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The Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon
by Elias Howe, Jr.

Review by Henry Doktorski

In 1843, Oliver Ditson of 115 Washington Street in Boston Massachusetts, and C. C. Clapp and Company of 67 Court Street in New York City published a 40 page book with the lengthy title:


The author was Elias Howe, Jr. (1820 - 1895) and the book sold for fifty cents. A second edition was published in 1850, and a third in 1851. There may have been earlier or later editions as well.

I discovered this copy (1850 edition) in the reference shelves of the Music and Art Department of the Carnegie Public Library in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. According the OCLC catalog, there are only eight other copies of this book at participating OCLC libraries in the United States. *

The book at the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library is in remarkable condition, considering the fact that it is one and a half centuries old. The book has been rebound by the library; the original paper cover has been pasted on a sturdy green heavy hard cover, but the inside pages still have the original cotton thread binding them together in sheaves.

Upon close examination, I discovered that one of the previous owners of the book practiced cursive penmanship on the cover, repeating the words of the title in curvy longhand under the original printed text. The inside pages were spared of this depravity. I don't believe that the owner of this book really practiced the tunes; the pages are unwrinkled and unsoiled.

The book contains

The book is a fascinating relic of an earlier era; Howe's book was published in 1843, only fourteen years after the invention of the accordion by the Austrian piano and organ maker Cyrill Demian (1772-1847), who patented the instrument in Vienna on May 23rd, 1829.

The illustration of the semi-toned accordion is detailed and clearly shows the placement of the keys, pallets, valves, bellows and ornamental filigree. It is significant to note that the instrument Howe wrote for had no left-hand buttons or keys. Only the right hand played the notes.

The choice of tunes gives us an indication of the styles of music which the public expected to hear on the accordion. There were the expected European ethnic songs: British, Irish, Russian, German, Hungarian, Danish, Prussian, Swiss, etc. as well as some folk fiddle tunes such as Old Zip Coon. One tune which aroused my curiosity was Mozart's Waltz, but after closer inspection, I decided it must have been written not by the famous 18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but by the 19th century folk musician Allan Mozart.

I recognized many of the tunes, if not the titles. Augusta's Favorite is our modern day Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Sweet Home is our modern Home Sweet Home. Absence is known by today's Suzuki violin students by the name of Go Tell Aunt Rhody. A few songs have familiar titles, Auld Lang Syne, Irish Washerwoman, and [Oh Dear] What Can the Matter Be.

Certainly this Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon is a priceless treasure from the annals of free-reed history.

* The OCLC catalog lists the following libraries as having copies of Elias Howe Jr.'s The Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon:

1843 edition:
Boston Public Library, Boston Massachusetts
Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Bowling Green Ohio
University of South Dakota, Vermillion South Dakota
Center for Popular Music, MTSU, Murfreesboro Tennessee

1850 edition:
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC
Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo New York

1851 edition:
Harvard University, Loeb Music Library, Cambridge Massachusetts

Tim Rued informed me that a copy of the 1843 edition is also at the Healdsburg Public Library in Healdsburg, California.

** Howe wrote, "The letters D and P placed over the notes, show when they should be Drawn and Pressed -- as D for Draw, P for Press. The figures placed under the notes, show which key to raise, the numbers counting from the top of the instrument. The player should be in a sitting position, with the foot raised upon an ottoman or stool, with the instrument resting perpendicularly on the left knee, with the inside of the thumb of your right hand, take hold of the brass bar at the back of the instrument, and let the fingers come directly over the keys; with the thumb and three first fingers of your left hand, take hold the white wood on the bottom of the instrument, and the fourth finger upon the valve key. The beginner should commence very slow, and not jerk the bellows. But a few hours are required to learn to play, by closely observing the above rules."

To view the pages of Howe's book, click on the following links:
Front Cover
Page 2: Scale for the Accordeon
Page 3: Waltz No. 1, Augusta's Favorite, Sweet Home, Blue Eyed Mary
Page 4: Burns' Farewell to Ayrshire, Boyne Water, Bonny Boat
Page 5: Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself, La Belle Catherine, Off She Goes
Page 6: The Hay Makers, Life Let Us Cherish, The White Cockade
Page 7: Oft in the Stilly Night, Winding Way
Page 8: Bonny Doon, Auld Lang Syne, Be Gone Dull Care
Page 9: Flora's Birthday, Rustic Reel, Kinlock
Page 10: Irish Air, Fisher's Hornpipe
Page 11: Oh Lassie Art Thou Sleeping Yet, Eveleen's Bower, Kitty of Coleraine
Page 12: Old Zip Coon, College Hornpipe
Page 13: The Mellow Horn
Page 14: The Last Link is Broken, The Rose of Allandale, The Coquette
Page 15: Swiss Guard's March, Duke of Kent's March, Russian March
Page 16: Java March, Buonaparte Crossing the Rhine, Governor Jones' March
Page 17: Kind of Prussia's March, Morella's Lesson
Page 18: The Soldier's Return, Dog and Gun, What Can the Matter Be
Page 19: The Bridal Fete, Coal Black Horse, The Tempest
Page 20: Duke of Hungary's Waltz, Polly Hopkins' Waltz
Page 21: Brunswick Waltz, Cinderella Waltz, Harvest Home Waltz
Page 22: Copenhagen Waltz, Mozart's Waltz
Page 23: Union Waltz or Buy A Broom, Swiss Waltz, German Waltz
Page 24: Oh No! We Never Mention Her, Love's Ritornella, Serenade
Page 25: Steamboat Quick Step, Quick Step in Tekeli, Quick Step
Page 26: The Bright Rosy Morning, Washing Day, What Fairy-Like Music
Page 27: The Wrecker's Daughter Quick Step
Page 28: Master Humphrey's Set of Cotillons
Page 29: Cotillons continued
Page 30: Malbrouk, Money Musk, Allen's Reel
Page 31: The Minstrel's Return From the War, Wood Cutters
Page 32: The Bard's Legacy, Will You Come to the Bower, Absence
Page 33: Scale for the Semitoned or Perfect Accordion (with illustration)
Page 34: Miss Lucy-Long, Charley Over the Water, Hob or Knob (Or the Campbells Are Coming)
Page 35: Rory O'More, The Celebrated Opera Reel
Page 36: Wood Up Quick Step
Page 37: Elsler's Cracovienne, Such a Getting Up Stairs
Page 38: St. Patrick's Day In the Morning, Irish Washerwoman
Page 39: Old Dan Tucker, Soldier's Joy
Page 40: Contents

Feedback from Friends

Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2001 16:09:44 EST
From: Tim Rued
Subject: Howe's Collection

I found your site about Howe's Complete Preceptor for Accordeon (also reviewed at The Free-Reed Review) and thought you might be interested: I have a photocopy I made from an original 1843 edition held by the Healdsburg Public Library in Healdsburg, California.

You should be able to put one more library on your list.

Thank you for having the site on line, I would like to put a link to it in my website: Tim Rued - Fiddler.

Elias Howe over the years published many books of music. I consider all of them to be fiddle music collections, some just adapted to other instruments. They are a great resource to me. If you know of any other similar sites of old music collections, let me know if you will. It's great to be able to spread music this way.

Tim Rued

Dear Tim,
Thanks for your letter. I have updated the text to include the Healdsburg Public Library in Healdsburg, California, as you requested. Can you tell me anything about one of the pieces in the collection, Mozart's Waltz? I cannot decide whether it was written by the 18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or by the 19th century folk musician Allan Mozart.


Henry Doktorski, founder
The Classical Free-Reed, Inc.

Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2001 23:11:22 EST
From: Tim Rued
Subject: Re: Howe's Collection

My studies of fiddle music have shown that in the early and mid-nineteenth century, there was little concern for authorship of tunes. Nowadays we are used to categorizing music into "classical", "pop", "rock and roll", "big band", "bluegrass", etc. Folk musicians for whom Howe's books did the most help, did not generally categorize music. If a tune was good for their use (usually as a dance tune), they went ahead and used it - for the music itself, not because of what category of music it was.

Look in Howe's collections, and you will find Irish jigs, Scottish Strathspeys, German waltzes, and Italian operatic airs, all mixed together as dance tunes. Very seldom are any of them attributed to a composer, though many of them are recognizable from other sources. "Mozart's Waltz" may, indeed, be a minuet by Wolfgang Amadeus, or just as likely by Allan M. An even greater possibility is that some unnamed musician, thinking that the tune reminded him of Mozart's music, dedicated it and named it thus.

There are experts out there on Mozart, who might be able to identify it as his composition were they to hear it played, but I expect the true origin will remain hidden forever. What I find fascinating about some of the tunes in the Accordeon book is the way tunes are used for dances they were not originally for. My favorite example is the "Cinderella Waltz", which in actuality is one of the most famous and recognizable Scottish pipe marches.

Good luck in your projects!
Tim Rued

From: Rick Turner
Subject: Elias Howe
Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001

I came across your Elias Howe page. I collect the instruments made by/for the company he founded, and I did a bit of historical research at the Boston Historical Society several years ago. Amazing stuff. Howe seems to have invented modern musical publishing as we know it & founded two companies in his time, the second of which was a full service wholesale house for stringed musical instruments and parts. I have an original Howe Co. catalog from the 1890s as well as 10 of their mandolin family instruments in four sizes + a couple of wonderful guitars.

My Best,

Rick Turner

From: Ron Schaumburg
Date: September 2004

In 1854, my great-great-grandfather was a young gold miner in California, living in a remote mountain cabin. One day he bought an accordeon -- an event so important he noted the day in his journal. He even specified the price: $13.50, likely paid for with an ounce of gold he'd dug out of the ground himself. That precious instrument kept him company during those times he lived alone, and lonely, in a remote mountain cabin. He often played at singings, spontaneous gatherings of neighbors who shared the tunes they knew. Much later in life he picked up his accordeon again, this time to comfort himself in grief: his beloved wife Emma had died. But the music was too painful; he missed hearing her voice raised alongside his. Weeping, he set the accordeon aside.

A few years ago I was delighted to discover that you'd posted Howe's Preceptor on the web. Thank you for letting me glimpse the very pages that helped my ancestor learn how to play.

Recently I came back to your site, but discovered that the Preceptor images were no longer available. Nor could I track them down with my usuallly effective Googling.

I'd like to see the book again, because I'm continuing to explore James's life, and I've made some discoveries. Around 1880 James gave his youngest son a gift: "The Golden Wreath," a collection of songs and exercises compiled by L. O. Emerson. You probably know that book. It too was published by Oliver Ditson, and I imagine its format was much like that of the Howe book.

Sorry for this long prelude. My reason for writing is to ask if it's possible to access your digitized Preceptor in some way. I'd like to see it again, now that I understand the importance of music -- including, specifically, this very book -- in James's life.

Thanks for any help you can give.

Ron Schaumburg
New Jersey

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