Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2012

The accordion.

May 23, 1829: Cyrill Demian receives a patent for a new musical instrument. Cyrill was a maker of pianos and organs. He and his two sons, Karl and Guido, were living in Vienna, Austria when they submitted their patent. Consign: No. 1433 listed a new type of instrument consisting of a small box with “feathers of metal plates and bellows fixed to it” making it easy to carry and play. The new music maker was seven to nine inches long, three-and-a-half wide, and two inches high. The bellows were fixed above the box with five claves fixed below. The makers claimed, “Even an amateur of music can play the loveliest and most moving chords of three, four, and five voices with very little practice.” What instrument? The accordion.

The accordion is part of the free-reed aerophone family and is sometimes called a squeezebox because of the way the notes are created. The bellows are compressed while pressing on keys or buttons. This causes valves or pallets to open and the air rushes across strips of metal, called reeds. These brass or steel strips vibrate, creating the tones. The melody is played using buttons or keys on the right while accompaniment is played on the left using bass and pre-set chord buttons. The instrument can be considered to be a one-man band since it needs no other backup music.

Music has been with humans since the dawn of time. Chinese history traces music back to the court of the “Yellow Emperor,” Huang Ti or around the year 3000 BC. The ruler wanted music resembling the song of the phoenix bird and Ling Lun was said to have created the cheng, the fist known instrument to use a vibrating reed to produce musical tones. This instrument was shaped like a phoenix and used thirteen to 24 bamboo pipes, a small gourd was the resonator box and wind chamber, and a mouthpiece was attached. This was the first step towards the creation of the accordion.

Somewhere around 1770, the cheng became known in Europe. Some say this was the introduction of the free-vibrating reed principle in Europe while others point to earlier instruments using a similar technique in 12th and 13th century England. Small portable keyboards using bellows and reeds were used to accompany madrigal singers but went out of popularity because they frequently went out of tune. Demian’s patent is considered to be the first for a true accordion and the first to use the name for the instrument. Although there were many similar musical devices around in the 19th century, Demian’s instrument was the one that garnered the most attention and spread the popularity of the instrument.

Conversation didn’t seem necessary when I put the accordion down and swung some young lady around the floor. – Lawrence Welk

Do you know that my very first experience as a composer was a ‘Concerto for Accordion?’ – Alfred Schnittke

I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion. – Nicolas Cage

Ford used to come to work in a big car with two Admiral’s flags, on each side of the car. His assistant would be there with his accordion, playing, Hail to the Chief. – Richard Widmark

Also on this day:

Patience and Fortitude – In 1911 the main Research Library of the New York Public Library is dedicated.
Aaagh, Pirates – In 1701, Captain Kidd was hanged for piracy.
Two for the Price of One – In 1785, Ben Franklin claimed to have invented bifocals.

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