The History of the Baritone
The Modern Baritone Vs The Original Tenor Saxhorn
Like their Saxhorn progenitors, there are two versions of the modern baritone, formerly called the Bb tenor horn and the baritone (the latter of which is often mistakenly referred to as the euphonium). The original Saxhorns, both of which were Bb tenor instruments, were less wound and much taller, and sketched out a shape like a “b,” with a flared top.
Both modern baritones retain this general shape, but in compacted form, being wound in both lead-pipe and bell tubing. As with other members of the Saxhorn family, this design greatly shortens the height of the horn, whilst retaining all of the horn’s performance characteristics and intonation. Of added benefit is the fact that the instrument is more compact, easier to carry and transport, and is less prone to becoming damaged.
The bell of the modern Saxhorn also differs from the original, which more resembled a long, narrow cone ending in a small flare. The modern bell is wider, the bell tubing narrower towards the end.
The Two Bb Tenor Saxhorns
Nothing in the history of brasswinds has served to confuse so many so thoroughly! Initially, when it came to writing a piece on the two versions of the Bb baritone, I skirted the issue of the two Bb tenor instruments in order to avoid dealing with all the misinformation floating around out there. However, merely by raising the name “baritone” and omitting any reference to the Bb tenor horn, this in itself served to draw attention to the issue. So in response, here is the short version of what these two instruments are all about:
Other Forms of the Baritone
The over-the-shoulder Saxhorn design was a common sight from circa 1850 to circa 1880, and was a staple of marching bands, especially in the United States.
Because the modern military-style band no longer marches at the front of columns of soldiers, due to the invention of motorized transport, the modern marching version of the baritone is a bell-forward instrument, in general shape like an oversized solo tenor (alto) horn.
Some of the finest modern baritones come with the compensating valve system, which delivers better intonation and more stable and truer pedals.
The Baritone Horns of Today
Antoine Courtois has been manufacturing baritone horns since winning a lawsuit against Adolphe Sax in 1855 for the right to manufacture Saxhorns. Their horns, especially the compensating model, are among the finest. Other present-day manufacturers are: Amati, Bach, Besson, Blessing, Holton, Kanstul, King, Winston, Yamaha.