In January 2023 I had the pleasure of exploring the hidden treasures of the Musical Instruments Museum () in Brussels, Belgium. Exhibited in a striking 5-storey Art Nouveau building, it boasts a collection of ‘the 1200 most interesting instruments’.
Strange Musical Instruments
It took a few hours to explore the vast collection of guitars, keyboards, mechanical instruments, and historic wind instruments; these were some of my favourite curiosities:
After perusing several floors I finally came across a smaller section dedicated to brass and woodwind instruments. There were several ‘frankenstein’ instruments which showed the experimentation and evolution leading to modern brass and saxophone families.
Adolphe Sax Collection
The highlight of the museum was a display of musical instruments built by, the inventor of the saxophone. From right to left, you can see the Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone Saxophones. What struck me about these original saxophones is how the key system has evolved since its initial conception – there’s certainly more clutter on modern saxophones!
On the far left, you can see anbuilt by Adolphe Sax. Apparently, the instrument was popular in French and English operas during the mid-19th century but it was short-lived because the instruments were superseded by modern valved brass instruments. Next to the Ophicléide is a Bass Clarinet; unlike modern versions this has a straight bell and a ‘squashed’ neck design.
Adolphe Sax also invented thefamily. Whilst this family of brass instruments has been mostly disregarded, several of the instruments have become common in brass bands and known by other names (Flugel Horn, Tenor Horn, Euphonium). I found it very interesting to see the familiar leather pads and tone holes from saxophones seemingly grafted onto these brass instruments.
I particularly enjoyed this ‘exploded’ view of a saxophone’s life, from raw materials to build!
If you find yourself in Brussels I highly recommend spending a few hours walking around this impressive musical instrument collection (once you’ve tried the Belgian chocolate and beer obviously) – a definite bucket list experience for any curious musicians out there! I also discovered it was quicker to travel to Belgium (via Eurostar) than it was to visit Scotland! Send me a postcard.