The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Allan W. Atlas
The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England
publisher: Oxford University Press (0-19-816580-3)
155 pages, 11 plates, 3 figures, 2 tables, 16 music examples, 5 pieces of music for the instrument, hardcover, published in 1996
Review number and date: No. 66: September 1997
Review by Henry Doktorski:
The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England is a treasure for free-reed devotees, classical music lovers and musicologists. Once I picked the book up, I could not put it down.
The author, Allan Atlas, is Professor of Music at Brooklyn College & Graduate School at The City University of New York—and a classical concertinist as well. His book is scholarly, yet remarkably easy to read and full of fascinating facts. Did you know that early nineteenth-century concertinas were tuned to the mean-tone system and had fourteen notes to the octave?
Or that the best concertinas had gold-plated reeds? (One instrument in the 1862 catalog by the concertina-maker Louis Lachenal had 48 keys with ivory tops, silver or glass buttons and gold plated reeds.)
Or did you know that the famous English author, Charles Dickens, was an avid accordionist?
In my opinion, Atlas' book is especially important due to the inclusion of five music scores by the mid-nineteenth century composers Joseph Warren, Richard Manning, George Alexander Macfarren, Giulio Regondi and John Charles Ward, some of which are reproductions of the original published music scores. Thus this treatise is not simply for scholars but also for performers.
In conclusion, let me quote a paragraph by William Cawdell from his Short Account of the English Concertina in which he praises the merits of the instrument.
"There exist many reasons why a fair and earnest inquiry into the merits of the concertina at the present time should be acceptable . . . [it has a] sweet tone . . . passages of sustained notes as well as harmony . . . power of expression . . . portable . . . adapted to every style . . . varied compass . . . tuned to equal or unequal temperament and to any pitch that may be desireable . . . the very easiest of instruments for the learner . . . the concertina may be played in any position, standing, sitting, walking, kneeling, or even lying down. If confined to the house by a sprained ankle, you may play whilst reclining on a sofa . . . and when you are convalescent, you may take your instrument into the fields where the piano can never be."
In my opinion,The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England, by Allan Atlas is a must for all free-reed lovers.
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