At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the manufacture of band instruments was little more than a cottage industry. Individual craftsmen made such items as key bugles, serpents and ophiecleides, most of them from materials other than brass.
At that time a business was founded in Paris and subsequently established in London, which was destined to become famous throughout the world for the excellence of its brass instruments and whose name, so easily pronounced in all tongues, became synonymous with its product.
This famous name is Besson.
Gustave-Auguste Besson (1820-1874), a genius in acoustic science, created the Besson brand in Paris. His new cornet revolutionized the instrument and continues to influence ears, hearts and minds even today. The immediate success was tremendous and formed the prelude to a lifetime of work during which over fifty inventions relevant to wind instruments were accredited to him and patented.
Following a long series of legal battles with Adolphe Sax, Gustave Auguste Besson left Paris to build a factory in London. Over the following years, Besson continued to manufacture in Paris, London and also had warehouses for distribution in Brussels, Charleroi, Madrid and Barcelona. Gustave Auguste Besson died in 1874, the company changed its name and becomes Fontaine Besson in 1880 in France and Besson in England. At the same time, another English manufacturer became well known Henri John Distin born in London in 1819. His products became famous in Europe and in 1857 he moved to England where the vigor of Brass Band popularity was already evident. From a large factory in London, Besson instruments not only captured a major part of the British Market, but were also exported to many countries. Impressive orders came from U.S.A. where band instrument manufacture was in its infancy, reaching a volume of over two thousand instruments annually. The unique character of the business attracted visits from the English Royal family, as well as many foreign dignitaries and other eminent personages. Instruments for special artists were elaborately engraved and the bells of some cornets for use in Czarist Russia were even studded with semi-precious stones. The firm had been entrusted with a contract for the bands of the Japanese Navy whose ships came at intervals to English ports to collect the merchandise. Such is the fame of Besson! In the enthusiastic climate of band contesting, the high quality of Besson products became and remains, a legend to this day. During the ensuing years, under the control of Besson’s daughter, an astute and colourful character who became a familiar figure in the brass band fraternity, the business rode on the crest of the wave, through the “gay nineties” into the twentieth century.
Influenced largely by Henry Distin, a virtuoso of his day and a close confidant of Sax, Saxhorns became predominant in the U.K. and, in fact, brass bands were modelled upon Sax’s Paris band, which was remarkably similar in content to the current standard British brass band. As the English agent for Sax and a brilliant exponent, Distin did much to promote the brass band movement and worked closely with Boosey and Co., with whom he merged in 1868. In parallel with the growth of brass band popularity, Boosey and Co. engaged in a great deal of rewarding research, the highpoint being reached in 1874 when D. J. Blaikely invented his famous compensating system, which is still a feature of the finest modern baritones, euphoniums and tubas.
Their consequent merger in 1930 with Hawkes and Son gave rise to the present giant of the music industry, Boosey and Hawkes, which eventually also encompassed Besson. In the 1930s in Paris, Strasser Margaux and Lemaire (SML) all produced instruments from Besson with Aubertin. In 1957, Couesnon bought the french company Fontaine Besson. In London,at the same time Boosey & Co and Hawkes & Sons of England merged to create Boosey & Hawkes group.
Midst a vastly changed musical scene and the increasing complexity of marketing methods of the post-war era, Besson merged their considerable forces with Boosey and Hawkes. With cutting-edge design and manufacture, Besson became the leading brand of euphoniums, cornets, tenor horns, baritones and tubas. Extensive research enabled the company to produce the best brass instruments available.
At the end of the nineteenth century (1894), the Besson factory of London employed 131 workers, producing 100 brass instruments a week and no less than 10 000 musical ensembles appeared on their contract lists. In 1925, Besson purchased Quilter and Wheatstone & Co in 1940. In 1948, the group Boosey & Hawkes acquired the Besson London brand. With cutting edge design and manufacture, Besson became the leading brand of euphoniums, cornets, tenor horns, baritones and tubas. Extensive research enables the company to produce the best valve instruments available today, along with an initiative range of rotary valve instruments. That research always involved collaborating with the finest players of the day, both from the brass band world, many of whose members would travel to the factory in Edgware, North London, as well as leading orchestral players such as the legendary Denis Wick and John Fletcher. Working with leading players has always been essential to the development of this famous brand, and this has happened through the generations, and still continues today. Many of the leading brass bands from the 1930s to the present day have trusted their performance to Besson instruments, and the legendary sound of the country’s finest brass bands through the decades has been one of the best exports for the brass band genre around the world. Within the contesting brass band world and with Salvation Army bands, the Besson brand became totally dominant and the instruments highly sought-after. Instruments were given the separate brand names, which are now legendary names in the brass band world; Regent, Westminster, New Standard, Imperial, and later Sovereign (from 1974) and more recently Prestige (from 1999) are indeed iconic names that are part of this incredible 180 year tradition, and sewn into the fabric of brass band history.
By joining the Buffet Crampon Group in 2006, Besson restructured and launched its production of professional instruments in Germany and France. Buffet Crampon applies all of its technical, acoustic, organizational and marketing talent, as well as its international distribution network, to the Besson brand.
After the acquisition of B&S group by Buffet Crampon, all brass instruments are manufactured in Markneukirchen. Besson is still and more than ever the brand of the champions with its leader positioning in brass bands. For over 150 years, famous soloists have trusted their reputation to Besson brass Instruments. Besson is more than ever the brand of champions with its leading position in brass bands. With great pride, several of the country’s leading performers and teachers visit the factory each month to test and help develop further these famous instruments. The quest for ever better quality is still as dynamic today as it was nearly two centuries ago. Besson today, lives up to its pedigree; in simple terms, the sound is superb.