February 10, 1849 (Saturday)

Exceedingly cold today—nearly as cold as the coldest.

Went to hear the celebrated “Sax Horn” players, a Mr. Distin and three sons.  They have a new kind of instrument made of silver, with which they made the sweetest music I ever heard in wind instruments.

In the 1840s and 1850s, the Distin Family was a household name in Europe and the United States. John Distin (1798–1863) was perhaps the most celebrated trumpeter of his day.  An Englishman, he was the bandmaster for the Marquis of Breadalbane of Taymouth Castle, Scotland and played at the coronation of both William IV and Queen Victoria.  Mr. Distin formed a brass quintet with his four sons, George, Henry, Theodore and William, and then toured Europe, playing before royalty and heads of state. They were highly acclaimed wherever they played.  In Paris in 1846, they met Adolphe Sax, the Belgian instrument maker and were immediately taken with his newly invented Sax Horn, a precursor to today’s cornet.  John Distin ordered five of the instruments and began performing with them.  So impressed with their abilities was France’s King Louis Phillippe, he had five silver sax horns made and delivered to the Distin family as a token of appreciation.  These are the instruments Nathan saw and heard.

For there initial tour of  America, the Distin family (now a quartet since eldest son George passed away in 1848) was commissioned to perform 40 concerts at the Park Theater in New York City for the then astronomical amount of $12,500. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for Nathan, when the Distin family arrived in New York in January 1849, they found the Park Theater had been destroyed in a fire.  They then had to improvise a tour which included stops in Philadelphia. Nathan saw them at the Musical Fund Hall on Locust Street.  In addition to playing sax horn and sax tuba, John, Henry, and William also sang. A Miss Louisa Distin (likely Mr. Distin’s daughter) was also listed as a vocalist.

As part of their improvised tour, the Distins appeared at Brinley Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts on September 7, 1849. The American Antiquarian Society has a broadside advertising the event…

The Distin Family Quartet

from the AAS collections, BDSDS 1849 F

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