Eponymous Instrument Makers
By Meghann Wilhoite
The 6th of November is Saxophone Day, a.k.a. the birthday of Adolphe Sax, which inspired us to think about instruments that take their name in some way from their inventors (sidenote: for the correct use of eponymous see this informative diatribe in the New York Times).
Adolphe Sax (1814-1894)
Belgian inventor of the saxophone.
Fun fact: Despite its common association with, and prolific use in jazz music, the saxophone, patented in 1846, was originally intended for use in orchestras and concert bands. Par exemple, Debussy’s Rapsodie for orchestra and saxophone:
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)
American inventor of the sousaphone, a brass instrument related to the tuba and widely used in marching bands.
Fun fact: Sousa wrote dozens of marches, including “Semper Fidelis”, which you can hear in the opening sequence of A Few Good Men, the “Minnesota March”, which John Morris altered ever so slightly for the opening theme of Coach, and “Liberty Bell”, which served as the opening theme for Monty Python’s Flying Circus (shout-out to Oxford alumni Terry Jones and Michael Palin!).
Léon Theremin (1896-1993)
Lev Termen, known also as Léon Theremin, Russian inventor of the theremin.
Not-so-fun-fact: In the late 1930s Termen was imprisoned by a predecessor of the KGB and forced to work in a secret Gulag laboratory; upon his release he became a spy for the KGB and then later as a professor at the Moscow Conservatory.
A sub-category of eponymous instrument makers includes those whose inventive take rendered their names forever associated with certain already well-established instruments:
Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)
Italian luthier who created the famed Stradivarius line of string instruments.
Fun fact: The film The Red Violin took its inspiration from one of Stradivari’s instruments (still in existence), called the Red Mendelssohn. Bonus: In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, Sherlock Holmes plays a Strad—though we doubt Benedict Cumberbatch is playing one in the BBC series!
Leo Fender (1909-1991)
American inventor of various Fender guitars and amplifiers.
Fun fact: The guitar that Jimi Hendrix set on fire in Monterey in 1967? Well, we’re not sure what type of guitar that was, but the one he was playing right before swapping it out for the fire-bound one was his favorite black Fender Stratocaster.
Robert Moog (1934-2005)
American inventor of the moog analog synthesizer.
Fun fact: Moog paid for his university studies by building and marketing theremins. Bonus: The Moog synthesizer was first demonstrated for music industry professionals at the same festival where Hendrix lit his guitar on fire.
Did we miss any? Share your additions to this list in the comments!
Meghann Wilhoite is an Assistant Editor at Grove Music/Oxford Music Online, music blogger, and organist. Follow her on Twitter at @megwilhoite. Read her previous blog posts on Sibelius, the pipe organ, John Zorn, West Side Story, and other subjects.
Oxford Music Online is the gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple music reference resources in one location. With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.