The Saxophone and Pope Pius X?

I’m reading a book on the history of the saxophone and was struck by a tiny passage. One sentence read: “In 1903, Pope Pius X wrote the Motu Proprio on Sacred Music, which prohibited certain instruments “that may give reasonable cause for disgust or scandal” – that is, the saxophone – as being “unworthy of the House of Prayer and of the Majesty of God.”

Is anyone familiar with this *Motu Proprio? *Does anyone know is this true and/or still valid? Is the Saxophone prohibited from being played in church under the guidance of Pope Pius X? Now that I think of it, I’ve never seen or heard a sax in any Catholic liturgical setting.

Thanks for any answers.

The entire text of the document is here:

For the first time while on vacation this year, I heard a saxophone during Holy Communion. The sax and its accompaniment sounded like dinner music at a jazz bar.

Yea, it’s still valid, unless someone points to a non-binding USCC document from the 1970s.

Pope St. Pius X mentions wind instruments which, of course, the saxophone is. Take a look:

  1. It is strictly forbidden to have bands play in church. Only in special cases with the consent of the [bishop of the diocese] will it be permissible to admit wind instruments, limited in number, judiciously used, and proportioned to the size of the place. In that case, the composition and accompaniment must be written in a serious and appropriate style; the composition and accompaniment must conform in all respects to that proper to the organ.

  2. In processions outside the church, the [bishop of the diocese] may give permission for a band, provided no profane pieces be executed. It would be desirable in such cases that the band confine itself to accompanying some spiritual canticle sung in Latin or in the vernacular by the singers and the pious associations which take part in the procession.

I think everyone would do well to listen to Pius X’s encyclical even today. What it comes down to is this:

  1. No Bands
  2. Wind instruments with permission of the bishop.
  3. It better be Mozart or something similar.

Somewhere on line is a mpg of a Bach chorale played by a full ensemble of saxophones: everything from the soprillo (octave above the soprano) and sopranino saxophones to the newly invented sub-contrabass tubax (octave below the bass saxophone).

The color of this ensemble has a unified and homogeneous timbre that can only be compared with a well-voiced prinicpal chorus on an organ.

You can see most of these instruments and hear the mpg here:

“To my ears the saxophone is the most expressive of all wind instruments – the one closest to the human voice. And surely all musical instruments should be rated according to their tonal closeness to man’s own voice!”
-composer Percy Grainger, from his program notes to “Linconshire Posy”

That link to Motu Proprio was quite intersting. It seems that somehow most of the pastors must have missed this document judging from the music I’ve heard at many Masses.

Actually, Mozart was prohibited, and may still be, from the Mass because of his profane operas and his connection with Freemasonry.

I read somewhere that Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, received death threats from several musicians,.

Does this mean that guitars and tambourines also aren’t allowed in church?:gopray2:

I wish!

Would someone PLEASE tell me that these rules are still in force? Quinceañeras are annoying enough without that blasted mariachi band shattering windows with their (usually untuned) instruments.

come on down here for real mariachi music, with well-tuned instruments, and some of the best professional musicians you will ever here. no I don’t like it at Mass, but if the bishop okays it, not my problem. beats some ex-hippie who knows two guitar chords and is a Dylan wannabee with less talent and worse voice trying to lead songs at 5 pm Mass.

Did you know that one of the least-known saxophones was actually the first one invented?

It was the bass sax.

My mother learned to play the saxophone in Catholic high school but when she went to a Catholic women’s college in 1930 she was forbidden to play it because “it inflames the passions”. So I guess that was the perception in the early part of the century.

I was told that the organ was first used by the Romans at their entertainments. If true, not an auspicious beginning for a sacred instrument.

The Piano was also banned by a papal decree (accrding to Norton Anthology of ZWestern Music).

But a great many parishes have pianos.

But a great many parishes have pianos.

I should think that, at least in the Western liturgy, a well-played piano is more appropriate than a little toy spinet organ played by a left-footed organist wearing mittens (as is so often the case).

If this were true it would certainly be a surprise to me, because the Church commisiond Mozart to write a series of the Mass, and a priest I know (and a very orthodox one at that) recently had one played at the Mass.

As a saxophone player I can tell you. The saxophone really doesn’t belong in church.

If that’s the type of organist they have, a piano is even less appropriate… the piano requires very much the same skill set. And the piano is more likely to be out of tune.

I’m reminded of a priest who carried a pitch pipe. He’d find the starting note, go up a third, then start the entrance hymn.

I heard Mozart’s music was banned from Mass because it was “too much”- more like a concert than sacred music!

I’ve actually commented on this in a similar thread once before. There is a genre of classical saxophone that most people aren’t aware of. I have used a saxophone quartet at church. They accompanied hymns, the mass parts and played preludes, fugues, postludes etc… The tone color of a saxophone quartet is (to many people) remarkably similar to a pipe organ. As such, I had quartets play Bach, Gabrielli, Palestrina, Tallis etc… The saxophone quartet, with the exception of the string quartet, is the most uniform sounding common chamber group that exists. It is also extremely well suited for playing with or completely replacing an organ when necessary. I have never used jazz saxophone in church though.

If there is/was a ban on wind instruments, it seems somewhat peculiar as the pipe organ in nothing more than a giant wind instrument. Its mechanism of creating a tone is largely identical to any other wind instrument, just with a better set of lungs.

This is true. His factories were susceptible to arson and many other instrument makers set lawsuits against him falsely claiming to have invented the instrument themselves.

There is a book perhaps for this thread appropriately named “The Devils Horn” which actually discusses at some point Pius X and the saxophone (the soft cover version has a serpent emerging from the bell of the horn :smiley: )

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