Chinese Book Of Chronicles (Shujing) pinpoints the birth of
music as occurring during the reign of the legendary "Yellow
Emperor", Hwang Di, around the year 3000 B.C. Hwang Di's other
accomplishments are said to have included the invention of boats, money,
and religious sacrifice. He is said to have sent the noted scholar Ling
Lun to the western mountain regions of his domain to find a way to
reproduce the song of the phoenix bird. Ling returned with bamboo pipes,
and captured music for mankind, taking the first step toward the genesis
of the sheng and later the accordion!
The sheng, a bamboo mouth organ, is the first known instrument to use the free vibrating reed principle, which is the basis of the accordion's sound production. Shaped to resemble the phoenix, the sheng has between 13 and 24 bamboo pipes, a small gourd which acted as a resonator box and wind chamber, and a mouthpiece. Other instruments using a free vibrating reed were developed in ancient Egypt and Greece, and were depicted in many beliefs. 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 sheng.
The sheng 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. In the 1740's, Johann Wilde, the inventor of the nail violin, somehow discovered the instrument and popularized it by playing it for the Court Society of Petersburg.
French sources, however, claim that the first sheng to appear in Europe was sent to Paris in 1770 by Father Pere Amiot, a Jesuit missionary in China, and that, by some unknown means, it was sent to Russia shortly after. Joseph Macerollo, the author of Accordion Resource Manual, wrote, "Corroboration of detail becomes increasingly difficult since both Russian and French accounts vie with one another as to leadership in the scheme of invention."
The physicist, Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein from Copenhagen, often heard Wilde play the sheng 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." 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.
appearance of the sheng 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. 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.
There were actually many varieties of the free-vibrating reed instrument developed during the early 1800s. Heinrich Band (1821-1860) of Krefeld, Germany, invented the bandoneon in 1840; this square-shaped instrument, played by pressing finger buttons is popular with Argentine tango bands. That same year Alexandre Debain finished his harmonium in Paris. In this pipeless organ (commonly found in churches and households until the advent of electric organs in the 1930s) air is passed to the reed blocks via foot-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.
It seems that the accordion did not become chromatic in note range until about the 1850's. Wheatstone in England had invented his concertina in 1829 and he continued to develop it over the next several decades, but he did not attach a piano keyboard to it. Busson did, and called it the "Organ accordion". By 1859 this had a three octave treble keyboard. Both the Wheatstone Concertina from 1844 and then accordion had uniform tone (i.e. were not diatonic or in one key only). It would appear that the development and popularity of the Wheatstone Concertinas actually slowed the acceptance of the piano type accordions in England, at least until the twentieth century.
Between 1750 and 1850 the population in Europe almost doubled to 255 million people. Consequently, people in the industrial regions became poorer. In Germany, for example, between 1841 and 1913 over six million Germans emigrated to avoid poverty. Many sought fortune in America, and some took their instruments with them - mostly harmonikas which reminded them of their homeland. After a time, people began to ask their relatives to send them accordions, and soon after manufacturers received orders from around the world. Sales representatives began to set business in America. They were known and trusted by their relatives back at home.
Accordion manufacturing began in the 1860's in Europe. Many of those brand names are still familiar today. Steel reeds were introduced by Hohner at their Trossingen factory in 1857. Soprani followed at Castelfidardo in 1872, and Dallape at Stradella in 1876. By the beginning of the 20th century, a bass system had been developed that used notes and chords similar to the modern stradella bass.
Manufacturing also flourished in the Americas as some accordion manufacturers also emigrated. Amongst them were brothers Carl and Wilhelm Zimmerman of Castlefidardo. They founded an accordion factory in Philadelphia. In a few years Carl went to Latin America and went missing. In 1864, the firm in Castlefidardo was taken over by Ernst Louis Arnolds and developed into a leading accordion manufacturer. They became large exporters. In those days, harmonikas were one of the few products sold worldwide. In 1860 Arnold's company produced 218,400 accordions and export continued to grow.
Soon manufacturers in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bremen, and Rotterdam began to export their accordions to the American chain stores. By advertising in catalogues they were sold throughout North America, but the real export market for accordions was in Latin America. Many Europeans migrated to Latin America and consequently accordions were distributed in Chile, Guatemala, Uruguay, Columbia and Equador. Colonization by European powers was also responsible for the spread of the accordion, from Germany to America, Africa, China and the Caribbean where the accordion was adapted to the indigenous musics of the countries in which it landed - Cajun or Zydeco music of the southern states of the USA or the Brazilian tangos.
Adaptations were not only made as the accordion landed in new lands, but refinements were steadily added, and a number of variants were patented in the late 1800's in Europe. The Chomatina, developed in Bavaria by G. Mirwald, had four octaves and tone registers. The autophone, patented in New York in 1880, ran automatically from cardboard strips, somewhat like a player piano. The Bandoneon, a large square type of concertina was developed by Heinrich Band in the 1840's. It is still popular in Argentina and finding increasing popularity in Europe today.
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
The term "musette" is defined in one comprehensive dictionary of musical instruments, as "a generic term for small bagpipes." Several variants and modifications other than those mentioned above were patented in the late 19th century, even including a pedal accordion. However the features that have lasted and been included in modern accordions seem to be those associated with making it a more versatile instrument. These features enable the performance of more formal works written for the accordion and transcriptions of works originally written for other instruments.
Some of the important differences between the instruments of that era and those of today were that early accordions did not have shoulder straps that allowed the player to hold the instrument close to the body. The older models were played by placing the thumb, the little finger, and sometimes the fourth finger of the right hand under the treble keyboard, 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, are popular in the Soviet Union.
Additionally, early accordions, like the bandoneon (and the harmonica) that exists today, produced different notes on the press and draw of the bellows. Thus, if the C key were pressed to produce that note on the opening of the bellows, the note D might sound when the bellows were closed. 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.
The chromatic accordion, which produced the same note on the press and the draw of the bellows, came into use in 1850 when an accordionist named Walter requested that one be custom-built for him. His model, incidentally, also featured 12 bass buttons, cleverly arranged so that all 12 key signatures could be accommodated.
One interesting development from this period was the appearance of what subsequently became known as the Schrammel accordion, first used in 1877 with a quartet comprising an accordion, two violins, and bass guitar. The Schrammel had 52 treble buttons arranged in three rows that produced the same notes, together with 12 basses that produced different notes, on the press and draw of the bellows. This model was used often at Viennese gatherings and can still be heard today, but its popularity is limited because of its small range of notes and the difficulty with which it is mastered.
It seems clear that at this stage the accordion was being conceived of as a portable type of organ. Pipe organs had of course become extremely sophisticated by then, with tones produced through open-ended wooden or metal flue pipes of up to eight feet (for the lowest C then in the instrument's range) in length, and with its own free vibrating reeds set in a brass plate, to be activated when the reed stop is engaged. This exact design was incorporated into the accordions of that era, with several brass or steel reeds embedded into a long wooden block in a somewhat simplified version of the modern accordion design. 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 with the names of tutti, violina, celesta, flute, organ and tremolo and a bass-chord accompaniment with sixty-four buttons in the left hand.
By the last decade of the nineteenth century, the left-hand manual had developed into a complex series of bass and pre-set chord buttons arranged according to the circle of fifths. There were six rows of buttons, consisting of two rows of bass buttons encompassing a range of a major seventh: 1) the counter-bass row (a major third above -- or a minor sixth below -- the fundamental bass tone), and 2) the bass row (the fundamental); plus four rows of pre-set chord buttons: 1) major, 2) minor, 3) dominant seventh, and 4) diminished. This system eventually became known as the "stradella" system, to differentiate it from the other forms of bass-chord systems which were common at the time.
By the beginning of the twentieth-century the accordion finally evolved into a sophisticated instrument capable of playing in all keys. Composers gradually began to take note of this new improved accordion. The accordion you will see in the CrossSound concerts is a chromatic standard free bass accordion and has no keyboard. Unlike the stradella system, all the bass buttons play individual notes. This gives the accordion a fantastic range of notes. Organ and piano pieces can be played without needing to be arranged. Free Bass is used by many baroque and classical players.
Credit for much of the growth of the classical accordion must go to the Hohner company which began manufacturing accordions shortly after the turn of the century. Christoph Wagner, the author of Das Akkordeon: Eine Wilde Karriere, wrote, "In the late 1920's, Hohner came up with a new idea for enlarging the market for the instrument. They decided to improve its public image by turning it from a folk instrument played by ear to a respectable instrument played from sheet music. A model 'accordion orchestra' of around thirty skilled amateurs was put together and toured extensively by bus throughout Germany and the neighboring countries presenting the new concept to the public. Hohner also began to publish sheet music of classical pieces and established a college for accordion teachers to 'raise the standard.' The response was enormous."
Hohner's music school, which was established at Trossingen, a small village in the Black Forest, in 1931, became an official state academy in 1948 under the principalship of Hugo Herrmann (1896-1967), who, on the invitation of Ernst Hohner in 1927, composed the first original composition of musical importance for the solo accordion: "Sieben neue Spielmusiken, op. 57/1" (Seven New Pieces).
Wagner continued, "when the Nazis came to power, the growth of the accordion slowed down. The propagandists claimed that the accordion was a 'nigger jazz instrument' for its close connection with modern American dance music. The Nazis tried to stop accordion bands from playing classical music which for them was an 'abuse of the music of our great masters.' The president of the Reichsmusikkammer -- the highest institution controlling music in the Third Reich -- declared that 'now is the time to build a dam against the flooding of our musical life by the accordion.'"
Accordionists' Association, founded in 1938, commissioned fifty works for
the accordion between 1957 and 1995, including Concerto for Accordion and
Orchestra (1960) by Paul Creston; Concerto Brevis for Accordion and
Orchestra (1961) by Henry Cowell; Night Music for Accordion and String
Quartet (1962) by David Diamond; Adagio and Rondo Concertante (1962) for
two accordions and orchestra by Paul Pisk; and other works for solo
accordion by Robert Russell Bennett, Lucas Foss, Ernst Krenek, Normand
Lockwood, Otto Luening, Pauline Oliveros, Wallingford Riegger, William
Grant Still, Alexander Tcherepnin and Virgil Thomson, to name a few.