Nathan's Lucubrations

14 04 2011

Thu, 14 Apr 2011

Of "Bolero", Saxophones, and Forgotten History

"And some things, which should have not been forgotten, were lost." - "Lord of the Rings"

They say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. I've always wondered when I hear this, what's the cycle rate? Is it constant, or does it vary for different fields?

Joking aside, sometimes things which are "forgotten lore" can explain why things are as they are today. This is also an important point as to why public domain and freely accessible records (assuming there are records) are important: without an accessible record of history, how can we learn from our mistakes? How can we understand progress (or, lacking progress, simply the state of the world)?

One of the things that has piqued my curiosity was why Ravel had composed "Bolero" for not just B-flat tenor and B-flat soprano saxophones, but also the F-natural sopranino saxophone. Who had heard of such a thing? Everyone knows that saxophones come only in alternating B-flat and E-flat transposing models, except for that relic of history, the C melody. So, when it came time to play the F-natural sopranino part of "Bolero", I simply picked up my B-flat soprano and played it's part again; after all the passages were identical, right down to the phrasing and articulation (excepting that it was for an F sopranino).

Couple of years later, during a private lesson, my instructor points out "Universal method for the saxophone" by de Ville. Turns out, there were actually two series of saxophones, one pitched in F/C (the "orchestral" series) and the one we all know and love today in Eb/Bb (the "military band" series).

"Universal Method" is out of print, and if it hadn't of been for efforts like the one at The Internet Archive, knowledge like this might have been lost. And that's just stuff from the first ten pages! History, indeed, has much to teach those willing to listen.

posted at: 04:55 | path: | permanent link to this entry

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