A Good Question!

In comments, the inimitable Tomb asked the following question:
Alright, Professor Chapin, here’s my latest in what will be a long line of questions from a novice. The history of the bellows that you’ve published so far seems almost entirely centered in England and France. This goes against my (assumingly incorrect) impression that Italian, Greek and Spanish folk music (maybe I should just say Mediterranean music) always seemed to have some sort of bellows wheezing in it somewhere. Are the European southerners the thieves of their northern cousins’ genius?

Thanks for the question! The classic, great names in accordion making are Italian (Castagnari and Salterelle, for example) or German (Weltmeister and the ubiquitous Hohner). This is an almost criminal oversimplification, but it serves for the moment (Andy?). The type of accordion I play has two rows tuned a fifth apart (G/C). This is called a Vienna tuning (more colloquially, “quint tuned”). England, Ireland, and France have great accordion traditions, very visible in the US. But there’s also a great Scandinavian tradition (hello, my Minnesota friends) that I need to learn more about, and an Eastern European tradition. In short, every musical tradition from the Caspians to the Andes, including your Mediterranean faves, has some sort of squeezebox going for it.

Peeter Joosep on lõõtspill, at
the 2008 Lõõtspillifestival.

Very often, the traditions adopt piano or chromatic accordions for their purposes, or they stay in the diatonic world but modify the instrument to suit their needs. Estonia, for example, has it’s own type of accordion called a Lõõtspill. On this side of the Atlantic, Quebec, Louisiana, and Tex-Mex each have a well-developed characteristic style. And this doesn’t even get into the concertina thing. 

So why am I focused on mainly France, and some England? Well, aside from accordions themselves — which are, you must admit, very clever — I am especially fascinated by (enamored with? obsessed on?) the repertoire of Central France, Alsace, Brittany, England, etc. Thus the focus of this page. It’s a small slice of squeeze-world, but it’s where I’m choosing to live.

4 thoughts on “A Good Question!

  1. Very nice post!
    I'll add that there are a number of manufacturers of “Steirische Harmonikas” in Austria. The “Steirische Harmonika” is a variety of diatonic accordion that generally has 3 or 4 rows of treble buttons and very deep “helikon” (“tuba”) basses.
    In Switzerland, there are a handful of workshops producing “Schwyzerörgeli,” which is a Swiss variant of diatonic accordion.
    Cajun accordion builders (of which there are dozens) are building what is basically a variant of a German diatonic accordion that was built in the early 20th century.
    It's out of print now, but a great survey of various kinds of accordion instruments, and the music played on them, is the multi-disk set “Planet Squeezebox.”


  2. Don't forget the Vallenato and Chamamé musics from South America in which the accordion is heavily featured.

    The humble diatonic button accordion gets all over the place – even Madagascar. The French began selling them there, now they are very popular. An excellent CD is “Madagascar: Accordéons et Esprits Ancestraux.”

    Here is a good webpage about that topic (in French).




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