Looking for Savari


While preparing a CD* devoted to the very first repertory of the saxophone, I met some difficulties in my researches : most of the works of the Adolphe Sax catalog were untraceable, and very few documents mentioned the existence of the composers. And when modern editions existed, they rarely mentioned the modifications and corrections brought by the adapters, and never contained biographies.

I was thus transformed into musicologist for the occasion : card of the national library, the music section, notebooks, pre-filled authors-forms , the eye on the watch ... I was ready !

Of course, it was rather easy for me to find most of the scores, which had been registered for copyright (although some doubts remain as for the existence of a few works). Also,  some training allowed me to find the track of all these composers : highly skilled musicians, colleagues of Sax in the Paris Conservatory, they were generally abundantly quoted in the press and dictionaries of their time. However, a doubt remained in my spirit concerning Savari : indeed, all the pieces edited by Sax mentioned his name under this spelling (without first name), and specified that he was " Bandmaster of 34th regiment of line ", while all the modern editions presented him as "Jean-Nicolas Savary". To increase the confusion, some catalogs mentioned him under both spellings.

The doubt growed up when I tried to find his track in the usual dictionaries : if Jean-Nicolas Savary was generally quoted there, as world-famous bassoon maker, and bassoonist in the Theater of the Italians, nothing appeared under the spelling Savari.

It is true that his style of sincere melodist is very simple, on the whole rather academic, and without great scope : he was probably a musician who didn't enjoy much recognition beyond the military circle, and who never had the opportunity to make composer's career.

I pushed definitively Jean-Nicolas Savary aside from my researches. Indeed, how and why would this busy man have taken time between 1842 (invention of he saxophone) and 1853 (date of his death) to write about ten works for the new instrument of a rival maker (and little estimated by his Parisian colleagues), while he had never written anything for bassoon, his instrument ? Would Sax have published his works posthumously in 1861 and 1862 ? How would Savary been able to cumulate the offices of provincial bandmaster with those of famous maker and soloist of a Parisian phalanx (airplanes did not exist then). And to crown it all, being born in 1786, he would have been about 70 years old during his appointment as military bandmaster ( a very unusual case in the French army) ! Albert, Edmond and Edouard Savary, all in the National Library's collections, were quickly dismissed too.

I walked round and round : except on Sax's scores, no work contained an entry under the name "Savari". Furthermore, how could I find somebody whose first name, or the date of birth are both unknown, and whose patronymic might itself be only a pen name (likely Italianism : Rossini was then a king in Paris) ?

The resources of the National library were exhausted, I turned to those of the national archives. But there also, two visits in the CARAN dissuaded me from beginning a more elaborate search without having more preliminary elements, in a list containing tens of million entries.

Last appeal : the Historic Department of the Land forces (SHAT), in the castle of Vincennes, because the only certainty was his bandmaster's position. But even there, devastation ! The only preserved archives were the register of the enlisted men of 34th of infantry, classified by date of incorporation. After a few hours of a dry reading, I gave up: as Bandmaster, Savari had to have officer's status (or of sub-officer at least) and their register had been lost … I was going to give up in dispair when a helpful person with glorious mustaches advised  me : "You could try the register of the military pensions, one never can tell ". The time of closure approaching, I rushed at the registers (accessible without lining up) and I found, finally, in alphabetical order a Miss Savari, daughter of Lieutenant Savari Jérôme, Bandmaster of the 34th of line, File 19-546.

Fast, return to the advice center (with line), filling of the index form of request of consultation of the document 19-546, the service records of the Lt Jérôme Savari.

After an endless expectation, the file in the yellowed sheets is between my hands, with its facts, drought and quite military in precision : a birth certificate, a state of services, a "detail of campaigns", two particular reports of the General Inspectorate, and two extracts of the register of deaths.

Among useless notes, a transverse reading allowed to decode very slightly some additional features about our mysterious character.

Jérôme Savari was born in Paris, where his mother Marie-Louise is a needlewoman, of unknown father, on July 24th, 1819. He was probably given serious general and musical studies, since his academic level will be judged "Well over his position" by his immediate superiors. But his state of fortune could not allow him to pursue them at an upper level, and he enrols at 22 years as musician on the boat "La Belle Poule " on May 8th, 1841 .

He is back in Paris on January 18th, 1842, and gets married on November 8th, 1842 to Jeanne Beaucourt, whose daughter will be our only possible link with our poor composer !

He could not play our instrument during his first commitment, because Sax settled down in the french capital only in 1842 : he was certainly a clarinettist previously, as most of the future pupils of Sax. He thus got acquainted with the soprano saxophone between this date and 1856 (his appointment as bandmaster), probably with the very inventor, of whom he seems to be a close friend : he will be one of the first composers to be published by the Sax editions, from 1861, and several of his pieces are dedicated to Sax's close relations (Singelée and Kastner, among others).

This explains his musical production, essentially dedicated to the saxophone, and which had probably been ordered by the inventor to supply his catalog of a number of ensemble compositions, ranging from the duet to the octet (besides 3 "Fantaisies" with piano). These pieces were probably supposed to answer to the request of pieces chamber music for the customers of the "Maison Sax". He is appointed Bandmaster to 34 ° of Line on March 19th, 1856, with second lieutenant's rank : he will thus never be a member of Sax's class in the Imperial Music academy (section reserved for military pupils), which opened its doors only in 1857.

It seems moreover that a bandmaster's career is rather common among the pupils of Sax, as I also discovered : the latter probably pushed his students to bandmasters ambitions in the army ; in that way, he could be certain that his instruments would be defended with full knowledge.

The service records of Savari describe him "good harmonist and composer". These qualities were apparently appreciated, and indicated the capacity of a bandmaster to supply with the musical material for his orchestra. It is difficult to say if all the ensembles written by Savari were played within the framework of the concerts of his band, but it seems likely, since most are dedicated to superior officers.

Furthermore, the instrument list often includes two soprano saxes: he played certainly one of the parts himself. He makes eight "campaigns" heading his music, which follows naturally its regiment during its outside operations, in particular in Italy and in Africa. In the section "Wounds and remarkable deeds", the mention "Nothing" probably means that his music didn't have to fight. He received however the Medal of Italy.

He died in his room in Bayonne on June 3rd, 1870, little time after the death of his wife (between June, 1867 and August, 1869). His last report, while aged 50, described him "old and a little tired, but very energetic".

If his "Living, conduct and principles" are unanimously considered irreproachable, it seems that Savari, just like Sax, was endowed with a rather tough character, arousing so much real admiration as robust hostilities.

As (funny) proof, these two observations, by different general inspectors, in a two years distance, about his general attitude :

1867: "Mister . Savari is a well enough brought up man, who could show more zeal in the service".

1869: "Capable, honorable, devoted leader, who takes care diligently and tastefully of his functions".

His musical production for saxophone dedicated to diverse Officers in the Army, is rather considerable : 3 Fantaisies with piano, and 7 ensembles, ranging from the duet to the octet. Adolphe Sax published it between 1861 and 1862, for the main part :

    - Duo (Andante and Allegro) for SA or TB saxes

    - Trio (Allegretto, Andante et Allegro Moderato)  for SAB saxes (dedicated to L. Kastner)

    - Quatuor (Allegretto, Quasi Allegro, Andante, Final)  for SATB

    - Quintetto (Allegretto, Andante, Pastorale, Final)  for SSATB

    - Sextuor for SSAATB

    - Septuorfor SSAATTB

    - Octuor   for SSAATTBB

    - Fantaisie sur le Freischütz for Saxophone & piano  (1855)

    - Première fantaisie sur un thème original for Saxophone & piano

    - Deuxième fantaisie sur un thème originalfor Saxophone & piano

* : Ars Gallica : "L'aube du Saxophone", distr. Ligia Records.

Text initially published in «Les Cahiers du Saxophone n°2»