A Bandonion or Bandoneon is some sort of square headed accordion, as I read somewhere. I'm not surprised about the fact, that you don't know about this instrument since it was not sold in a great scale to the US. Even in Germany, where this bellow instrument was invented by Carl Friedrich Uhlig in Chemnitz probably around 1834, it is rare to find people with knowledge about. However, this instrument became the symbol of tango, a popular music originated at the borders of the Rio de la Plata. It was the tango that saved us this instrument from its extermination and its revival makes us aware of the instrument's existence. That's also why the instrument's name changed from its original Bandonion, which expresses Heinrich Band's Akkordion, to the Spanish Bandoneón. Heinrich Band, a music teacher and dealer, was the prominent promoter of this Instrument though he did not invent the instrument but modified and extended the original keyboard layout.
After WW II the East German Language Council accepted the term Bandoneon as a regular denomination besides the original one honoring the largest market being still the Rio de la Plata area.
It is basically a big concertina, originally with 3 rows of buttons and 54 tones, which later on became growing. Heinrich Band became the promoter of this instrument after 1854 when he organized the production and commercialized it together with a specially number written music. In 1882 appeared the name "Bandonion" derived from his name. It was supposed to be used as a substitute for the organ in small church communities. May be the very special sound hold up the demand, but because of the very complex disposition of the buttons, a greater diffusion was prevented. The idea was to have an instrument for polyphonic music rather than a melodic one and the buttons where placed in a way to facilitate building of chords. In contrast to the accordion, already quite popular in many countries, this instrument has no predefined cords. In addition, most of the buttons have different tone whether the bellow is opened or closed, this wrongly denominated as "diatonic". Because of the difficulty in learning to play it, the French musette players who wanted that sound, asked for so called chromatic instruments with equal tone for opening and closing. Until today there rests a certain tradition in the French speaking Switzerland using the "French" chromatic model. In Geneva e.g. there exists an orchestra with 10 bandoneons but only 2 of them are diatonic.
The popularity changed rapidly when about in 1890 the original instrument manufactured by Ernst Louis Arnold (ELA) reached the region of the River Plate where it was found to match perfectly well with the coming up tango. From then on the popular accordion was completely displaced and in 1911 the most famous producer, Alfred Arnold in Carlsfeld (AA), began manufacturing bandonions exclusively for the market in Argentina and Uruguay. The design was gradually modified and the number of tones increased up to 142, some models 152, with 5 button rows in left hand and 6 rows in the right. Only in one year (1930) there where exported 25,000 units to Argentina. If you consider the price comparable with that of a piano, it was of great commercial importance. Here the name was "translated" from the German Bandonion to Spanish: BANDONEON. Unfortunately the production ceased during World War II. A few samples left the factory after the war, but for quality reasons a less demand the factory finished in December 1956.
In Germany itself, as I mentioned, there was no great development of the playing techniques, and even in Argentina professionals began to develop first methods in the twenties, but mainly based on piano methods. No European conservatory included this instrument in its teaching program giving the instrument a low social position. Many people believe it is something for poor street musicians. But the fact that, like the violin, it lasts many years to achieve a certain level and the price show the contrary. Today things changed in Europe, and first Paris, later Rotterdam and recently many other French conservatories are offering lessons for bandoneon.
The tonal range is the same as for the cembalo, and baroque music sounds specially pleasant. The maximum development was reached by Alejandro Barletta in Buenos Aires. Marino Rivero in Uruguay, a pupil of Barletta, made very many transcriptions of Bach, Frescobaldi and other composers of the baroque and he is perhaps actually the most advantaged player for classical and contemporary music on this instrument. In the US it was perhaps Astor Piazzolla (who lived there for 17 years) which made it later known with recordings together with Gerry Mulligan and Gary Burton. There are very few musicians experimenting with jazz and I believe the future lies in this. Similar to the saxophone it allows forming the sound but in a polyphonic manner and which gives a strong melancholy feeling.
Whereas the accordion is usually build up using conical shaped tongues mounted on individual plates which are easy to replace with commercially pretuned ones, the bandoneon (now historical instruments) has up to 7 bi-sonoric tones, or 14 rectangular shaped tongues (reeds) on one zinc or aluminum plate (high steady mass). Each tone has a fundamental and an octave mounted on an separate reed plate and which is tuned exactly even. This results in a dry sound. So you have to achieve the tuning on the old plate taking the maximum care not to destroy the tongues. It requires special equipment to restore damaged tongues, since you can't buy them.
There are nearly no more good instruments on the market today, but the increasing demand (interest), not only in Argentina and Europe, but in Japan, possibly reinitialize production. Here in Switzerland, Brazil, the Netherlands and Berlin there are people (mainly organ builders) working to acquire the needed know how. Peter Spende in Berlin is actually producing new instruments based on the knowledge of Klaus Gutjahr and who for some time gave the technical assistance.
If you are interested in more details about the bandoneon in general, I can recommend you a compact disc which is also available in the US, and specially because of the 80 page booklet coming with. The recording is done by the mentioned Marino Rivero but here he plays folk dances of Uruguay, may be it is not too representative for the instrument.
Smithsonian Folkways - Traditional Music of the World 5
Bandoneon Pure: Dances of Uruguay
Smithsonian/ Folkways Recording CD SF 4031 Office of Folklife Programs
955 L'Enfant Plaza, Suite 2600
Washington, DC 20560
The Bandoneon HistoryPrimitive Free Reed Instruments
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 sheng, was forgotten. The sheng itself was introduced by Johann Wilde in the 1740's into the Russian Court Society of St. Petersburg. Benjamin Franklin invented in 1762 the glass-harmonica and which was played even in the 19th century and for which compositions were made by Mozart and Beethoven. Inspired by Wilde, the Danish physicist Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein used the principle of the sheng to invent a speaking machine, able to pronounce five vowels and which was published in 1770. The first harmonica 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.
In 1810 the German Bernhard Eschenbach named for the first time a new instrument aeoline combining the name of Greek wind God Aeolos with the German term violine. Newer versions were called Aelodion, Aeolodikon, Elodikon, Aeol-harmonika, Clav-aeoline or Aeola. In contrast to that times use, Eschenbach gave his ideas and knowledge free and many experimenters like Voit of Schweinfurt and J. D. Buschmann in 1812, Anton Häckl (Vienna), F. Sturm and Schortmann took advantage of this. Therefore many claim to be the inventor of the aeoline.
In 1821 Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann (1805 - 1864) in Berlin invented a diatonic single action mouth organ with 15 metal reeds which he called Aura or Mundaeoline. One year later he added a bellow and constructed the first portable bellow driven free reed instrument which he called Handharmonika or Handaeoline and which he used as an aid for tuning organs. This single action instrument consisted of a reed plate mounted on an wooden base with valves connected to a bellow allowing to produce sounds by the pressure of the own instrument weight. Anton Häckl used the term Physharmonika to describe his harmonium like instrument in 1821, a term which is still used today in Italy, G. A. Reinlein, also Vienna, used the term Aeol-harmonika in 1825 and 1827 and in 1828 the first printed tunes appeared for Mundharmonika (today's harmonica), a term used previously for the Maultrommel, a single reed using the mouth as a resonant. After the privilege to build harmonikas of the Chinese type was given to Anton and Rudolph Reinlein in 1824, the other inventors were forced to create other names for their products. The term Harmonika was then valid to describe a reed instrument with bellow, specially after the Wiener Privilegienverzeichnis (sort of patent) of 1830 thus displacing the term physharmonika. But the common term was Chineser, black lackered square boxes with Chinese ornaments, exported from Vienna through Gera to Leipzig.
The novelty of the accordion consisted in playing a predefined chord with a single button action on opening the bellow and a second one on closing. After the privilege for building accordions ended in 1834, the name and the instrument became very well known and the great commercial interest for the new instrument among other builders was based on the ease of its use, specially for the accompaniment of dance music and which made the accordion very attractive, particularly for non musicians. But the fact that the harmonies were fixed was criticized by some people. Several constructors introduced switches to shut off single tones from the chords, others, like C. F. Uhlig placed the single notes of a chord close together, in contrast to the usual systematic distribution of a keyboard instrument. The fact that the bisonoric action of a button was preserved and chords still were playable, let people like Höselbarth, Zimmermann or Band continue to name it accordion.
The individual selection of tones to form chords for several tones was the enhancement of Band's advertisement for his 40 and 56 voice accordions in 1844. In many countries the term accordion is also used for concertinas. In Germany a distinction came up when later versions of Band's instruments were named Bandonion. Similarly Leclerc in Paris presented a melody instrument he called mélophone and which was often confused with a concertina despite of its guitar shape. A special valve control allowed action of the same voice on opening and closing the invisible bellow.
H. Berlioz distinguishes in 1844 between ``le Concertina Anglais'' and ``le Concertina Allemand'' but dedicates a detailed description only to the first since the keyboard of the German instruments depended upon the caprice of the builder. The confusion persisted also in Germany but was finished at the end of the 1850's when the term Bandonion was introduced in the region of Krefeld, Mainz and Cologne while in Bavaria the term Concertina was used instead. The instruments from Saxony and Thüringen were continued to be called chromatic harmonikas while sold to English and French spoken countries as concertinas and to the Rhineland as bandoneons (but with a distinct layout of the keyboard). After 1860 an additional Konzertina keyboard system was introduced in Munich perhaps by F. Stahl first with 30 buttons, later with up to 60 buttons but which were close to the system of Band. May be this system was the basis for the later Bayrisches Schrammelbandonion of Strobl with 132, 136 and 180 voices.
In Leipzig a magazine for bandonion music established in 1895 was renamed after a year to Allgemeine Concertina- und Bandonion-Zeitung demonstrating the similarities among both instrument types. On the other hand, in 1895 there existed about 18 bandonion clubs in Leipzig and no one concertina club while using their players instruments of Wünsch, successor of Uhlig the inventor of the German Concertina. This shows that concertinas were called bandonions there. Wünsch himself describes in 1890: ``This instrument (bandonion) is becoming more and more known so that all instruments with 88 to 260 voices are now called bandoneons.'' (The number has to be divided by two since instruments with double chorus are meant). In the beginning of our century a distinction between the rheinisch on one side and Chemnitzer and Karlsfelder on the other is established.
The fast propagation of the bandoneon was based on a clever marketing. Besides the distribution of the instruments labeled BANDONION in big letters forming the good visible valve plaque on front of the instrument, Heinrich Band formed a merchant chain with members of his family giving lessons and distributing a huge number of scores and sheet music for his instrument and chamber music. So in 1859 his brother Johann established a shop in Cologne. Other existed in Mainz, Krefeld, Glasgow? and New York. In the time from 1868 to 1881 there existed a special section for bandoneon music in Hofmeister's Manual of sheet music with separate divisions for harmonica, accordion and konzertina. Because all the instruments were manufactured in Saxony, the factories there expanded simultaneously. They tried to copy Band's strategy and designed valve plaques saying CONCERTINA for the instruments they sold directly and until the end of the century the old term harmonika disappeared. Finally in the 20's the outer design of both instrument became the same. The polygonal shaped instruments were only the smaller 1 or 2-row ones with a limited number of voices. In many parts of Germany the term Konzertina was displaced gradually by the newer Bandonion and both terms were used undistinguishable up to the point when the saxonians returned to their own roots and forced their own keyboard system. When in the 20's the discussion about a unified system raised, there was no chance to bring both parties together and in 1924 a Einheitskonzertina (128 voices) was created besides the Einheitsbandonion (144 voices).
Many attempts were made for unisonoric instruments. Charles Péguri from Paris replaced the reed plates of 142 voice rhineisch bandoneons (an Argentine extension of the 130 voice version) with unisonoric ones unprecisely called chromatic bandoneon. This fact simplified the manufacture of instruments suitable for musette players. The construction of the Kusserow-bandoneon with a different button layout was not as popular.
Carlsfeld and the Bandoneon
- Music Instruments from Saxony
- New Bandoneons from Carlsfeld?
- The Bandoneon Museum
- The Carlsfeld Bandoneon Meeting
- The Keyboard Systems
- The Bandoneon Terminology
- Control Panel of a Double Reed Instrument
- Chamber Construction
- Bellow Arrangement
- Prospect of the Bandoneon
- Technical Aspects
- Quality Criteria for a Bandoneon
- Modern Instruments
- Sound Examples
- Bandoneons and Service
- Bandoneon Literature
- Learning to play Bandoneon
- Bandoneon Tutors
- Writing for the Bandoneon
- Analysis of Piazzolla's Pedro y Pedro
- Pictures of Bandoneons