Accordion/Brief History of the Accordion

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The accordion is one of several European inventions of the early 19th century that used free reeds driven by a bellows; notable among them were:

  • The Aeoline, by German Bernhard Eschenbach (and his cousin, Caspar Schlimbach), 1810.
    • Was a piano with added aeoline register.
    • Aeoline Harmonika and Pysharmonika are very similar names at that time.
      • Aeoline and Aura ware first without bellows or keyboard. This originals eventually evolved in Harmonica
  • The Hand Physhamonika Anton Haeckel 1818 Hand type mentioned in music newspaper 1821.
  • The flutina, by Pichenot Jeune, ca. 1831
  • The concertina, patented in two forms (perhaps independently):
    • Carl Friedrich Uhlig, 1834.
    • Sir Charles Wheatstone, examples built after 1829, but not patented until 1844

An instrument called accordion was first patented in 1829 by Cyrill Demian in Vienna. (Interestingly, the original patent shows the name "eoline" crossed out and replaced with "accordion" in different handwriting). Demian's instrument bore little resemblance to modern instruments: It only had a left hand keyboard; the right hand simply operated the bellows. One key feature for which Damian sought the patent was the sounding of an entire chord by depressing one key. His instrument also could sound two different chords with the same key: one for each bellows direction (press, draw); this is called a bisonoric action.

At that time in Vienna, mouth harmonicas with "Kanzellen" (chambers) had already been available for many years, along with bigger instruments driven by hand bellows. The diatonic key arrangement was also already in use on mouth-blown instruments. Demian's patent thus covered an accompanying instrument: an accordion played with the left hand, opposite to the way that contemporary chromatic hand harmonicas were played, small and light enough to for travellers to take with them and use to accompany singing. The patent also described instruments with both bass and treble sections, although Demian preferred the bass-only instrument owing to its cost and weight advantages.

The musician Adolph Müller described a great variety of instruments in his 1833 "Schule für Accordion". At the time, Vienna and London had a close musical relationship, with musicians often performing in both cities in the same year, so it is possible that Wheatstone was aware of this type of instrument and may have used them to put his key-arrangement ideas into practice.

Jeune's flutina resembles Wheatstone's concertina in internal construction and tone colour, but it appears to complement Demian's accordion functionally. The flutina is a one-sided bisonoric melody-only instrument whose keys are operated with the right hand while the bellows is operated with the left. When the two instruments are combined, the result is quite similar to diatonic button accordions still manufactured today.

Further innovations followed and continue to the present: Various keyboard systems have been developed; voicings (the combination of multiple tones at different octaves) have been developed, with mechanisms to switch between different voices during performance; different methods of internal construction to improve tone, stability and durability, and so on.