Alto/Tenor Horn History

1. Alto Horn or Tenor Horn? – Confusion from the very beginning
The alto horn is a member of the Sax brass family, developed by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax. To be very precise, it is a descendant of the saxotromba (fig.3), because there hasn’t been found a single alto saxhorn so far. The historical alto instruments by Sax that did survive all have inner diameters that are those Sax described in his saxotromba patent. In this patent the soprano voice (descant) is tuned in E flat, which then creates a line: E flat (soprano), B flat (contralto), E flat (alto). The instrument following the alto saxotromba was described as a baritone in B flat. Therefore, the alto instrument has been named both alto and tenor, because people wanted to be consistent. That’s the reason for the confusion in the name and different names are used depending on the country.
Given that the modern instruments all have large diameters, it now clearly is more a saxhorn than a saxotromba. The tessitura of the instrument is definitely that of the alto voice, so in official documents, we should refer to our instrument as an Alto Saxhorn.

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