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The Italian Saxophone Museum

The Italian Saxophone Museum (Museo del Saxofono) owns a large collection of the rarest saxophones ever created by the best engravers and saxophone makers. Consisting of more than six hundred musical instruments, almost five hundred antique photographs, vintage musical toys, documents, catalogues, about one thousand mouthpieces and accessories, they all bear witness to the research and the technical evolution of an anonymous nickel pipe transformed into the king of jazz. It is an instrument capable of articulating the musicians’ moods, desires and emotions, from jazz to classical repertoire.

Masterpieces of the factories Conn, Selmer, King, Buescher, Martin, Buffet, Rampone and many more specimens are displayed inside the Italian Saxophone Museum, housed in the building of a former sack factory, propriety of the historic Maccarese Company, now owned by the Municipality of Fiumicino, close to the Leonardo da Vinci Airport and twenty minutes far from Rome and the Port of Civitavecchia.

In order to maintain a fruitful dialogue and sharing of the musical heritage with the community, the Italian Saxophone Museum carries on activities of research and studies, with the possibility of a virtual exploration and exploitation of the various collections ( Thanks to a wide developed display surface of 450 m² with different showcases full of instruments consisting in the heart of the exposition, the museum is built around a concert hall with a stage, a bookshop, a waiting room, archive rooms and an outdoor space of 500 m² for summer concerts in the garden.

The Italian Saxophone Museum: A Love Affair and a Dream Come True

The Berni Collection is the most extensive saxophone collection in the world owned by Attilio Berni, a saxophonist, a saxophone collector and a teacher born in Sutri, an ancient town in the province of Viterbo, about 50 km far from Rome. The city, also called Antichissima and Claustra Etruriae, reached through the Via Cassia, gives a more decisive imprint to Berni’s life. The passion for music and the fascination for the iconic instrument of the 1900s brought him to embark on a venture hard to achieve since the first saxophone, a Selmer Padless tenor, purchased by chance from a taxi driver in New York — it was his first journey in the USA in 1993, during his honeymoon. Transforming their honeymoon trip in treasure hunting, the Bernis returned to Italy with a container chock-full of musical instruments. It’s business at first — international marketing of vintage saxophones. Still, after gaining knowledge of more significant professional expertise and becoming confident with the instruments collected, Berni soon realised that giving away his saxes was a pain for his heart. Thus becoming a saxophone collector and a valuable researcher of twisted pipes and their incredible stories, despite various difficulties and a long and harsh track, he will transform his passionate quest in the first museum ever consecrated to the saxophone in September 2019. One of the first saxes purchased, a C.G. Conn New Wonder Artist Virtuoso Deluxe made in 1924, presented a poem etched under the pad cups of low C, B and Bb keys. Graven poetic lines are dedicated to Mary — “Mary, only for you I play this saxophone every day. Only for you,” witnessing the engraver’s passionate and eternal feeling towards a mysterious lady. Berni becomes a key witness and the guardian of an extraordinary instrument and a message of love. If not love, then what?

The Saxophones of Adolphe Sax Housed in Italy

Following a combination of art and craftsmanship, creativity and tradition, the large saxophone family, officially patented in Paris on March 21, 1846, by Adolphe Sax, led from their Belgian inventor’s workshop to the Italian Saxophone Museum. The whole family is claimed today in jazz, classic and contemporary music and various other genres. Not only a considerable number of rare instruments but also a Guinness World Record, as the J’Elle Stainer compact Bb contrabass saxophone made in Brazil in 2011 by João Luiz da Rocha for the celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Adolphe Sax. A giant instrument, a unique specimen ranged from low B to high F# (from 27,5 Hz of the lowest note to 155,6 Hz) with 5.95 m of body length, 120 cm of bell circumference and a weight of 24.3 kg, is displayed in the middle of the hall at the Italian Saxophone Museum. Besides the J’Elle Stainer, on the other side of the museum, as opposed to the subcontrabass, there is the smallest one, a 30 cm Eppelsheim soprillo. It is pitched in Bb — one octave above the soprano saxophone. The keywork only extends to a written E6, and the upper octave key has to be placed on the mouthpiece.

The Sax Metamorphosis Displayed Inside the Italian Saxophone Museum

In 1841, Adolphe Sax, a brilliant manufacturer of musical instruments of Belgian origin, gave life to his creature by presenting it behind a green curtain for fear that someone might steal his idea. In 1842 he moved to Paris, where he met Hector Berlioz, who helped him to find funding for his project: to make an instrument that could compete with the technical agility and expressiveness of strings and woodwinds, but that possessed the power and the sound projection of the brass, in order to be well exploited both indoors and outdoors. To achieve this, he applied the simple reed mouthpiece of a bass clarinet to the ophicleide — a brass instrument now fallen into disuse. Sax patents were provided for two distinct families: one Bb-Eb for bands and the other in C-F, mainly for orchestral use. His construction technique was free from any tradition using the most modern findings of metallurgy and mechanics. The production was more versatile, faster and more integrated, allowing to build instruments of different shapes and sizes, all based on the same physical principle. Different sizes with fixed proportions permitted the performer to switch from one saxophone to another without problems while maintaining the same fingering.

An octet of Adolphe Sax saxophones can be viewed inside the Italian Saxophone Museum and, among them, a tenor saxophone from his personal collection.

In the autumn of 1842, Sax settled in a small workshop in rue Neuve-Saint-Georges in Paris and produced about 20,000 instruments from 1843 to 1860. The initial family of eight saxophones, established by Adolphe Sax and manufactured from brass, was to be recentred on seven saxophones by Georges Kastner in his Manuel général de musique militaire à l’usage des armées françaises (“General Guide of Military Music for the Use of the French Armies”), published in 1848. This important book is present in the Italian Saxophone Museum, together with the reactionary and racist Jazz Band written by Anton Giulio Bragaglia (1929), brochures and magazines — the first editions of the Italian Musica Jazz and JazzTime magazines.

The Belgian genius died on February 7, 1894, almost reduced to extreme poverty. His son Adolphe-Édouard firstly took his place as head of manufacturing at Sax and then handed it over to Selmer factory. Selmer created its first saxophone at the end of 1921, called “Série 1922.” By adopting the principle of the drawn-out tone holes and no longer welding them onto the instrument’s body, Selmer revolutionised the saxophone workmanship. The reliability, aesthetics and lightness of the instrument were also improved. Selmer set about its conquest of the American market, just as the birth of jazz and a new way of living contributed to the “saxophone craze” of the Roaring Twenties. By purchasing the company Adolphe Sax & Co in 1929, Selmer Paris became the sole legatee of the saxophone’s invention and the Sax spirit.

More Precious Saxophones Displayed in the Italian Saxophone Museum Showcases

Among the rarest Selmer instruments are the Adrian Rollini’s Super Sax bass saxophone, the Mark VI Varitone tenor sax, the gold plated Rudy Wiedoeft’s Modèle 22 C melody saxophone, the Modèle 26 Artist Eb alto sax (a precious satin gold plated sax, with extra keys for G# and Eb trills and 14 ovoid amethysts gems, made in France in 1928 especially for Ralph James, the first alto saxophonist of Sam Wooding’s orchestra). Moreover, the Padless models: the New Large Bore tenor sax belonged to Tex Beneke and Bob Wilber and the Super Action 80 black-finish tenor played by Gil Ventura.

Different Buescher variants are displayed, as the tipped bell soprano sax, the Claribel, the straight alto sax and the beautifully engraved Artist gold-plated models. Furthermore, the curved Bb soprano sax (gold plated, fully engraved body, made especially for the Craven Family Orchestra in the USA in 1912), the 400 Top Hat & Cane and the Aristocrat, two of the most requested saxes by professionals until the early 1950s. With the True Tone and the Aristocrat models, Buescher remained faithful to Adolphe Sax’s instruments’ same concept of sound.

There are also different unusual models in the Italian Saxophone Museum. The EWI, for example — the first Electronic Wind Instrument. From the first EWI Lyricon created by Bill Bernardi in 1974 to the Yamaha WX7 and WX11, from the midi Casio saxes to Akai models.

EWI Lyricon by Bill Bernardi (1974).

Also displayed the most famous models of Martin factory, founded in Chicago in 1865 by John Henry Martin and moved to Elkhart in 1871: the Handcraft, the Committee I and II, the Martin, together with the Typewriter and the Home models, simplified saxophones without side keys and a range of two octaves only. Some of the finest models of King Silversonic saxes, built by H.N. White Company, are present in the Italian Saxophone Museum, together with the Zephyr, Zephyr Special and the Super 20 models, artfully chiselled.

King Silversonic tenor sax.

Different saxophones of incomparable aesthetic and technical-instrumental value from the C.G. Conn factory are also visible at the Italian Saxophone Museum, true works of art embellished by the mastery of great engravers such as the Stenberg brothers and the Osborne family. One of the rarest saxophones is the legendary C.G. Conn-O-Sax in F, model 22M, with a lacquered body and keys ranged from low A to high G. It takes its name from the bulb-shaped bell, and it combines saxophone elements with two double-reed instruments: the English horn and the Heckelphone. One hundred models were created in 1928 in the USA. However, after the crash of the ’29s, many unsold instruments came back into the factory production floor, dismantled and optimised as spare parts, upholding the instrument’s extinguishment. Up to now, only a few specimens are still in circulation.

C.G. Conn-O-Sax in F, model 22M.

Other unusual variants present in the Italian Saxophone Museum (photos)

  • Conn Poly Chrome Eb alto sax was made in the USA in 1916. Poly Chrome was a commercial paint finish that contemplated wonderful multicoloured flowers and grape wines decorations on the instrument’s body and bell.
  • Dorn & Kirshner semi-curved Bb soprano saxophone, made in the USA in 1922.
  • Rothophones, a kind of saxophones’ antagonists invented by Ferdinand Roth towards the end of the 19th century, made by the Bottali and by the Maino-Orsi factories, also called sarrusophones (a combination of the saxophone’s construction principles with those of the sarrusophone), can be admired inside the Italian Saxophone Museum, together with the tárogatós, a simple reed aerophone instrument of Hungarian origin. Some of the most exciting instruments are a bass and a soprano tárogató, an octavin, and a metal tárogató with inverted mechanics.
  • The slide saxophones: the most bizarre musical instruments ever produced, the ultimate expression of the “saxophone craze” of the 1920s. A sort of hybrid between a saxophone and a trombone, without holes nor keys but a slide.
  • Unusual variants from the Italian and the French factories: Rampone and Borgani
  • A. Rampone Non Plus Ultra dell’Artista Bb tenor saxophone, made in Italy in 1930. A custom-made instrument built in about ten models, distinguished for its peculiar bell’s repoussé: an embossed work of astonishing beauty with decorations raised in relief with a particular hammering technique and provided with a tuning neck, Apogée system, ivory rollers, abalone mother-of-pearl adorned with a small star in solid silver.
  • Maheu compact Bb tenor saxophone made in Belgium in 1930 by Charles Maheu. A tenor saxophone transformed into a sort of a mini-baritone. The instrument is about 65 cm high, which means 16 cm lower than a tenor sax produced in the same period.
  • An outstanding area is dedicated to the rarest specimens of mouthpieces exposed at the Italian Saxophone Museum.
    The mouthpiece, cross and delight of every musician, along with the reed and the ligature, represents one of the essential ingredients in sound production: the critical point where the saxophonist starts to interpenetrate with his instrument and realises his maximum artistic potential. Thousands of shapes and variations in ebonite, metal, wood and ceramic contribute decisively to produce a dark or a light sound, warm or angular, delicate or harsh, to better adapt to musical styles, from classical music to jazz, from blues to rock. In the Italian Saxophone Museum can be found the rarest specimens produced by Berg Larsen, Brilhart, Meyer, Otto Link, Vandoren, Dukoff, Guardala, Selmer, organologically exhibited from the tiny Chedeville of 4 cm for the oboe-sax to the mastodontic J’Elle Stainer of 18 cm for the subcontrabass.
  • Vintage musical toys or similar: a riot of inventions and coloured shapes dedicated to children, dating back to an era ranging from the early 1900s to the late 1970s. Unique specimens, in manufacture and variety, mostly of German, American and Eastern European countries production. Most wooden, tin or plastic toys can be categorised as saxophone-shaped membranophones, simple mouthed aerophones, or simple instrument miniatures, like the QRS Playasax, Woody’s clarinet, the Songophone, the Bob Burns’ kazoo and many unusual blow accordions in a saxophone shape.
  • Photographs: The Italian Saxophone Museum has dedicated an essential section to vintage pictures, around 500 photos from the second half of the 19th century to the ’70s, representing a different discovery journey and playing an informative and documentary function and artistic function task. Images like windows telling stories and showing the fascinating world of music of other times, immortalising great performers or anonymous musicians in a unique moment and rendering unforgettable emotions that have always been blown into the most mysterious sound tube.

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