As first minister to France’s Louis XIII, Cardinal Richileu was a major player in the politics of the early 17th century, transforming France into a powerful centralized state. On a lesser scale, he was a noted patron of the arts. On an even lesser scale (arguably), he made a singular contribution to the etiquette of French dining, which was at the time anything but refined.

Diners used their hands to move food directly to their mouths or speared pieces of meat with the sharp point of their knives. They even used those same knives to pick their teeth. Having grown weary of these displays of gastronomical unpleasantness, Richileu had an inspiration. On May 17, 1637, he ordered the blades of all the palace dinner knives to be rounded off, thus creating what has become the modern dinner knife.

Talk about a trendsetter. The Richileu dinner knife became le dernier cri, the last word in dining. The craze spread throughout continental Europe, even to England of all places. And the American colonies!

May 17, 1846:  Don’t Use Your Saxophone as a Spoon

Adolphe Sax was born in Belgium in 1846. His father was a designer of musical instruments who dabbled in the design of horns. Little Adolphe began to make his own instruments at an early age, entering two of his flutes and a clarinet into a competition at the age of fifteen. He subsequently studied those two instruments at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

Upon leaving school, Sax began to experiment with new instrument designs. Adolphe’s first saximportant invention was an improvement of the bass clarinet design, which he patented at the age of twenty-four.

In 1841, Sax moved to Paris, and began working on a new set of instruments, valved bugles, improving their design enough that they became known as saxhorns (fortunately for Sax, the name French horn was already taken by Cardinal Richileu who had whittled a harpsichord into the shape of a horn). These instruments led to the creation of the flugelhorn (sometimes mistakenly credited to Max Flugel). The saxhorn also laid the groundwork for the modern euphonium (a forerunner of the smart phonium).

Sax also developed the saxotromba family, valved brass instruments with narrower bores than the saxhorns. (Notice the names he gave to all these instruments, the mark of a very humble man.  We can only be relieved he didn’t call them Adolphes.) In 1846, he developed and patented the instrument for which he is now best known, the you-know-who-ophone, intended for use in both orchestras and concert bands. By this time, Sax had designed, on paper, a full range of saxophones (from sopranino to subcontrabass). Saxophones made his reputation, and secured him a job teaching at the Paris Conservatoire in 1867.

Sax continued to make instruments until his death in 1894. And his saxophones have found their special place in the world of music, often as comic relief.

What is the difference between a saxophone and a trampoline? You take off your shoes to jump on a trampoline.

Why did Adolphe Sax invent the saxophone? He hated mankind but couldn’t build an atom bomb.

What’s the difference between a saxophone and a vacuum cleaner? You have to plug in the vacuum cleaner before it sucks.

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