The sarrusophone is a double reed instrument like the oboe or bassoon, with a metal body and keys like the saxophone. It comes in several forms, including the EEb contrabass (which goes an octave lower than a baritone sax), baritone, tenor, and soprano, which is the only sarrusophone that has a straight sound tube. The lower register sarrusophones look like a stretched-out trumpet or a slide-less trombone, with an upward-facing bell and rectangular curled-up tubing. They have been described tongue-in-cheek as a cross between a bassoon and a saxophone – combining all the disadvantages of both. Its sound characteristics as described in the Film Studies syllabus of Florida State University is as follows: “…a wind instrument of a chillingly barbaric character.” According to other sources, the sarrusophone compares favorably with the saxophone in the lower register but does not fare so well in the upper registers.
Pierre Louis Gautrot of Guatrot-Marquet invented the sarrusophone in 1856 for use in military bands to reinforce or replace oboes and bassoons. The primary advantage of the contrabass sarrusophone for military bands was that it was considerably lighter than the equivalent contrabass sax. Guatrot credited the idea to Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813-1876), Chief de musique of the French army’s 13th Infantry Regiment, and honored him by naming the instrument after him. At the time, Adolphus Sax had the monopoly of supplying instruments to the French military bands. The sarrusophone became the subject of unsuccessful litigation by Sax, who thought that it resembled his recently invented saxophone a little too closely. With Sax’s monopoly broken, instrument maker Guatrot-Marquet tried to use the sarrusophone to replace the saxophone, but obviously failed to do so.
The sarrusophone has been used in various types of music. In serous music, it was used in Igor Stravinsky’s “Threni.” In jazz, Sidney Bechet (credited with bringing the soprano sax to jazz), solos with it in “Mandy Make up Your Mind,” which he recorded with the Clarence Williams Blues Five in 1924. It was also used by ex-Bonzo Dog Band member Vivian Stanshall, on his extraordinary Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.