The Celebrated Distin Family: Music for Saxhorn Ensemble
The Prince Regent’s Band
Resonus RES10179. 55’40
Music by Mayerbeer, Berlioz, Donizetti, Verdi, Handel, Arne and the Distin family
Unless you have been weaned on the sound of brass bands (which I wasn’t) the sounds and the instruments on this recording might appear rather unusual. It features no fewer than seven saxhorns, ranging from contralto to contrabass, along with five different cornets, and a ventil horn, all dating from around 1850-1900 (pictured below). The five players of the period brass ensemble, The Prince Regent’s Band, share these out amongst themselves as they explore the music of the extraordinary Distin family who, between 1835 and 1857, journeyed around Europe and North America performing and promoting new designs of brass instruments. They were instrumental, so to speak, in the development of new valved instruments, one being the saxhorn, designed by Adolphe Sax (who they met in Paris in 1844) but improved by the Distins, who gave the instrument its name.
In 1844, the Illustrated London News noted that “The Distins are at present the only performers on the Sax Horns, which unites the power of the French horn and those of the cornets-à-piston, but is infinitely superior to both, for it combines the mellowness and sweetness of the former, with all the brilliance and power of the latter. The pieces which the Distins perform are of their own arrangement, and do credit to their musical skill.” The father of the family was John Distin (1798-1863), a former trumpeter with the Grenadier Guards who, after Waterloo, joined the Household Band of King George IV (formerly the Prince Regent’s Band). He then became bandmaster to an aristocratic Scottish family. There he met, and eventually married, Ann Loder, born into a family of musicians and dancers. Ann’s five sons joined Distin to form ‘The Celebrated Distin Family’.
The present day Prince Regent’s Band have recreated the sort of music that the Distins played in their concerts, a compelling mixtures of styles and arrangements by the Distins and by members of the Prince Regent’s Band. The music ranges back from Verdi and Berlioz to Handel and Arne (with his Rule Brittannia), along with traditional melodies such as The Last Rose of Summer and pieces by the Distins themselves. Even though there had been 13 previous tracks for me to get used to the sound, I confess I was a little taken aback to hear Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim played with these instruments – an extraordinary sound!
The playing is superb, the five players producing an excellent consort sound. This ia a fascinating little glimpse into a little-known part of musical history.
More information can be found here.