The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers


by Hilding Bergquist
Minneapolis, Minn.

This article was reprinted in its entirety from the September 1949 issue of Accordion World (New York).

To readers who found some interest in my concertina material (presented in articles of a series begun in July, 1947 and continuing indefinitely,) be it known that I am preparing many more.

I cherish the though of the concertina's renaissance. A hundred years ago it was one of the most fashionable, delightful, and popular instruments to be found in the concert rooms, drawing rooms, and salons in England and later in Russia. In those days the concertina was steadily increasing in numbers and gaining acceptance (like the accordion today.) to which at first not too much serious attention had been given by orchestras, composers, conductors, and impresarios. Yet they were reminded of its existence by dozens of different announcements, inquiries and indications - such as advertised performances and increasing numbers of classes of competent teachers (like the accordion today.) In short, the pleasures of sustained melody and harmony in combination (such as of old were monopolized by the organ) began to be generally popularized on easier conditions and a more manageable scale, with the advantage of a certain specialty of tone. Many composers (whose original concertina works I shall list in later articles,) at a loss for a new line, eagerly began to adapt themselves to the concertina an the concertina to their ideas. Before, it had already been largely used in concerts, but, except for a few original works, it had served merely as an interpreter of arranged music, which is all right for students, but of which professionals feel a whole library is not equal to the worth of a few original works created out of the heart of one who knows and loves the instrument.

We see thus that Wheatstone's invention subsequently became neglected to a great extent was not due to a lack of fine, original literature which had so lovingly been provided for it by great composers and executants. However, there were perhaps four principal reasons. (Before stating these, the reader should understand that Wheatstone's concertina was completely chromatic, with double - action bellows and uniform tone push - and - pull system, thus making the bellows shake at once available. The accordion, on the other hand, was not made chromatic before 1850, it is said, by the Viennese, Walter, who also added twelve basses to it then. And it was not until 1892 that the Belgian, Armand Loriaux, is said to have given it uniform tone, thus making the bellows shake possible. It is true that our Frosini first popularized the bellows shake on the accordion, but it is erroneous to assert his originating it. Before arriving in America in 1905, he had heard his Sicilian predecessors execute it, who in turn were only doing what the English and Russian concertinists had been doing for many decades previously. The availability of this technical innovation had to be made possible by the developments of inventors before its execution by the performer. Why it took so long for these developments to be copied from the concertina and adapted to the accordion is amazing and almost amusing!) 1.) England, (where the concertina was conceived in 1827 by Charles Wheatstone as a revolutionary development over the primitive accordion introduced a few years earlier on the Continent and patented by hum two years later on June 19th, 1829, and where subsequently first popularized) seemingly did not continue providing enough artists enabling it being constantly before the attention of the professional musical elite, despite the worthy literature previously composed, dedicated, and consecrated to the instrument, and so perforce it was gradually relegated to the presentation of the lighter effusions upon the vaudeville and variety stage, upon which medium the accordion was not long after to make its sensational debut and advent in Europe and America. 2.) Some makers (like their brother organ builders) long adhered to tuning their concertinas in the impracticable "mean tone" temperament, claiming they would rather have only some keys pure than "spoil" them altogether with "equal" temperament. Of course. 3.) It was in no small degree that the (English) concertina's naturally legitimate and proper progress during the latter 19th century began to become impeded and usurped by the mass dissemination of the cheap and more limited so-called "German" concertina all over England and the World. 4.) Finally, it may be thought by many that the advent of the improved accordion after 1900 may have contributed to the concertina being "superseded" by the former. But, In fairness and truth they should "perish this thought." The concertina is certainly not "inferior" to her "big brother" accordion. It is simply different --- "our little sister" --- and it is herein that lies the primordial fount of its charming appeal to us and for us. No one wants a butterfly to soar with the pinions of an eagle, but only that the butterfly's wings shall glow with the greatest possible intensity. Accordionists would do well to attend the recitals and other appearances of our own Boris Matusewitch and his contemporaries, as well as of those consummate masters of the bandoneon, Ramon Litte, Herman Maurer and their contemporaries.

For accordionists who are innocent of concertina lore, the amazing and completely fascinating fact must here be set down that there is hardly nothing accordionists are doing today which has not already been done by concertinists 100 years ago! Just to give you an idea, sketchily presented: Minute persual (with microscopic zeal!) of the London musical magazines of that time and later reveal that entire philharmonic orchestras of first and second treble, piccolo, tenor, baritone, bass, and double bass concertinas were presented in concert in performances of such works as Hadyn's "Surprise Symphony," a concerto by Handel, (arranged for nine concertinas,) overtures to "Mirello," "Italian in Algiers," "William Tell," (This arranged for twelve concertinas, the cello solo played on a bass concertina), "Oberon," "Fidelio," "Barber of Seville," which also on other occasions were given by concertina quartets, which also gave the great chamber music of the masters. Other works typical of the quality of performance and the concertina's resources were Bach Preludes and Fugues, and movements from Masses, (such as Mozart's Fifth) presented in solo performance as well as in concerted media. Hummel's Grand Piano Quintet in E Flat Minor, Op. 87 (a favorite of Liszt and Rubenstein) was arranged for piano and four concertinas, and there is even an instance of the pianist, Bernhardt, playing Mendelssohns's Concerto in D Minor, Op. 40, and accompanied not by a "standard" symphony orchestra, but by a concertina orchestra played by John Chidley and his daughters! This occurred at Lanham Hall on March, 26, 1878, and possibly the John Chidley in question is also a very near relation to two of the directors of the Wheatstone Co. today whose names are also Chidley. On another occasion, Muss Freeth, pianist and wife of concertinist Richard Blagrove, played Mendelssohn's E Flat "Rondo Brillant" accompanied by five concertinas, Blagrove himself also playing. Abundant instances of the concertina's uses such as the above are to be discovered by the interested researcher.

(There were, incidentally, also accordion orchestras in London over 100 years ago, but the diatonic accordions then existing necessitated the performances of very easy music, naturally. One of these orchestras contained some 20 to 40 accordionists directed by C. Coule, which on one occasion in 1847 at the National Hall gave an "entertainment" which was commented upon as follows: "The accordion band performed some popular music with a degree of precision very commendable. And Mr. Coule's own solo was well performed and evinced perfect mastery over the instrument."

Verily, "there is nothing new under the sun"!

Also, I have just been informed by Kenneth V. Chidley, director of the C. Wheatstone Company in London, that they also possess manuscript arrangements by Giulio Regondi of Mozart's Symphonies no. 1 in D and no. 3 in E flat for quartet of concertinas (two trebles, baritone, and bass,) and are not published. Mr. Chidley also gave me further data on the concertina concerti they have, and I will incorporate this in future articles of fuller exposition of these works, as well as detail performances and publication of sonatas and concerti - both original and transcribed from the Violin - which will serve as additional and correctional data to my previous writings in these pages.

The beautiful experiment of combining accordion and harp by Galla-Rini on his recent Tempo recordings was antedated by concertinist Regondi over 100 years ago, and many are lovely duets and nocturnes for concertina and harp arranged and composed by him and published. Perhaps Regondi sent Galla-Rini a "spiritual message"! I have even found an instance of a performance of the overture to "Oberon" by two concertinas, two harps, two pianos together! Similar instances abound!

The concertina was also much employed in England as accompaniment and obligato to singers and choirs, often used after the manner of the flute, and with elaborate introductions. One reference even mentions a concertina trio accompanying a vocal trio.

And many were the concertina concerts and "soirees" (either solo, quartet, or orchestral) that were patronized and given by London's royalty and nobility, the names of whom are given in detail in the music magazines of the time. Also, all over London and in the provinces were many numbers of the soft and tender sex who were sincere devotees of the lovable concertina and who participated prominently in all manner of musical presentation, just as we see them today as accordistes. To them, a facile manipulation of the little instrument was seen to be ideally apparent, delightfully so, and when the renaissance of the concertina has been effected, it will have been my wish that they will have had their part in it.

Even still other instances of the concertina's antedation in the educational field, with professorships attained, are its acceptance in such academic institutions as the London Academy of Music, where Regondi taught ; the Royal Academy of Music ; where Blagrove presided, also becoming a fellow, and who also taught in the Beethoven Rooms of the London School of Music ; and John C. Ward, who instructed in the National College of Music, being also a sub-professor at the Royal Academy of Music. However, since Regondi was the concertina's most famous executant, he was frequently on tour, and "so for many years the well-paid position of chief player and teacher of this fashionable instrument was, therefore, shared between Richard Blagrove and George Case" (the latter a colleague of the three former gentlemen.)

The concertina was used also in England in the public schools for teaching songs, and in the churches during divine service, even like its ancestor of the middle ages, the Portative. In the stringed orchestras the concertina many times replaced the flute, clarinet, and bassoon, having been stated first used in this way in 1880 at the Royal Academy of London.

Next to England, the concertina was most popular in Russia, which it still is, of course, along with the accordion, the two instruments even being together in orchestras. Before 1880 Professor Marenitch of the St. Petersburg Conservatory had initiated its use in the Upper Normal School for Girls. Later, a large circle of concertina-amateurs was formed, the first orchestra exclusively of these instruments organized. The members of this circle were of good social position and their concerts were greatly appreciated by the public. The first school orchestra of concertinas was formed in 1887 I the High School for Teachers in St. Petersburg. The trial was successful for, in about three months, the organization gave worthy concerts. At that time the Minister of Public Instruction gave his sanction and commendation to the movement, and by 1910 the concertina was taught in nearly all pedagogic institutions and began to be the fashion with the general public, as had occurred in England years before. (For more of the concertina and accordion in Russia see my July and October 1948 articles.)

Incidentally, in these same issues I stated that because the instrumentation of the "standard" symphony orchestra (and the modern dance band) has remained fixed for a long, long time, the accordion, concertina, and bandoneon would never be likely to form part of the force always at work in such an aggregation. I now modify this statement and say hopefully that if conductors, arrangers, and composers were to become imbued with the idea of venturing to substitute or replace their string, woodwind, or horn sections with accordion (and, or concertina / bandoneon) sections in experimentation of wishing to bestow a somewhat different sound and tone-color to the classical and contemporary orchestral literature, then, of course, I would eventually be proved wrong in my original statement, a situation which I hope will materialize. Certainly it is significant to not, for instance, the worldwide complaint of conservatories and conductors of the gradual decline of students studying the string instruments. It is not my wish to have string players deprived of their means of livelihood, but it is my theory that perhaps if Beethoven could hear one of his symphonies or overtures with a brilliant accordion section, his stern face would relax into a smile! (Olin Downes, "New York Times" critic, has recently discussed this string problem in several Sunday articles.

In citing the following instances (instances of which there has been perhaps many, but not given the proper printed credit) it would seem that concertinists are showing more initiative in entering the ranks of symphonic organizations than accordionists are. These orchestras, however, are not "standard." One of these concerts (which I heard) was by the New York Mandolin Symphony Orchestra of sixty musicians on April 23 this year at Town Hall, which included in its instrumentation a sextet of concertinas delightfully manipulated by two women and four men reading from arranged woodwind scores of the symphonic works of the masters, the mandolins reading the string scores, and Ignace Strasfogel conducting the whole. The other concert (which I missed hearing) was by the Fraternal Mandolin Symphony Orchestra on May 14 also at Town Hall, Thomas Sokoloff conducting. Among the works of the masters performed was a Double (violin) concerto by Vivaldi executed on two concertinas by Renee Hirsch and Arthur Finkelstein.

In connection with the concertina's introduction into "standard" orchestral scores, it is interesting to note that as long ago as 1844 the critic in the London Journal "Athenaeum" (Henry F. Chorley) theorized as follows: "Perhaps the real place of the concertina, if it be susceptible of being tuned to pitch, is in the orchestra. There Berlioz, or some such innovator, might employ it, conjointly with the string quartet, or the harp pizzicato, or as to produce a picturesque effect."

Berlioz, "Art of Instrumentation," which contains a treatise on the concertina, was published around this time in 1844, and it is possible this critic had read it and allowed himself some meditation and speculation on the matter.

For instances of the employment of the concertina (and accordion) in "standard" orchestral scores, see my October 1948 article. In conclusion, perhaps mention should be made of the book entitled, "Mary Gladstone, Her Diaries and Letters" published in London in 1930. Daughter of the eminent British statesmen, she recounts a great many chamber music soirees in her society, in which the concertina is found in the hands of, among others, a another distiguished statesmen and sincere devotee of the instrument, Arthur Balfour.

For the next few articles I am preparing bibliographies of original concertina works composed in England, both manuscript and published, that have come to my attention. (Of my listing of six concertina concerti I refer readers to my February 1949 article.)

The purpose of my articles has been and will be to clarify the position in history to date of our instruments, players, and composers (never done before,) which I hope in turn may provide a clear and correct perspective and foundation for the reader of today, indelibly engraven upon that divine tablet which silently directs the decisions an events of tomorrow.

From: Allan Atlas
Date: Sun, 18 Apr 2004

This article by Bergquist is FULL of inaccuracies.

THE BASIC PROBLEM: THE CONCERTINA WAS NOT USED IN THE ORCHESTRA. . . . .those references to Richard Blagrove and George Case do not mean that they played the concertina in the orchestra. . . . . . . .Blagrove was a top-notch viola player. . . . . .Case was a violinist. . . . . .those are the instruments that THEY played in the orchestra................... .etc etc etc........

Allan Atlas, director and founder
The Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments
Graduate Center
City University of New York

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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