The Conquests of the Accordion. From the Old Worlds to New Horizons1

Reception: April 29, 2020

Acceptance: June 15, 2020


The accordion and its many variants - from the concertina and button accordion to the hurdy-gurdy and bandoneon - have flourished and taken root in diverse cultures. Commonly known as "the common man's piano," this instrument became a medium for the growth of folk and popular music in different regions of the world, especially between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. xix and early xx. For that reason, being a "one man band" facilitated its use among the people of the popular sectors, for its ability to produce melodies, harmonies and basses at the same time. It was also strong and durable, ideal for outdoor gatherings. This article follows the history of the accordion from its beginnings in Europe to the New World, on the other side of the Atlantic.

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the conquests of the accordion. from the old worlds to new horizons

The accordion and its many variations -from the concertina and the diatonic button accordion, to the hurdy-gurdy and the bandoneon- have flourished and taken roots in several cultures. Commonly known as the "common man's piano," this instrument became a medium for the growth of folkloric music, and very popular in many regions of the world, particularly in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Because of this, its use as a "one-man band" made it easier to use among people in popular sectors, due to its ability to produce melodies, harmonies and low-pitched tones at the same time. It was also strong and long-lasting, making it ideal for open air events. This aticle follows the story of the accordion, from its beginnings in Europe, to the New World, on the other side of the Atlantic.

Keywords: diatonic button accordion, invention of musical instruments, proletarianization of music production, industrialization, birth of popular music, international migration, Hohner Company.

In his article on migrant, popular and regional musics of the United States, Philip Bohlman (1998) uses the accordion to show territorial transgressions. The author asserts that the instrument's popular appeal was primarily due to "its adaptability and its ability to respond to a wide range of musical demands within the changing cultures" of the New World (Bohlman, 1998: 301-302). Despite its adaptability, the accordion maintained its image as a migrant instrument and symbol of the working class throughout the 20th century. xx. However, it has continually transgressed those cultural references throughout its two hundred years of life. During the first decades after its invention in 1800, the accordion was an instrument that was generally found among the upper and middle classes: its buyers were wealthy young people who lived in the city and cared about keeping up to date; they were the yuppies of its time. Each instrument was handmade, with delicacy, which made it more expensive than a guitar and beyond the reach of most people. The construction materials also influenced this. Early accordions used the best materials of the time: polished ebony wood for the frame and fine goatskin for the bellows. The most luxurious models also had decorations painstakingly crafted during hundreds of hours of handwork. They were adorned with sequins, exquisite wood carvings, decorative stones and some ivory pieces. This chapter traces the history of the accordion from its humble origins in the early 1900s to the present day. xixThe company's growth and consolidation as an instrument with a worldwide presence.

Although Viennese organ and piano maker Cyrill Demian was the first to patent this new instrument in 1829, at the same time other European inventors designed their own versions of free reed instruments.2 Demian's accordion, "a small box with bellows [and] five keys, each capable of producing a chord."3 The new instrument - hence the name of the instrument - then stimulated innovations among the manufacturers; later, with the new instrument in circulation, improvements were not long in coming.

In fact, the accordion was itself a continuation and a perfection of many experiments of the end of the century. xviii with free reed aerophones. In 1770 a Bavarian musician gave a performance in St. Petersburg, Russia, with a "sweet Chinese organ", probably a sheng. The sheng is an ancient free-reed instrument that has a wooden mouthpiece attached to a gourd fitted with bamboo tubes of varying lengths. It is believed that the first European attempts to create bellows-driven instruments based on the free reed principle-with blades that vibrated by the application of an air flow-derived from the sheng. In 1779, a portable free reed organ called the "free reed organ" appeared in St. Petersburg. orchestrionThe initial idea for this organ was developed by a professor of acoustics in Denmark and consisted of creating a talking machine. It was followed by the invention of the pys-harmonika (Vienna, 1821) and the äoline (Bavaria, 1822). Later, a Viennese manufacturer of music boxes patented his "äoline".harmonika in the Chinese manner" in 1825, calling himself a "certified maker of mouth harmonica and music box".4

In the last century xix European countries were closely connected through travel and trade. Therefore, it was to be expected that Demian's accordion would appear in Paris the year after his invention. The patent protected his invention until 1834, but its coverage did not reach other countries. Therefore, Parisian instrument makers immediately reproduced the instrument design: six years later, there were twenty accordion and harmonica makers registered in Paris. With some modifications of the Viennese model, they tried to conquer the refined Parisian ears (Maurer, 1983: 87). M. Busson added one of the most important adaptations: a piano keyboard for the right hand of the accordion, and he created the accordéon-orgue, flûtina or harmoniflûte. With its rosewood and inlays of ivory and mother-of-pearl, the instrument was oriented "towards the ladies of the best society and moved towards a desired bourgeois object of female distraction" (Wagner, 2001: 19). Unconstrained by gendered expectations, the new instrument was deemed suitable for young women. Busson's new invention was shown at the Paris World Exposition in 1855. The accordion's popularity steadily grew, as indicated by the number of published method books, some printed in two or even three languages (German, French and English). "It was the accordion's even tone, considered novel at the time, and its breath of richly nuanced music, as well as its portability and affordability, that endeared it to large populations" (Harrington, 2001: 61). The flourishing French production of accordions came to a halt during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871), after which Italian Stradella manufacturers came to the market.

Stradella's luxurious handcrafted model was one of the two main Italian accordion types to succeed (Anzaghi, 1996).5 In the first decades of the accordion's expansion, the instrument settled in two music-loving Italian cities: Stradella, in the northern province of Pavia, a region that was under the power of the Austrian Empire, and Castelfidardo, in the province of Ancona (Marche region) in the center-east of the country. This town, characterized by its ancient castle and surrounding walls, was the site of the battle between Piedmontese troops and the papal army that resulted, in 1860, in the unification of Italy. This fact is essential in the history of the accordion, because immediately after the annexation of the Marche region "we witness the birth of the first accordions and concertinas that were probably introduced among the Italians by the French troops allied to the Papal States . These instruments soon adapted to the taste of the Italians" (Bugiolacchi, n.d.).

The Italians, whose ears were accustomed to the sound of bagpipes or the zampognaa popular instrument used from Sicily to Lombardy, quickly embraced the new instrument, which allowed sustained notes that resembled the discordant sound of the drone's drone. zampogna traditional double reed. At the end of the xixAccording to the director of the Castelfidardo accordion museum, Beniamino Bugiolacchi, the accordion gained such popularity that Giuseppe Verdi submitted a proposal to the Italian conservatory to include the study of the accordion. At the time, Verdi was president of the ministerial commission for the reform of the musical conservatories during the 1870s (Bugiolacchi, n.d.). Accordion workshops sprang up all over Italy to satisfy the population's taste for the new instrument. But as happened elsewhere during the turn of the century, the separation of leisure activities between social classes, enhanced by urbanization and modernization, provoked important conflicts. The accordion was not exempt from these social influences. "The joyful sound of the accordion, exalted by the jubilation of country outings and barnyard dancing, soon ended up hoarse in places in the open air of a geography neglected by other older and more illustrious instruments" (Anzaghi, 1996:81). Despite its popularity, the accordion had to compete with a rival: the Italian bagpipe. Eventually, it was relegated to the peasantry and was soon considered to emit a "decidedly vulgar sound" and with little "aspiration to noble phonetics".6 However, years later the accordion served the populist politics of a fascist regime. According to Bugiolacchi, "the propaganda of the time designated the accordion as a musical instrument invented in Italy, and as the pride of our industriousness and the delight of the Italian people....". In 1941, Benito Mussolini ordered 1,000 accordions to be distributed among the troops fighting in World War II" (Bugiolacchi, n.d.).

The accordion had a similar meteoric career in northern Europe. Six weeks after Demian filed his patent in Vienna, Londoner Charles Wheatstone filed a patent for an invention he called the symphoniumThe Wheatstone concertina, an aerophone that included in its design a keyboard and bellows, served as a prototype for the Wheatstone concertina, "a double-action hexagonal instrument with forty-eight keys",7 a patent that he would make public in 1844. Given the close musical relationship between Vienna and London, it is likely that Wheatstone was aware of Demian's experiments. His early concertina models combined "the 24-key fingering system of the symphoniumwith the exposed pearl buttons and wooden levers of Demian's first accordion" (Wayne, 1991: 132). Neil Wayne suspects that Weathstone's early models of the concertina were initially intended for his acoustics classes at King's College London, where he was professor of experimental physics, rather than created for commercial purposes. Weathstone also had a scientific interest in oriental free-reed instruments (the sheng Chinese, the shô Japanese and various Javanese instruments), Jewish harps and German harmonicas (mouth organs) that had been in circulation for several years in different countries. In 1821, Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann, from Berlin, built a small wind device with fifteen reeds to improve tuning that he continued to develop (Harrington, 2001: 61).8 A year later, Buschmann added more elements: the bellows, some valves and hand-operated adjustment knobs: this was the Hand-Äoline or Konzertina.

Like others with similar experimental interests, Wheatstone created a number of new and improved musical instruments, including the "foot-operated concertina," "wind pianos." bellows-fiddle (violin combined with concertina bellows) and more free-reed tuning devices. He also experimented in other technical areas in which he produced typewriters, electromagnetic clocks, artificial voice devices and the electric telegraph, for which he would be recognized in the following years (Wayne, 1991: 122). Most of Weathstone's musical inventions seemed absurd, as did "the many attempts made by other instrument makers and their pretentious inventions, more or less disastrous,... useless specimens trying to enter the race for instruments" (Berlioz 1858: 233).9 This criticism was voiced by an extremely progressive composer for his time, Hector Berlioz. The French composer liked to explore new colors in the tonalities of his orchestrations and did not hesitate to include the English Wheatstone concertina, whose sound he found "penetrating and soft at the same time... [as well as] blending well with the tone of the harp and with the pianoforte" (Berlioz, 1858: 235). Despite his taste for the special timbre, he criticized the mesotonic tuning of the concertina ("in accordance with the doctrine of the acousticians, a doctrine totally contrary to the practice of musicians") which prevented it from serving to combine with any well-tempered instrument.10

Despite this limitation, the concertina grew in popularity as leading concert pianists performed virtuosic solos, concertos, and music.
ca de cámara. Moreover, not all critics discouraged the use of the accordion in these musical practices. Benevolent criticisms from respected critics, such as the British writer George Bernard Shaw, who stated that
"the concertina has been brought to such great perfection... [that it can] play the most difficult violin, oboe and flute music."11 boosted its prestige among the upper classes. In fact, many of the main purchasers of the concertina in the 1870s were members of the elite, men and women alike. It was thus present in the salon concerts of the aristocracy, and then gradually adopted by the English working class: the corollary of this English path left the concertina abandoned by the "serious" musicians of the Victorian era. Perhaps it was that route that prompted the following quip, "What is the definition of a gentleman - someone who can play the accordion, but refrains from playing it!"

The proletarianization of musical creation during the second half of the 20th century. xix was spurred by the importation of low-priced concertinas mass-produced in Germany, which helped to shatter the concertina's image of exclusivity. English manufacturers joined this movement with their "people's concertina" models, affordable to the working class. Like the Brass Brand Movement,12 the concertina flooded the British Isles as the working class began to form thousands of clubs for their performances. The concertina was especially suited to dance music, because the pulling and pushing motion gave the music a strong rhythmic punch. The instrument was popular in taverns and pubs from the port cities, from where it quickly traveled and conquered the British colonies. Sailors and whalers were adept with the portable instrument.

The accordion was in many ways a revolutionary instrument that was adapted to the liberal ideas of the end of the century. xix and who managed to participate in the industrial revolution. The invention of the accordion meant the birth of popular music, both in the sense of "music of the people" and "music of the masses", since it coincided with the end of the pre-industrial era and became a symbol of industrialization and culture. It coincided with the end of the pre-industrial era and became a symbol of industrialization and mass culture (Wagner, 2001: 9).13

Accordion manufacturing centers (especially concertinas and harmonicas) first appeared in Germany; these were some of the many: Trossingen (Christian Messner, 1830), Chemnitz (Carl Friedrich Uhlig, 1834), Magdeburg (Friedrich Gessner, 1838), Berlin (J. F. Kalbe, 1840), Gera (Heinrich Wagner, 1850) and Klingenthal (Adolph Herold, 1852). Although the popular character and massification of the instrument soon led skilled workers to open their own workshops throughout Germany.

Image 1: Photograph of production at the Hohner factory, circa 1910. Photo courtesy of German Harmonica and Accordion Museum, Trossingen.

Before the advent of mass production in the 1850s, all accordion parts were made by hand. Instrument makers, in collaboration with metalworkers, locksmiths, fitters, mechanics and a host of skilled workers were trained to develop a series of machines that made industrial production of accordion parts possible. Soon the tabs were no longer cut and sharpened by hand, but were stamped with a mechanical tool used to cut the sheet metal in a single movement. This process became systematized and its streamlining was programmed into automated routers and milling machines. With the introduction of steam power in the late 1870s, accordion production costs were drastically reduced as unskilled workers were hired to operate the machines. This refinement in production led factory owners to subcontract the making of some parts for use in their companies' existing manufacturing systems, which employed men, women and children as low-wage workers. However, this in no way compromised the quality of the instruments. The following case explains the dimension, in terms of labor, of the impact that automation had on accordion factories: in 1855 a factory employed about 400 workers to produce 100,000 accordions and 750,000 harmonicas, but seven years later it hired only 250 workers to manufacture the same number of accordions and more than one million harmonicas (Dunkel, 1996: 180). Accordion and harmonica manufacturing was a dynamic and fast-growing business, which would soon be oriented towards export markets, with special attention to overseas markets. A large number of the more than half a million accordions manufactured annually in Germany were models destined for export (Dunkel, 1996: 174).

Among the many types of diatonic accordions invented prior to the 1850s was the bandoniona concertina that eventually became more famous in Argentina under the name of bandoneon.. It was a predecessor model with a quadrangular shape and individual notes instead of chords on the bass side. The bandoneon was developed in Chemnitz by Carl Friedrich Uhlig in the early 1830s. The musician and teacher Heinrich Band, from Krefeld, near Düsseldorf, ordered a model with eighty-eight tones, resharpened some of them, and called the new instrument bandonion (the name first appeared in 1856). Due to the prolific instrument trade, it quickly overtook the common concertina. Most German concertinas were produced in Saxony, where, again, the instrument was very popular among the working class in the 1880s.

Image 2: Meinel & Herold accordion advertisements in Brazil, where the company competed with Italian Dallapé models and local instrument makers. Photo courtesy of German Harmonica and Accordion Museum, Trossingen.

In the second half of the xix At the Industrial Exhibition of 1854 in Munich, the Viennese accordion manufacturer Matthaus Bauer exhibited his Clavierharmonikaa prototype of the piano accordion (Maurer, 1983: 75). These early chromatic button accordions soon became a favorite among the Schrammelkapellen Viennese, pseudo-folkloric folk music ensembles inspired by the Viennese chamber music of the Schrammel brothers (Maurer, 1983: 76-86). The Schrammel accordion, which resembles the clarinet in timbre, was added to the string ensemble to enhance the volume of sound.14 In the taverns of Vienna's suburbs, the accordion acted, in Wagner's words, "as the midwife of an emerging new musical style" that fused folk dance rhythms (Ländler) and Hungarian gypsy melodies with folk waltzes (2001: 32). Schrammel's music, with its accordion virtuosos, enjoyed great acceptance among the Austrian aristocracy, and composers of the time embraced that euphoria.

As in the rest of Europe, the rural population stranded in the cities strove to restore and maintain their traditions with new rituals, displays and various forms of entertainment, constructed or, if necessary, invented. The new contexts of social life generated new, genuinely urban traditions. Folk music was no longer used as a symbol of continuity of country traditions, but served as an emotional aid for people moving from one lifestyle to another. The accordion, above all other instruments, was part of both worlds; it was traditional, but modern. Moreover, it was able to compete with the noise of growing industrial cities and a lifestyle increasingly dominated by machines.

The accordion also gained ground in more remote areas and in countries with a less export-driven economy. In central Switzerland, the production of "hand harps" began in the 1830s. A greater number of regional types of Schwyzerörgeli (small Swiss organ) were made in small workshops, often operated by families, displacing the violin.15 and to the dulcémele16 (Roth, 2006 [1979]). The more popular the accordion became among the mountain people, the more the traditionalists despised it. The following denunciation, printed in the yearbook of the Swiss Alpine Club in 1868, is representative of these complaints:

The call Handharmonika [hand harmonica] is enjoyed by alpine shepherds and milkmen, who with desperate obstinacy persevere in maneuvering it, that is, pushing and pulling it; such manipulation cannot be called playing or making music. If it is not yet the case, very soon only a few tourists will be spared this tortuous sound when they travel along the most frequented roads to the alpine huts. Our mountain youth find it more convenient to pull a hand harmonica or blow a mouth harmonica than to work their good strong lungs with the alpine horn.17

Unscathed by such denunciations, the accordion became a favorite pastime instrument and, if a photograph of my grandfather's family in 1899 is any clue, perhaps it also served as a children's instrument.

Image 3: Photograph of my grandfather, Theodor Bucher, age eleven, holding a button accordion. His younger brothers display toy instruments and school utensils (1899).

My grandfather's interest in the accordion was more than musical. The little box he held so lovingly was a mechanical marvel that attracted his curiosity. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to follow his dream, because his father's untimely death forced him to become head of the family. Still, his inquiring mind and enormous skills, as well as his initiative, set him apart from the peasants around him. Instead of working the land, he invented all kinds of mechanical tools to make farming more bearable, such as a pipe construction for liquid manure with an automatic shifting mechanism. He traveled long distances by bicycle to inspect hydroelectric power plants in the Alps and was fascinated by mountain railroads and cable cars. My grandfather was a born engineer, but also a good musician; although, as far as I know, he never made his living making music. Together with four of his brothers he formed a Haus-Kapelle (domestic assembly) in 1910 (or perhaps earlier): it was one of the first of its kind in central Switzerland.

Image 4: Photograph of my grandfather's family ensemble in 1910, Inwil, Lucerne. My great-uncle plays a standard 18-bass Schwyzerörgeli in the left hand and buttons arranged in three rows for the right hand.

Like the vast majority of folk musicians, my grandfather never learned to read sheet music, even though there was a musical tablature written for the Schwyzerörgeli standard: a notation system for fingering, still in use today, to teach Swiss folk melodies to the musically illiterate. The radio was my grandfather's main source of learning to recognize and play new tunes.

Since the rural and lower classes had been making music "by ear" for centuries, in the early part of the century xx the accordion had largely replaced the accustomed instruments, such as the violin18 and bagpipes, all over Europe. Interestingly, however, local forms of accordion playing often adopted the older performing styles, those they replaced; a phenomenon we can also observe elsewhere (e.g., Hutchinson, 2012). Thus, sound effects, ornamentations, and timbres varied according to local aesthetics. The versatility of the accordion in terms of sound production may indeed have been one of its strongest qualities in its conquest of the world. The instrument's diffusion was further encouraged by waves of overseas migration during the height of its popularity among the European working classes.

Conquering new horizons

In the early 1830s button accordions made in Saxony began to be exported to the United States. Saxon musical instrument dealers settled in Philadelphia, where they began their conquest of the New World. The performances of minstrel19 added the squeezebox20 to his ensemble of banjo, fiddle, tambourine and castanets made of bones. The earliest surviving image of an accordion player is from the mid-1850s and was taken in a New Orleans photographic studio (Snyder, 2012). The image captured a seated black man playing a French-style accordion with twelve treble-sounding keys and two bass-sounding buttons (probably a Busson, known in the local vernacular as a flutina). Of the man one can only speculate that he was Creole, an accordionist by profession or simply a common man holding up with studio props.21

Image 5: "Accordionist, daguerreotype", circa 1855. Photographer unknown.
6: Hohner harmonica and accordion advertisement for the United States. Photo courtesy of German Harmonica and Accordion Museum, Trossingen.

The Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans dates the photograph to around 1850, suggesting that the instrument arrived earlier in black Louisiana, in the first half of the century. References to the accordion's popularity were increasingly frequent in local dances at the turn of the century.

Similarly, little is known about when and how the concertina settled in the United States (Greene, 1992). Not surprisingly, however, the burgeoning Old World working-class concertina-orchestra movement also came to the country, particularly in areas of German, Bohemian, and Polish immigration. The first concertina clubs sprang up in the urban centers of Chicago and Milwaukee in 1889 and 1890, respectively. James Leary argues that those in charge were the "displaced from the old country's close-knit agrarian villages, the newcomers to the urban Midwest, seeking community in countless fraternities and cultural organizations, most of which encouraged musical performance" (2002: 197). These feats must also be credited to migrant entrepreneurs, such as the one who promoted the German concertina at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. After all, it was they who established the infrastructure that allowed the spread of the concertina in the Midwest (Leary, 2002). A curious fact is that the 200,000 German concertinas that were imported annually at the beginning of the century xxwere actually concertinas. Later, the Americans began to create their own concertinas due to the shortage of supplies caused by World War I.

Spurred by a growing anti-German sentiment in the United States, German-American artists such as Whoopee John Wilfahrt, whose Concertina Orchestra (founded in 1928) popularized the oompah-beat22 German or Dutch, became the target of verbal attacks and ridicule. Maintaining a "visual balance between the ethnic clown and the American sophisticate" (Leary and March, 1991: 38), the comic representation emulated by later "Dutch" musicians, however "empowering" it might have been, was not freely chosen. Immigrant, folk, and regional musics, Bohlman argues, represent the ways in which Americans use music to strengthen their group and community identities, as well as their connections to U.S. history. An examination of the "musics of difference" inevitably reveals the central role of racism and ethnic prejudice in the American musical landscape. Immigrant music connects to concerns about identity, and regional musics reveal the strong but different approaches to the sense of place in the United States (Bohlman, 1998: 278). After World War II, the different styles of ethnic music merged into pan-American popular music and became known as "polka music," but the concertina retained its German character.

Looking southward to the New World, the origin of the first accordion to reach Argentine shores is a subject of controversy and contradiction. South America's largest port city, Buenos Aires, was home to millions of foreign migrants who arrived at the end of the 20th century. xix to work in agricultural and urban activities, as well as peasants from rural Argentina, uprooted by the drastic changes in the pastoral-oriented economy in the 1880s. The accordion, which may have appeared in Argentina in 1850,23 turned out to be an ideal instrument to express the new urban reality of the newcomers from the pampas and abroad. In the borderlands of northeastern Argentina and southern Brazil, the German migrants had introduced their dances, polka and mazurka, as well as the inevitable accordion and bandonionwhich were soon integrated into the regional form of the song. chamaméaccompanied by guitar and violin. Shortly after the turn of the century, a German sailor sold musical instruments similar to the concertina in La Boca, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires, and with an important presence of Italian migrants working in warehouses and meat packing plants.24

If one reads the history of Brazil, accordion music in that country became widely known thanks to musician-composer Luiz Gonzaga (1912-1989; Loveless, 2012). The instrument was also imported by German and Italian migrants who succeeded in fusing it with the music lined mid-century xix. From there, the diatonic eight-bass accordion, known as the sanfona de oito baixoswas brought to northeastern Brazil by soldiers who had fought in the war against Paraguay in the 1860s. The new instrument, along with a triangle and bass drum, became the musical accompaniments for social celebrations and replaced the old fife and drum bands (Crook, 2005: 256).

In the case of Colombia, different historical facets of the accordion converge in its arrival and popularization. In the documentary The devil's accordiondirected by Stefan Schwietert portrays vallenato music. The seductive opening of the documentary features the narration of accordionist Francisco Pacho Rada, 93: "My story begins with a shipwreck. It was a German ship. It was full of accordions. It was on its way to Argentina and ran aground on our coast. That is how the accordion arrived in our country" (Schwietert, 2000). Other legends relate that the arrival of the instrument goes back many years. In any case, most likely the first accordions arrived on the Colombian Caribbean coast in the late 1860s, but did not become more accessible until the 1910s (Bermúdez, 2012). From the main port cities it quickly spread along the Magdalena River, beyond the coastal regions. A much sought-after contraband item, the accordion began to replace the indigenous gaita, a conduit flute made of cane, whose sonorous characteristics it was able to reproduce. The accordion with three rows and twelve bass buttons was already in common use in 1945, the moment when vallenato music took off. Colombia still imports these models from Germany, although upon arrival they have to be completely tuned to fit the aesthetics of the local sound.

The resistance of the symbol

One of the most prominent European harmonica exporters in the international arena was and still is the Hohner company. Founded in Trossingen in 1857 by Matthias Hohner, it is recognized worldwide for the quality of its harmonicas. However, it was not until 1903 that the Company began its production of button accordions, with the intention of entering the export business.25 One of Hohner's sons moved to New York to set up store and push an aggressive advertising campaign aimed at Canada and pre-revolutionary Mexico. By 1913, the Toronto branch already dominated 68% of the Canadian harmonica market. Hohner's goal was to emulate this success in Mexico, which it considered a crucial gateway to the Central and South American markets. A Hohner representative opened a branch in Mexico in 1908. The store closed after three years due to the outbreak of the revolution, so Hohner had to temporarily revise its expansion plan. From that violent Mexico, the Hohner representative wrote to New York in 1913: "In spite of all the revolutions, this country will undoubtedly become one of the best distribution areas... I only wish Uncle Sam would annex the whole republic" (Berghoff, 2006: 157).

The Hohner representative was right with this prognosis: the Mexican market was and remained a fertile ground for the importation of high quality button accordions manufactured in Europe. The first accordions had arrived in northeastern Mexico through the port of Tampico by German merchants in the middle of the 20th century. xix. As documented by historian Francisco Ramos Aguirre (2016), the local newspaper advertised the sale of European merchandise that included the accordion, among other musical items. Other evidence of the early existence of accordions in the area responds to transgressions of the law documented by various local newspapers. For example, one night disturbances were reported due to noise coming from a group playing. The noise was caused by an accordion played by two black men, probably workers of Caribbean origin hired by the railroad company to build the Tampico-San Luis Potosí route (Ramos Aguirre, 2016: 140). German immigration to the Texas-Mexico border area had given rise to true colonies that maintained the practice of their customs, language and music. By the time of the revolution, the button accordion had become a prominent and ubiquitous feature of musical life in the Texas-Mexico border area.

At the outbreak of World War I, Hohner dominated half of the U.S. harmonica market and one-third of the world market. At home, the Hohner family practiced acquisition strategies to expand its global market share: in 1912 it purchased the J. F. Kalbe plant in Berlin (because of its best sellerThe following year he took over Friedrich Gessner of Magdeburg and between 1928 and 1929 absorbed the competitors from Trossingen, Messner and Andreas Koch (the second largest accordion producer in the world) and acquired half a dozen other smaller plants. Hohner's accordion production increased rapidly: already in 1906 100,000 accordions were produced; before the outbreak of World War I, the number had risen to 150,000. The war forced the German factories to stop their export activities due to labor shortages, lack of raw materials and difficulties in managing transportation. Production after the war resumed, and in 1929, before the Great Depression hit, half of all accordions produced in Germany were exported to the Americas: 23 percent to the United States and 24.4 percent to Latin America, three quarters of which went to Argentina despite very high import taxes (Wagner, 2001: 165).

After the war, Hohner began producing piano accordions. Due to relentless marketing, financial incentive offers for retailers, installment plans for its customers and special offers for music teachers, Hohner quality instruments regained ground. With 4,500 employees in 1930, Hohner had become a world leader in accordion production. To its economic advantage, the company sought to bring the instrument out of the noisy tavern and into the concert hall. In line with the official ideology between the two world wars that favored the "popular arts"-rather than keeping the masses away from the "fine arts," it focused on making music accessible to all-Hohner wanted to improve the accordion's image. Among his marketing strategies was the founding of clubs with a focus on community music making and some accordion orchestras.26 The company built its own music academy in Trossingen to facilitate the professional training of teachers and conductors and this plan was strengthened by the foundation of a music publishing house. The school and publishing house encouraged the composition of concert music for the instrument. In the United States the strategy was repeated (Zinni, 2012). Hohner, moreover, tried to refine the chromatic piano accordion in the 1930s to distinguish it from the diatonic one Ziehharmonika (pull harmonica or squeezebox).

As mentioned in previous sections, instrument production in Germany ceased during the war years, but resumed to meet the great demand for concertina and bandoneon clubs in Germany and for export to the United States. Although the German musical organizations conducted activities exclusively for entertainment, between the two world wars their membership was sympathetic to the communist workers' movement. As a result, these clubs came under scrutiny and, in 1933, were banned by the Nazi regime and the instruments confiscated (Wagner, 2001: 85-86). The harmonica and accordion music, however, served the regime well in propagating the fascist ideology of popular community and the power of the Schützengrabenklavier (trench piano), as the accordion was called, to boost the morale of the German troops, where it was certainly admitted. However, the political dispute over the use of the instruments resulted in a decree in 1938 against the formation of harmonica and accordion orchestras in any Hitler Youth organization. Accordion arrangements of the great works of composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and others were banned (Eickhoff, 1999: 165, 170, 173).

Caught up in the controversy surrounding the accordion during the Nazi regime, which dismissed the instrument as "good enough for peasant dances" but unsuitable for accompanying the art songs of the Hitler Youth, Hohner and some music pedagogues defended the educational value of the instrument: cultivating the accordion, they claimed, would help overcome the "gulf between art and folk music" (Eickhoff, 1999: 175). However, the Nazis believed that only "cultured instruments" could bring the masses to appreciate "high art." Interestingly, the anti-fascist music critic Theodor W. Adorno, in his polemical book Dissonanzen (1956), similarly lambasted the "inhumanly mechanical" and "sentimental" instrument that would "adjust the ideal to the intellectual level of the uneducated" instead of raising the uneducated to a higher stage (Eickhoff, 1999: 149).

Composers and arrangers affiliated with Hohner envisioned a place for the piano accordion in the classical orchestra. While the diatonic button accordion had already been used by classical composers - by Tchaikovsky in his Orchestral Suite Number 2 (1883), Umberto Giordano in the opera Fedora (1898) and Charles Ives in Orchestral Ensemble Number 2 (1915)-to add a burlesque flavor, Paul Hindemith composed Chamber music Number 1 (1921) making full use of the new piano accordion manufactured by the Hohner company.27 Looking beyond the accordion's "lower social status," experimental musicians in the mid-century xx were intrigued by the instrument's sonic capabilities. But despite these efforts to bring the accordion into the "classical music world," it was ultimately its strong ties to folk music and oral traditions that prevented a smooth transition into the concert world. More than a century of oral tradition and musical practice had generated stylistic characteristics incompatible with the cultured music of the West.


At the beginning of the xixThe coexistence of capitalist and pre-capitalist economic formations drove the unequal distribution of commodities and marked the divide between the elite and the masses, particularly in urban spaces. Modernization took place at the expense of the peasantry and the urban poor, who were further marginalized. In the last decades of the century xixThe speed of technological modernization increased and classes became more distant in terms of participation and cultural expression.

However, the proletarian classes also benefited from some of the advantages of the industrial era: more leisure time, greater disposable income, and greater access to material goods due to lower prices through mass production. While the accordion at the beginning of its history was an expensive instrument exclusive to the salons of the upper classes, in the last quarter of the 20th century, the accordion became an instrument of the upper classes. xix had spread among the middle and working classes. The accordion of the century xix was a symbol of progress and modernity, as well as of mass culture and industrialization. This dichotomy is precisely one of the reasons for the elite's restlessness and ambivalence towards the accordion.

Accordions have proliferated in many sizes and systems since the early 1800s. Thanks to various inventions that helped reduce manual labor, mass production of the instrument began in the second half of the century and made the young instrument available to the common people. Although the more luxurious models were beyond the reach of many, with only two days' wages a worker in 1890 could buy the cheapest one-row button model (Maurer, 1983: 80-81). The fact that it was a "one-man band," strong and sustained, was one of the accordion's main advantages. This also meant that it was more cost-effective to hire an accordionist for a private party than to invite a traditional ensemble. Thus, "the accordion, with its simple and joyful sound, its ease of use and transport, was the ideal instrument to adopt, in contrast to the elitist and expensive music of previous years" (Bugiolacchi, n.d.).

In fact, by appropriating the accordion and introducing it into their own musical practice, people of the working classes began for the first time to write the history of music for themselves. Raymond Williams pointed out that categories such as "aristocratic" and "popular," "educated" and "uneducated" had distinct bases in feudal and immediately post-feudal society, but that such definitions have been problematic since the period of industrial urbanization (1995 [1958]): 227). Nevertheless, such categories, framed by broad cultural descriptions, have influenced popular and academic discourse on the accordion. The acceptance of tango throughout Argentine society, for example, only occurred because Parisians, who set the musical trends of the time, were fascinated by the exotic genre. In reality, "the patrician aversion to tango was more a smokescreen to protect a class sensibility from the real origin of the phenomenon than a product of their occasional prudishness" (Peñón and García Méndez, 1988: 56).

If liberal elites thought they could use art as a means of educating and elevating the ordinary masses to conform to high culture, they undoubtedly underestimated the power of working-class culture. The appeal of popular musical endeavor has resided in its oral transmission, improvisation and face-to-face communication: all of which foster a strong sense of place, identity and community.

I would like to take up what Bohlman (1998: 307) has mentioned in a narrower geographical scope: bringing these musics (migrant, folk and popular) back into history leads to a new meaning of the word "Americanization", not as the homogenization of culture in a melting pot, but as a celebration of difference in a post-ethnic world.


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Helena Simonett a native of Switzerland, holds a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). She is Senior Research Associate at the Competence Center for Music Research and Pedagogy, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. She has published several books, Band: Mexican Musical Life across Borders (2001), In Sinaloa I was born: History of Banda Music (2004, coord.), The Accordion in the Americas (2012) and A Latin American Music Reader: Views from the South (2016, coord.) and numerous articles in scientific journals and specialized books on countries such as the United States, Colombia, France, England and Germany. 

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