because of how challenging they are to tune. Although the saxophone can indeed be tricky to play in tune, this problem is largely unimportant at the professional level. A skilled saxophone can play in tune as well as any other skilled musician.

2) The Saxophone Is Too New Of An Instrument To Be Accepted

The saxophone is, in fact, one of the most recently developed musical instruments. The saxophone was not invented until the early 1840s, while the violin and clarinet go back hundreds of years (and the flute could go back thousands). So, it is not even 200 years old, apparently. Many people think this is why the saxophone is underrepresented in orchestras.

While this may have some truth to it, it is worth noting that contemporarily designed instruments have found their way into orchestras all the same. For example, Adolphe Sax patented the saxophone in 1840, although the tuba was not conceived until 1835. Today, tubas are often found in every symphony.

The little time that passed between the development of the tuba and the saxophone is not to blame. Instead, this is because the tuba did not face the same opposition as the saxophone. If the saxophone had not been so widely rejected after its introduction, it would now be a standard instrument in orchestras worldwide.

As a direct result of the boycott, there is very little written for the symphonic saxophone, and as a result, saxophones are rarely employed in orchestras.