Oscar Abella - Tuba and early brass instruments
header helicon sousaphone

The Helicon and Sousaphone are the European and American versions of a type of tuba that is designed to rest on the player’s shoulder while he walks.

Around 1845 in Milan, Giuseppe Pelitti created his Pelittone, which in its beginnings was a type of valve ophicleide or bombardon. In 1851 he applied for a contest organized by the Instituto Lombardo di Szienze, Lettere e Arti, with a version of the Pelittone with an alla tracolla (= shoulder strap) shape. Three years earlier, in 1848, Ignaz Stowasser had patented his Helicon in Vienna, already with this name. According to some sources, the instrument would be an improved version of another similar one, previously invented in Russia. We also find patents of the A. Sax family of Saxtubas (1849), inspired by the Roman call instruments.
helicon stowasserStowasser's Bb Helicon (The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians).
helicon pelittonePelittoni (Pelitti Catalog of 1873).
helicon cervenyModern helicon (Cerveny brand).
saxtubasFrom left. to right: Roman Cornu; patent of the Saxtubas of A. Sax (1849); Saxtuba in Eb (1855) of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Contrabass Saxtuba (Le Monde Illustré, 1867).
helicon couturierA couriosity: Helicon with a lion-head shaped bell, called "Contre-basse Fantaisie" in the "Couturier de Lyon" catalog from 1868.
The Sousaphone, developed at the request of John Philip Sousa (from whom it takes its name) was created by J.W. Pepper of Philadelphia, in 1893. Simultaneously, a big helicon developed in Manchester by Higham would be presented at the exhibition in Chicago. Generally tuned in Eb or BBb, the first versions used by Sousa in his band had the bell folded up, so they were colloquially given the appellation of "rain-catcher". It will not be until the end of his career that Sousa will approve the frontal-bell models, in spite of having always advocated for a more enveloping, rather than direct, bass sound. To be noted that there are existing models made in fiberglass instead of metal, which considerably lighten their weight.
sousaphone pepperThe first Sousaphone, two years after its manufacturing (1895).
sousaphone connModern Conn Sousaphone.
sousa band 1900The Sousa Band in 1900.
sousa band 1923Sousaphone Section of the Sousa Band, 1923.
sousaphone conn 1924Frontal Sousaphones, “rain-catchers” and helicons. Conn General Catalog, 1924.
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