The F Mezzo-Soprano

 

As the tenor saxophone in C (or C-melody), the mezzo-soprano saxophone or alto in F was designed by Adolphe Sax to be a member of the symphony orchestra. Moreover, Sax built himself a certain number of these instruments. However, victims of the cabals of the competitors of the inventor, C and F saxophones did not manage to  enter in the classical orchestras, while their cousins in Bb and Eb, primitively intended for harmony orchestras and military brass bands, in which these keys dominated, were quickly adopted by the latter, and by many other musicians.

We owe to the american manufacturer C.G. Conn the modern version of this instrument, since he produced in 1928 two models of F saxophones : the mezzo-soprano (bent in the form of a small alto), and the Conn-O-Sax (a straight instrument with a terminal sphere like the heckelphone's, a key range from tow A to high G).

In fact, the diameter of these instruments is closer to that of the soprano saxophone, but with a much superior tube length, explaining their very particular tone quality, reaching closer to the cor anglais or to the bassoon in its high tessitura. But these rather expensive instruments arrived on the market just before the 1929 crash, did not meet  the expected commercial success, and thus were quickly forgotten. There are only a few hundreds of models left nowadays.

Actually, their repertory remains limited, in spite of the action of some enthusiasts to revive them (in particular in France : François Dumont d' Ayot for the Conn-O-Sax, or Frédéric Couderc for the mezzo-soprano). In the United States, Anthony Braxton and Jay Easton play regularly the mezzo-soprano. The first official piece for Mezzo-soprano is "Mandala" by André Serre-Milan (premiered in Paris in 2009 by Serge Bertocchi).

(Copy of a contribution I wrote for the french Wikipedia encyclopedia)

Multiphonics Improvisation on F mezzo-soprano (on the right of the photo)

Rationnal Melodies X, V, XVI, I, XII by Tom Johnson. Concert version in Reims 2012, (version for F mezzo-soprano saxophone).

A link to a video by Futurs Composés of the piece «Mandala» by André Serre-Milan, recorded during the Nuit Blanche à Paris 2009. The piece was originally written for english horn, but was never  played entirely on this instrument : the authorised mezzo version here is the official premiere of the piece (click on the photo to see the video).

Other photos of this mezzo-soprano saxophone, this time near a  soprano, a C-melody (both by Conn) and a Buescher alto.