It had been my original plan to compose a brief history of the accordion and include it within these pages. However, what follows is probably the most comprehensive paper I have ever seen covering accordion history and I have been very fortunate that the author Shelia Lee has graciously given me consent to include the paper in its entirety on this site.
Please read and enjoy…..
History of the Accordion
Accordion – A Free Vibrating Reed Instrument
The accordion has a long and colorful history – both through its evolution and its multi-cultural contributions to folk culture around the world. The accordion is classified as a reed instrument – Free Vibrating Reed to be specific and further falls into the category – chromatic. The music is created by a flow of air that is either “inhaled” or “exhaled” across a metal tongue (reed) that resonates a tone based on its length.
The first incarnation of a free reed instrument was a collection of bamboo reeds, that all “sang” in concert called the Cheng and can be dated to the first Chinese dynasty. The cheng was either brought to Central Europe by Marco Polo in the thirteenth century or else it found its way there with the Tartars via Russia during the migrations of the peoples.
1619 – In Europe the first reed sounding device is known from 1619, (Michael Preatorius, Syntagma Musicum II, De Organographia) But the invention, perhaps inspired by a cheng, was forgotten.
1636 – Marin MersÀnne describes in his letters the cheng, an Asian free-reed wind instrument, thus introducing the principle of the free-reed to Europe.
1740 – The cheng itself was introduced by Johann Wilde in the 1740’s into the Russian Court Society of St. Petersburg.
1770 – The physicist, Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein from Copenhagen, often heard Johann Wilde play the cheng in Petersburg and became fascinated with the sound of the instrument. Kratzenstein examined the sheng and invented an instrument which produced five vowel sounds by the principle of the free-reed. In 1770 he reported the results of his experiment and in 1782 he was awarded a PAS premium (St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences).
The organ builder Kirsnik, who helped Kratzenstein in his experiments with the free-reed, built an instrument with an organ-style keyboard for the right hand and bellows which were pumped by the left hand. This became known as “Kirsnik’s harmonica.”
1776 – Jesuit priest missionary, Father J. J. M. (Padre) Amiot, sent back a cheng from China. Father Amiot is noted for the first known translation into French in 1782 of the text “The Art of War”, written over 2,500 years ago by Sun Tzu. The original text is generally considered to be the oldest military treatise.
In 1788 during a tour of Petersburg, Georg Joseph Vogler saw Kirsnik’s harmonica and commissioned the Swedish master Rakwitz, whom he met in Warsaw, to build him a free-reed instrument similar to Kirsnik’s harmonica, but on a larger scale, like an organ, with four keyboards of sixty-three notes each and a pedalboard of thirty-nine notes. The instrument was completed in 1790 and became known as Vogler’s orchestrion.
Of all the free reed instruments originating with the Chinese Cheng, we have 5 basic surviving instruments:
The cheng ( sheng or tchiang) is the first known instrument to use the free vibrating reed principle. Shaped to resemble the phoenix, the chenghas between 13 and 24 bamboo pipes, a small gourd which acts as a resonator box and wind chamber (calabash), and a mouthpiece.
Called the Chinese Organ, a cheng is played by being placed against the mouth of the performer. The player finds room to pass his hand round into the back of the instrument, and so reaches the pipes with his fingers. The air is inhaled and the pipes are made to speak. Each tube is provided with a metal tongue, and also has an aperture which, when stopped by one of the fingers, effectively prevents the tube from sounding.
The Chinese Book Of Chronicles (Shujing) claims that in 2697 BC the “Yellow Emperor” Huang Ti (Hwang Di) – the son of the “Gardenong Emperor” known as Yen Di, sent a scholar, Ling Lun, to the western mountain regions of his domain near India to find a way to reproduce the song of the phoenix bird. Ling Lun returned with cut bamboo tubes from which the fundamentals of music could be derived. By way of some clever iterative math Lun generated, from the yellow bell pipe, 12 notes—the Lu notes. The bamboo tubes upon which all other pitches and measurements were based was called the Yellow Bell. Yellow was the color of the Imperial court and symbolized sacred wisdom This foundation tone was considered to be an exact pitch representing a divine principle in harmony with the forces of the universe.
The earliest records giving mathematical ratios of musical intervals is the Lu Shih Ch’un Ch’iu (Chronicles of the House of Lu, c. 239 B. C.). This work described the construction of a set of twelve pitch pipes by the method of the cycle of fifths and tuned to the love song of a pair of phoenixes. This event was retro dated to the time of the legendary emperor Huang-Ti and his musical minister Ling-Lun in the year calculated as 2698 B. C. [ Needham and Robinson 1962:176-79]
From that time on each successive dynasty (with its new emperor) was compelled to order its astrologers, mathematicians, and musicians to recalculate the length of the Yellow Bell. This new tone would redefine the entire system so as to have the best spiritual and mathematical foundation possible – bringing the new dynasty in tune with the natural order of the universe.
Under the “Yellow Emperor’s” rule, the Chinese people learned music, mathematics, and the use of tools. Huang’s other accomplishments included the invention of boats, money, and religious sacrifice. He also taught them how to extract silk from the worm, and how to make a compass. This time period was similar to the European Renaissance and the rule under Hwang Di was known as the first true Chinese history.
There was also a mouth-organ in use among the Chingmiao tribes (non-Chinese people related to the Thai-speaking people of Haenan) in Guizhou Province, China that may have predated the cheng.
479 B.C – In the time of Confucius, who died about 479B.C., the cheng was used in the religious rites which were performed in his honor.
The mouth organ, or cheng, became a mainstay in the music of the courts of ancient China and was introduced into Korea as the saeng-whaeng and into Japan as the sho.
The development of free reed instruments took a giant leap forward with the introduction of the Harmonium and the Reed Organ. Reed Organs suck the wind through the reeds, and Harmoniums blow through the reeds. Reed Organs were made mostly in the Americas; Harmoniums were made mostly in Europe. A Harmonium is a pipeless organ that sounds when air is passed to the reed blocks via foot-operated or hand-operated bellows. In some early models a second person was required to pump air into the instrument through bellows attached to the rear of the keyboard.
Especially used in Indian songs is the Drone controls on the harmonium. When engaged, Drones provide a continual harmony note and are played in unison with the keyboard.
Small versions were carried from place to place by missionaries and military chaplains. The British introduced harmoniums to India during the colonial period. They were quickly adopted by the India cultures and mainly used in the accompaniment of Khyal, Thumri and Qawwali.
1810 – The real value of free reeds was not appreciated until Grenié, of Paris, in 1810, discarded the pipes of his organ and used the reeds alone, thus inventing the harmonium named Grenié’s Orgue expressif and appears to be the first in which bellows were combined with the free reed to form a distinct musical instrument.
The orgue expressif consisted of a single set of reeds of five octaves compass, and it had four bellows joined together in pairs. Both hands were used in playing the key-board and the performer’s feet were both required to keep the column of air constant.
1816 – Johann Buschmann, a German organ builder, introduces his Terpodion, a free-reeded keyboard instrument that would serve as a predecessor to both the harmonica and the harmonium.
More improvements to the now known as harmonium came in rapid succession:
It is worthy of notice that, since 1840, the harmonium has, basically retained Debain’s original design. Debain used the term concertina before 1839 when he sold his rights to J. Alexandre for the construction ofconcertinas or piano-accordions.
A Harmonica is a free reed instrument too. In Europe in 1776 A.D. those in Europe – specifically Paris — began to experiment with the free-reed.
Only mentioned here because of the use of the name Harmonica
In 1761, Benjamin Franklin invented the Glass-harmonica (armonica de crystal in French) – perfecting an instrument called the Seraphim (or Musical Glasses) – so named by Irishman Richard Puckeridge in 1743.
“Of all my inventions, the glass harmonica has given me the greatest personal satisfaction.” – Benjamin Franklin
Both glass instruments were based on the harmonics created when you rub the edge of a crystal container with different volumes of water. PAGANINI called it an “angelic organ”; MARIE ANTOINETTE played the Glassharmonica; doctor FRANZ ANTON MESMER used it to relax his patients before examining them; MOZART composed for it and writers such as GOETHE or CHATEAUBRIAND praised it.
1816 – Johann Buschmann, a German organ builder, introduces his Terpodion, a free-reeded keyboard instrument that would serve as a predecessor to both the harmonica and the harmonium. Exactly five years later, his son, Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann , registered the first patent for his free-reededmouth organ – “Aura.”
1825 – The first 20 note / 10 hole, Blow-draw free-reed mouth organ configuration is developed by a Bohemian named Richter. This is the basic configuration still used in most harmonicas today he basic design used today. Mass production of the harmonica started four years later in Vienna, Austria.
1827 – Christian Messner, a clockmaker from Trossingen, Germany, starts building harmonicas with his cousin, Christian Weiss.
1829 – The first mass production of harmonicas begins in Vienna, Austria. Cyrill Demian & Sons (1772 – 1847) from Vienna registered in 1829 a description and drawings of an Aeoline, corrected by another handwriter to Accordion.
1857 – After visiting the harmonica factory of Messner and Weiss, Matthias Hohner (1833 – 1902), a fellow clockmaker from Trossingen, Germany, starts to manufacture harmonicas in his kitchen with the help of his family and one or two workmen. During their first year they produced 700 harmonicas, but by 20 years after his death the business he had founded was creating them by mass production. Hohner was to the harmonica and accordion what Henry Ford was to the automobile.
1862 – Hohner‘s relatives urged him to export his harmonicas. Hohner took their advice and by 1867, he had made 22,000 harmonicas and produced one million annually in 1887.
1893 – Sons of Hohner expand the company to include the manufacture of another free reed instrument, the accordion.
1896 – a new model harmonica is introduced called the Marine Band and becomes the best selling harmonica in the world.
Early instruments, like the bandoneon and concertina, produced different notes on the press and draw of the bellows. These instruments are characterized as diatonic, and the pitch of their notes was determined by the placement of the keys and the reeds by each maker.
1822 – A Berlin, Germany instrument maker named Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann (1805 – 1864) invented a diatonic single action mouth organ with 15 metal reeds which he called Aura or Mundaeoline in 1821. One year later he added a bellow and constructed the first portable bellow free vibrating reeds (inside the instrument itself) which he called Handharmonika or Handaeoline. He helped spread its fame in 1828 by leaving Berlin and touring with it.
1829 – Cyrillus Damian, a Viennese instrument maker, patented an instrument he named accordion, having received royal patronage for his invention in 1829 in Vienna. Damian’s design featured two to four bass keys that produced chords within a range of an octave. Although Demian’s accordion permitted easy accompaniment of folk music and was highly requested, the fixed chords reduced its musical possibilities.
1829 – Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-1872) Professor and lecturer on acoustics and telegraphy at Royal Institution and King’s College London, was awarded the British Patent No. 5803 (1829) for his Symphonium– later modified to become the concertina (British Patent no. 10041 February 8th 1844). R. Blagrove used an instrument of Sir Charles Wheatstone and published in 1839 a Verdi melange “…for the Concertina with an accompaniment for the piano forte”. The tonal distribution of Wheatstone’s Symphonium (1826), later known as English Concertina, was thought as a melody instrument to perform e.g. violin parts in concerts.
The first Wheatstone instrument was sold to Capt: Gardner [sic] of the 2nd Life Guards, it was then called the “Symphonian” [sic] with bellows, and not until December 27, 1833 in that year [sic] was it named the Concertina.” “T. GARDNOR” is stamped twice into the top edge of the instrument’s case. “Captain Gardner” was actually named Thomas Gardnor.
Lord Balfour (British Prime Minister 1902-5) was in fact an ardent concertina player, and the explorers Shackleton and Livingstone both acquired Wheatstone concertinas.
1830 – In his lecture to the Royal Institution of 21 May 1830, Wheatstone used the cheng or Chinese mouth organ to illustrate the linkage of free reeds with a resonant column of air. The reeds of such far-eastern mouth-organs work on both ‘blow’ and ‘suck’.
1833 C.W. Meisel brought an accordion to Klingenthal, Germany, made by W. Thie of Vienna, which he found at the Brunnswick Fair.
1836 – Wheatstone was granted two musical patents during this period of active involvement with the concertina: that of 1836, in collaboration with the seraphine-maker John Green, claims a wide range of ‘new and improved’ free reed instruments including the wind piano and the table-top concertina.
An exhibit of Wheatstone’s instruments can be seen at the Concertina Museum Collection at Belper, Derbyshire — called the ‘C M Collection’
Bandoneon (diatonic & chromatic)
The first bandoneon is an offshoot of a family of German button and bellows instruments called Koncertinas, invented around 1845. Koncertinas (distinct from those played in the British Isles) were small square instruments which had 14 buttons on each side. Later this number increased to more than 70.
The commercial name of “bandoneon” was given in memory of Einrich Band, who had a music shop in Krefeld (north Germany) – but never personally built any instruments.
The bandoneon was developed throughout Germany under various sizes and systems. The three dominate models are:
Germany used to sell a lot of musical instruments to both North and South America, i.e. the harmonicas used in blues, the melodeons used in Cajun music and all kinds of accordions in the Brazilian Nordeste, Colombia and so on.
The bandoneon was very quickly adopted in Buenos Aires and became the symbol of Tango. It was never built there. Most bandoneons were made by the German maker ALFRED ARNOLD from 1911 until a few years after the war.
1834 – Carl Friedrich Uhlig from Chemnitz built the first German concertina (a large square instrument), not knowing of the smaller octagonal Wheatstone English concertina. It is related to the bandoneon, being square or slightly rectangular. It was based on a diatonic, with two rows on each side of the instrument. Each additional row is tuned a fifth higher.
1840 – Heinrich Band (1821-1860) of Krefeld in Westfalen (Rhine), Germany, is credited with inventing the bandoneon; this square-shaped instrument, played by pressing finger buttons. The New Grove Dictionary “Another development (of the concertina) was the much larger bandoneon constructed by Heinrich Band, firstly as a diatonic and later fully chromatic instrument, particularly favored in South America.”
1849 – There is evidence to prove that the bandoneon was actually invented by a C. Zimmerman of Saxony, who unveiled his invention to the world at the Industrial Exposition in Paris in 1849. This instrument was known as the Carlsfelder Konzertina.
Heinrich Band was born in the city of Krefeld, Germany. Music teacher and luthier, one of the 16 siblings of Peter Band, he was as well musician and merchant of musical instruments. He was staff cellist in an orchestra in his town. After the death of Band in 1860, Zimmermann sold his manufacture to Ernst Louis Arnold in 1864 and left to North America where his traces are lost.
Accordion (diatonic, chromatic and piano)
A “fully chromatic” and unisonic instrument (the same note plays whether the bellows is being pushed in or pulled out.) came into use in 1850when an accordionist named F. Walter requested that one be custom-built for him – rearranging the reeds so he could play a 46 note chromatic scale. His model featured 12 bass buttons, cleverly arranged so that all 12 key signatures could be accommodated. The five row chromatic today is just like the 3 row with the fourth and fifth rows as repeats of the first three rows, to increase fingering possibilities.
The Diatonic Button Accordion has 1 or more rows on the right hand side of the instrument. This is the “melody side” of the accordion. Each row on the melody side corresponds to one diatonic key. Almost all diatonic button accordions are bisonic (a different note is played when the bellows is pushed in and when the bellow is pulled out).
Chromatic Button Accordion
The Chromatic Button Accordion is like a piano accordion in that it is chromatic and unisonic, but the right hand side consists of a series of rows of buttons, usually 4 or 5 rows, arranged in one of several complex patterns. The left hand side is usually the same bass/chord system as piano accordion (the Stradella Bass System).
The chromatic accordion is probably most widely used in Russia. There it is called the Bayan, and the Piano Accordion is called just theAccordion.
1783 – The first Russian accordions were made by Tula instrument-makers. The first Tula accordion had only one row of buttons for right and left hands (one-raw or “odnoryadki” in Russian).
The accordion appeared in Saint Petersburg. Its “father”, a Czech engineer Frantishek Kirshnik (said to have been the assistant of Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein) living in Russia showed his instrument to the Saint Petersburg inhabitants in 1783. He called his masterpiece with a Czech name “harmonica”. The official Russian name today is a combination of harmonica and garmoshka – “garmon’.
There were some important differences between the instruments of that era and those of today. With the older models the keyboard was held by the thumb and the little finger, leaving only the remaining two or three fingers free to press the keys. The thumb of the left hand was also placed under the instrument to steady it, with only the second and fifth fingers used for playing. Most players today wear double straps, although single-strapped accordions, which leave the keyboard at a less upright angle.
1790 – The first free-reed instrument with a hand driven bellow and an organ like keyboard was build by Kirsnik, Kratzensteins assistant. The new invention led to Vogler’s Orchestrion, an organ like instrument with four keyboards and 63 notes each, finished by the Swedish master Rakwitz in 1790.
1806 – Bernhard Eschenbach & Kaspar Schlimbach, handaeoline (until 1840) and Königshofen of Bavaria (first free-reed instrument without tubes)
1851 – The Flutina Polka, patented in 1851 by Busson had two ranks of reeds. In 1854, Leterne of Paris patented a similar instrument but with the second set of reeds tuned slightly away from the first, which would appear to be the first musette tuned accordion.
In 1870 Beloborodov made the first Russian 2 row chromatic accordion and in 1888 he organized an accordion orchestra.
In 1883 Tchaikovsky used 4 accordions in his “Second Suite for Symphonic Orchestra”, and in 1890 Sterligov made a 3 row chromatic accordion called “Reform”.
The Piano Accordion has a piano style keyboard on the right hand side for playing the melody and set of buttons on the left hand side for playing a bass/chord accompaniment. Almost all piano accordions use a button system on the left hand side (“bass side”) called the Stradella Bass System.
1852 – The first patent of an accordion with a piano keyboard was made by M. Bouton of Paris in 1852, but the piano-accordion did not come into popular use until the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1880, an instrument was made by Tessio Jovani in Stradella, Italy which included preset registers – based on organ designs of the day that had free vibrating reeds set in a brass plate, to be activated when the reed stop is engaged.
1863 – the first accordion to feature a piano-style ivory keyboard was produced in Vienna. Many organ performers regarded it as a means of liberating themselves from being confined to their massive and immobile walls of pipes.
1870 – Beloborodov made the first Russian 2 row chromatic accordion and in 1888 he organized an accordion orchestra. And in 1883, Tchaikovsky used 4 accordions in his “Second Suite for Symphonic Orchestra”, and in 1890 Sterligov made a 3 row chromatic accordion called “Reform”.
1893 – Hohner (Germany) – harmonica pioneers – starts production of their accordion (concertina, keyboard, and button)
1909 – Pietro Deiro, brought his custom built piano accordion to the United States and, thanks to a successful New York concert at the Washington Square Theatre in 1909, earned a reputation for himself as the father of the American accordion playing.
1900’s – Today the accordion is truly an international phenomenon. During the early part of the century the manufacturers started settling on a standardized size. Large contemporary producers are located in Germany, France, and the U.S.S.R., where the bavan, and accordion with a button keyboard, is frequently played. But Italy exports about 75 percent of their instruments around the world. In China the instrument is being built in large numbers with two large manufacturers.
Colleges and universities in the U.S. now accept music students majoring in accordion, a fact that reflects the instrument’s unquestioned legitimacy in classical music. It has been seen on the concert platform at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Albert and Festival Halls in England, and has appeared as the featured solo instrument with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London.
The accordion has also made inroads into the field of popular music. The Beatles, Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, the Rolling Stones, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jimmy Webb, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and a host of other artists have used the accordion on records and onstage, while it has proven itself as ideal for soloing and for blending in well with the clarinet, the saxophone, and the flute in jazz settings too.
Other related reed instruments – that figure into the development of the accordion as we know it:
In Greek Mythology, Syrinx was an Arcadian river-nymph who was pursued by Pan. There was a certain nymph, whose name was Syrinx, who was much beloved by the satyrs and spirits of the wood; but she would have none of them, but was a faithful worshipper of Artemis, and followed the chase. You would have thought it was Artemis herself, had you seen her in her hunting dress, only that her bow was of horn and Artemis’s of silver. One day, as she was returning from the chase, Pan met her, told her just this, and added more of the same sort. She ran away, without stopping to hear his compliments, and he pursued till she came to the bank of the river, where he overtook her, and she had only time to call for help on her friends the water nymphs. They heard and consented.
Pan threw his arms around what he supposed to be the form of the nymph, and found he embraced only a tuft of reeds! As he breathed a sigh, the air sounded through the reeds, and produced a plaintive melody. The god, charmed with the novelty and with the sweetness of the music, said, “Thus, then, at least, you shall be mine.” And he took some of the reeds, and placing them together, of unequal lengths, side by side, made an instrument he called Syrinx, in honor of the nymph. from Bulfinch’s Mythology
In an ancient Peruvian tomb a syrinx was discovered and a plaster cast of this interesting relic was lent for exhibition at South Kensington Museum in 1872, by Professor Oakeley, of Edinburgh and the British Museum possesses it today. The description of the original, as given in the catalogue, was as follows:
“It is made of a greenish stone, which is a species of talc. Four of its tubes have small lateral finger-holes, which, when closed, lower the pitch a semitone.” The Inca Peruvians called this the syrinx huayrapuhura – one of these, consisting of fourteen pipes.
A collection of tubes of different sizes stopped at one end, and blown into at the other, forms the musical instrument known as Pan’s-pipe, in the Greek syrinx, whereas a collection of reeds or pipes of different sizes placed in a series of holes in a box, through which the air can be forced mechanically, constitutes what has for centuries been distinctively called the organ.
The earliest organs used hollow stems of river reeds of different lengths joined together to make Pan Pipes or Syrinx, and are mentioned by Homer and Virgil.
Still in pre-Christian times the Roman Hydraulus was made, with copper and bronze pipes and various stops which were worked by levers, and large keys that were played with the fists.
600A.D. – As organs form in our days such an important element in the musical part of Christian worship, a few words on the probable date of their dedication to this sacred function may not be unwelcome. It is generally said that they were introduced into Church services by Pope Vitalianus in the 7th century. But on the other hand, mention is found of an organ which belonged to a church of nuns at Grado before the year 580. This instrument has even been minutely described as having been 2 ft. long by 6 in. deep, and as possessing thirty pipes, acted upon by fifteen keys or slides. It seems to be tolerably authenticated that one was sent by Constantine in 766 as a present to Pepin, King of France. Improvements in their construction are attributed to Pope Sylvester, who died 1003. When we reach the time of Chaucer their use must have been common, for he thus speaks in his Nonnes Preestes Tale (Nun Priest’s Tale) of a crowing cock ” highte chaunticlere ” :
757AD – The Byzantine Empire had organs, and King Pepin of the Franks had one with lead pipes around AD 757. This organ was later copied and developed for his son, Charlemagne.
There are ancient drawings and carvings that show organs with stops of different pitches, including off-unison mutation stops which were needed for the music of the period and have been used ever since.
1100 – By the tenth century England had large organs, and two examples are Abingdon Abbey, Glastonbury, and the one at Winchester Cathedral which had, to quote the records, “400 brazen and copper pipes”.
Assertions the appearance of the cheng in Russia marked the introduction of the free-vibrating reed principle in Europe are debatable. Among the earlier variations on this design in the West was the portative, which was widely heard in England during the 12th and 13th centuries. As soon as organs became large and not easily movable, the terms positive and portative organ came into existence. In the 16th century, these portable organs were called regals.
1300 to 1700 – The portative consisted of a small keyboard, bellows, and reed pipes, and was strapped onto the player. The regal, later termed the Bible regal because of its wide use in churches, was the next step along this line. It had a keyboard, one or two sets of bellows, and, unlike the accordion and other open-reed instruments, close beating oboe-like reeds. This instrument eventually lost popularity due to a tendency to go out of tune too easily. It was frequently used for accompanying madrigal singers, between the 15th and 18th centuries. The organ developed rapidly and was the most high-tech piece of machinery of its time.
1705 – The development of organs continued through the Middle Ages and by 1705 Gottfried Silberman (one of the greatest organ builders of all time) produced complete and fully developed instruments.
Smithsonian Folkways – Traditional Music of the World 5
Office of Folklife Programs
http://www.britannica.com/eb/print?tocId=74435 – yellow bell pipe
Shelia is a very busy working musician based in the USA so please take time to visit her site www.shelialee.com
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