It is axiomatic to say that what makes and maintains an instrument's position in the world of music is the music written for that particular instrument. If we look back into the history of the piano, to the days when it struggled along in its infancy, we find that the growth of its popularity centered around the compositions and studies of such men as Chopin, the "poet of the piano"; Liszt, the magnificent technician and inventor of the rhapsody and symphonic prelude as musical forms; Czerny, with his abundance of compositions and study material; and Clementi, popularizer of the piano in Europe and inventor of the sonata form. And one thing is evident, the music that made the piano a mighty instrument, and the music that made other instruments, was written by men who were performers / specialists on that instrument. It was music by those who best expressed themselves in terms of that instrument.
The early beginning of the piano's existence can be likened to that of the accordion, in the respect that until recently the accordion struggled along with practically no music that could raise it to a place of eminence in the realm of the finer instruments. By the early 40's fine original accordion music by our "Toppers" was being published in growing numbers. It was in 1942 when Pietro Deiro wrote his Concerto in E. Like all the superb concert music that has come before, these two compositions enjoyed a slow but pragmatic rise to fame, and with them rose the instrument for which they were written.
Then, late in 1946, three men met in a London agent's office to prepare for the date of the first presentation of an accordion concerto with full professional symphony orchestral background. This was to be, not a small chamber orchestra work, but an undertaking of a major scope. Each of the three men involved was an outstanding figure in his field. There was Toralf Tollefifsen, a young Norwegian soloist, student of the Oslo Conservatory of Music, a finished accordion concert artist about whom Scott Goddard in the London News Chronicle had said, "To the average concertgoer, it must have seemed incredible that the accordion could be persuaded to produce sounds so near to the subtle and delicate as those drawn forth by the Norwegian player, Toralf Tollefifsen. He is a remarkable performer."
The London International Orchestra was to provide the orchestral background, so the second member of this informal group was Fistoulari, a renowned director who had conducted for the London Symphony Orchestra, Gigli, Pouishnoff and others of European and American fame. No orchestration of Pietro's "Concerto in E" existed and, since this offering was planned as serious enterprise, artist and director would not settle for anyone short of the best. A.A. Gregory, Mus. Bac., London F.R.C.O., N.R.S.T. therefore constituted the third and last member of the group, and proffered his orchestration of the concerto.
The date was set for March 14, 1947 for this historymaking event. The audience, anticipating the sensation that a concert of this sort would occasion, packed Albert Hall, the Carnegie Hall of London. News was slow in reaching us here in America, but at last we are able to make a summation of the results. London Newspapers, limited to two pages by the serious power and fuel shortage, were overwhelming in their praise of composer, soloist, director, and arranger.
Peitro Deiro's concerto was described as "Mendelssohnlike" and "an exhibition of what exciting and thrilling tones are possible in the instrument when serious and profound music is composed for it."
Mr. Tollefsen already popular in London circles, was reviewed as "a performer of surprising skill, a truly musicianly accordionist."
The background called for a director with a complete understanding of the orchestra in relation to the solo instrument. Fistoulari supplied just that, and was lauded for "the delicacy of his nuance, his dynamic interpretation, a fine symphonic accompaniment, orchestral effects his acaniment, his accentuation of the instrument's color."
And so with the date of the Tollefsen concert, the accordion has broken the shackles that have so long made it a stepchild among the great instruments and has, at long last, come into its own. It takes its place amongst the higher instruments and justifies the faith that so many of us have shown the instrument these many years. The entire accordion world joins with us in a sincere not of thanks to Pietro Diero, the composer; Toralf Tollefsen, the performing artist; Fistoulari, the director; and A.A. Gregory, the arranger.
The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. staff gratefully acknowledges volunteer Benjamin Lang who assisted in the production of this article, as well as Stanley Darrow and the comprehensive American Accordion Musicological Society library.
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