Adolphe Sax was born in Belgium in 1814 and studied flute and clarinet in the Brussels Conservatoire. He was always stimulated by the idea of modernising the clarinet. In 1842 he unveiled to the Parisian public an entirely new instrument. It was a brass instrument with a simple reed, resembling a clarinet. Christened the saxophone, it attracted the attention of several composer, including Halévy, Auber and Berlioz. He patented it in 1846 and soon it was being used in military bands, as well as in symphonic and operatic music. In 1857, Sax began to teach saxophone at the Paris Conservatoire and soon wrote graded teaching material.
Debussy (1862-1918) was one of the first composers to write a concert work for the instrument. It is not sure that Debussy really warmed to the task. A rich American woman, Elisa Hall, commissioned the famous composer to write her a piece, because her doctor's had ordered her to take up a wind instrument for health reasons. According to Debussy's Hungarian biographer, József Ujfalussy, “Mrs Hall and the Rhapsody caused a great deal of bitterness for the unhappy composer.” Composition took many years – perhaps not surprisingly. Debussy finally completed it in 1908. The orchestration was only sketched and had to be completed by Roger-Ducasse in 1919.