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

Whoever Was First, We Shouldn't Be Last

by Dr. Paul Allan Magistretti

Photo of Guido Deiro, ca. 1910
Guido Deiro, ca. 1910

Note: Here's an old letter from B. Quattrociocche a pioneer accordion teacher and friend of Guido Deiro's who wrote about his experience regarding the piano accordion and the "Who Was First" controversy. Guido and others were playing piano accordions in America long before Pietro. Also, Guido recorded first in 1911 and had a huge hit record (one of many), plus tremendous stardom throughout the teens and twenties right up to the 1929 crash and the demise of vaudeville and cutbacks in recording company's inventories. I think a lot of Pietro's later claims were hype and self-promotion at a time when he was fighting for business as a performer, composer and teacher. Also, there had to competitiveness on Pietro's part because Guido's stardom had been huge and G. was known by the family name alone throughout the world: Deiro. Maybe the younger brother felt marginalized by Guido having the family name and major billing worldwide. Anyway, in the late thirties and forties Guido's career had dimmed and Pietro saw a chance - perhaps taking advantage of the fact that Guido's fame was as Deiro to usurp for himself some of his older brother's glory. Pietro was competing in a business that was still hot and his competitors were men like his brother, Magnante, Galla-Rini and Friosini, etc. Apart from getting bookings there were students to attract. How do you do that? Well, by claiming you're the "King of the Piano Accordion," its inventor, etc., the one and only. There was an feeding-frenzy afoot; I've seen ads by Pietro and others, "If you know how to play the piano, you know 80% of how to play the piano accordion!" What a cruel lie that was for selling lessons and instruments. Clearly, Pietro took advantage of his later prominence at the expense of his brother and confusion over the latter's stage use of "Deiro" alone without specifying which (he didn't have to then - on records and in vaudeville, there was only one Deiro). Pietro even made later claims that he "invented the piano accordion"; this was reaching beyond hyperbole into historical distortion. It's not excusable even if it was meant for those who didn't know better. He billed himself as, "Pietro, king & inventor of the piano accordion." I think his use of his first name was not only a showbiz ploy, but it was another way to obfuscate things and claim "Deiro" for himself. "Pietro who? Pietro Deiro. Oh, he was Deiro?" Thus, with Pietro's greater prominence in the public eye in the late thirties and forties he effectively erased Guido from his proper place in the public's consciousness. Guido was a huge star and I'm sure a source of envy for his younger brother. The later short-changing of Guido by Pietro suggests the jealousy of a younger brother being overshadowed and never forgetting it.

Now, regarding Pietro being "the daddy of the piano accordion," an article in the Accordion News Musicana, July 1939, answers that claim. The scholar J. H. Lobel presented factual evidence to the contrary (along with a salvo in Pietro's direction for "violating all the rules of ethics by usurping the glory and ingenuity of other people"). This could be stated on Guido's behalf and added here. Lobel prints a chronology of the accordion and shows that after centuries of precursors, the first recognizable button accordion was made by Christian Ludwing Buschmann in Berlin (1822), which he called the Handaeline. This was the instrument Cyrillus Demian turned into a three or four note instrument called the Schieber, afterwards improving it and calling it an Accordeon. This type of "accordion" was the instrument a wayfaring stranger brought with him during a room & board stopover at the Soprani house in Italy and which intrigued the febrile mind and hands of Paolo Soprani - the rest is history. After the accordion was established (and this was still a button box), Phillip de Punts and Johann Forster, according to Lobel (citing the Accordeon Dictionary, Berlin edition), put a piano keyboard to the accordion in 1865 - which seems to be the first occurrence of a piano accordion and pretty much beats Pietro to the punch, since he was born around 1888.

Anyway, here's some of what Quatrociocche wrote to a correspondent in April of 1955 from his studio on Huron Street in Los Angeles. If nothing else, it gives a flavor of the early days of the accordion in the USA. It comes our way via the Xerox of a handwritten letter, which was given to BAAC PAGE by Jim Holliday.

Music Publisher Q
Music, Musical Instruments - Accessories
Agent for Iorio and Soprani Accordions
2643 Huron St. Los Angeles, 65, Calif.

Apr 29, 1955

Dear Mr. Barsuglia,

Thank you for the order. The music is already in the mail.

I read your biographical sketch and see that you and your Missus have a very good musical background.

Yes, too bad Mr. Guido Deiro had to pass away; he was still a relatively young man (63). Galla-Rini and I were pallbearers at his funeral. None of his relatives from New York were there at the funeral.

We had a very close relationship and had an arrangement whereby he would play whatever came to his mind and I would write it down to create new compositions. But then, he got sick.

When I came to Los Angeles in 1947 I started to teach piano and violin in his studio and when he started to feel sick and was forced to close his place at North Broadway, I had to teach his pupils in my studio here on Huron.

About the origin of the piano accordion: I know something about it, because I am old (73) and I remember when I was a kid (maybe Pietro wasn't born yet). I used to tinker around the factory where August Iorio and Amedeo Iorio (two brothers, cousins to my father) had a little factory to build pipe organs, accordions, etc. They already had piano accordions for themselves to play duets. As both were fine musicians and composers they used to play their own compositions and operatic music.

In 1900 together with Frank Iorio (17 years old) son of August, they formed a very good trio and went on tour in France. They played in several big cities and made enough money to make plans to come to New York. After a few years Amedeo Iorio came first to New York and started to work for Cerabino, doing repair work and building small accordions. After a year or so August Iorio came and started to work in the same place for about a year and then looking around found a place uptown in NY. Then, Bernardoni, who already had a store selling accordions and doing repairs, offered him higher pay, so he began to work for him building chromatic and piano accordions for customers. The piano accordion at that time was 48 or 60 bass.

After another year or so, Frank and Candido (sons of August) came to NY to join their father. Also, Arthur and Ugo (sons of Amedeo Iorio) came to NY. At that time there wasn't enough accordion work, so Frank, Candido, Arthur, Ugo and I started to work at the piano factories. It was only 1907 when August Iorio opened up an accordion factory at 44 Baxter St., NY and suggested to me to put my sign in the window as a teacher of piano, violin, cornet and piano accordion.

So, I began to teach the piano accordion in NY in 1907. But I know that in Chicago, G. Bartoli had a piano accordion school then and later his son Frank published a method with a photograph of his father's piano accordion school. Right on the photo is the date, 1907. To have so many students as seen in the picture, I think he must have started about 1904 or 1905 [really pushing back the date for pino accordions in the USA]. For better details you can ask Frank Bartoli: Accordion School 217 E 115th St. Chicago 28, Ill.

Guido and Pietro always had a little trouble between themselves, not for anything especially, but because Pietro later wanted all the credit and glory for himself. When Pietro published his first accordion method, he had printed on the first page that he had been the first to publish accordion music. Well, when Pagani Bros., together with Pietro wanted to start their accordion publications in 1919, they wrote to me asking to give them permission to use my system for their accordion publications, so I gave it to them without asking even a penny.

My accordion publications started in 1916 and during the same year I had published 36 numbers.

Anyhow, for three years I was the only accordion music publisher in the world.

This is what I know about the piano accordion. I thought I would write you these details, because you are young and know just what other people tell you.

I am sending a copy of the first piece I published for the accordion, No. 1. You can see the date of the copyright is 1916.

Sincerely yours,

B. Quattrociocche

Guido's first recording and the first accordion record issued by an American company was released in May of 1911 and it contained two of the biggest favorites in the accordion repertoire, The Sharpshooters March (I Bersaglieri) and Ciribiribin. The record was so well played by him and recorded that despite being an acoustic recording it remained in print well into the thirties when electric processing replaced acoustic records. [Visit the Guido Deiro website to purchase CDs of GD's great performances as well as new performances of his many compositions:] Guido, Frosini, as well as Pietro and many other stars on the vaudeville circuit pretty much defined the accordion in America. We still find that true today in what you'll hear most accordionists aspire to in this country by way of repertoire. The majority of middle-aged and senior accordion players, unless they've consciously reached out to incorporate Jazz & classical music define themselves and the accordion in terms of a little ethnic music, polkas and the big numbers that were the staples of vaudeville - Dizzy Fingers, Nola, Flight of the Bumble Bee, plus, brief operatic excerpts - music that was meant to dazzle an uncritical audience for four or five minutes with excitement and fire power. There is nothing wrong with this music; we all love and enjoy it. But wonderful as it is, the phantom of vaudeville grows dimmer and older accordionists pass away; the accordion as a living instrument (apart from its cherished history in America) must expand its repertoire or die from the dwindling of adherents. People who love the instrument should want to aid and abet the furtherance of an appreciation of the broadest possible repertoire for the instrument. Violins, pianos and other instruments aren't captives defined by any era or type of music & so it must be with the accordion.

This article originally appeared in the October 2001 issue of BAAC Page - the newsletter of the San Francisco Bay Area Accordion Club.

To read the second article in this two part series, go to Deiro & Deiro, Continued

For more about Guido Deiro, see GuidoDeiro.Com

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