The Accordion Through Time

Where would modern music be today without the influence of the accordion? This ancient instrument is still very much alive in everything from modern country to progressive punk rock.

The accordion family tree has roots that reach back hundreds of years. This fascinating history can be traced to an ancient Chinese instrument known as a Sheng or Cheng. Played during the era of Confucius, from about 551 BC to 479 BC, this musical instrument is believed to be the first one to have used a free vibrating reed principal. This sound production provided by this principal is still the foundation of many of today’s modern accordions.

In 1829, a Viennese instrument maker named Cyrillus Damian is said to have created the first “true” accordion. Many historical resources suggest that Mr. Damian held the first patent to an instrument of that name, and he received royal patronage for his invention. Conflicting reports say that the first accordion actually appeared in 1822, when a fellow by the name of Christian Friedrich Buschmann added some expanding bellows to a small portable keyboard, and utilized a reed that vibrated within the instrument. Buschmann’s instrument was dubbed the “hand-aeoline”, and in 1828 he toured to increase awareness of the instrument’s popularity.

Regardless of who actually “invented” the modern accordion style, the popularity did certainly take off. Following that era, several varieties of free-vibrating reed instruments were developed. Some of them are still considerably well known today. As the instrument enjoyed growing popularity, the demand for instruction manuals began to increase. According to certain historical resources, the first accordion textbook featured both original music, and arrangements of familiar pieces. The book, written by Adolf Reisner, was published in Paris in 1832. Countless textbooks and manuals have been created and distributed since then.

The accordion developed at a rapidly accelerating pace after 1830. Several variations of the initial instrument were developed, such as the bandoneon, a chromatic accordion and even the harmonica, all of which still exist today. The introduction of the Schrammel was one of the most interesting developments from this period. This complicated instrument made its onstage debut with a Viennese quartet alongside a bass guitar and two violins. The Schrammel became a popular fixture at Viennese gatherings and can still be heard today.

The first piano accordion was introduced to the public in 1863. Many performers regarded it as a means of liberating themselves from the confines of their massive, immobile walls of pipes. Pietro Diero, a musician of the time, brought his custom built piano accordion to the United States, and would gain the title of “the Father of American accordion playing”.

During the early part of the twentieth century, several accordion manufacturers began to establish their companies. These manufacturers met the needs and pressures of professional accordion players, and formed the standard size and shape of the instrument, as we know it today.

Centuries have passed since the accordion’s humble beginnings, but the instrument is still a worldwide phenomenon. There are still a few accordion manufacturers in the United States, but Europe has many more. Although there are still accordion manufacturers in the United States, their numbers are quite small compared to those in Europe. Countries like Germany, Italy, France, and Russia are important to the manufacturing and export of modern accordions.

Listen to traditional musical pieces from virtually any country, and you can pick up the distinctive notes of the accordion. It is an instrument rich in history and long in worldwide appeal.