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Wheatstone English Concertina.jpg
Wheatstone English concertina, circa 1920
Other instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 412.132
(Free-reed aerophone)
Inventor(s) Sir Charles Wheatstone, Carl Friedrich Uhlig
Developed 1829, 1834
Related instruments
Accordion, harmonica, melodeon

A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument, like the various accordions and the harmonica. It has a bellows, and buttons typically on both ends of it. When pressed, the buttons travel in the same direction as the bellows, unlike accordion buttons, which travel perpendicularly to the bellows.

The concertina was developed in England and Germany, most likely independently. The English version was invented in 1829 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, while Carl Friedrich Uhlig announced the German version in 1834. Various forms of concertina are used for classical music, for the traditional musics of Ireland, England, and South Africa, and for tango and polka music.


The word concertina refers to a family of hand-held bellows-driven free reed instruments constructed according to various systems, which differ in terms of keyboard layout, and whether individual buttons produce the same ("unisonoric") or different ("bisonoric") notes with changes in direction of air pressure.

Because the concertina was developed nearly contemporaneously in England and Germany, systems can be broadly divided into English, Anglo-German, and German types. To a player proficient in one of these systems, a concertina of a different system may be quite unfamiliar.

English and Duet concertina

File:Wheatstone English Concertina Dismantled.jpg
English Concertina disassembled, showing bellows, reedpan and buttons.

The English concertina and the Duet concertina bear similarities in history and construction. Both systems generally play a chromatic scale, and are unisonoric, with each button producing the same note whether the bellows are being pushed or pulled. Both these English-developed instruments are smaller than German concertinas, and tend to be hexagonal, though occasionally having 8, 10, or 12 sides. The English system alternates the notes of the scale between two hands, enabling rapid melodies. The Duet system places the low notes on the left hand and high on the right, facilitating the playing of interlaced harmonies and melodies.

The English concertina is credited to Sir Charles Wheatstone, who first patented such a design in 1829 in Great Britain. Wheatstone was also the first to patent a Duet concertina, in 1844.[1]

German concertinas

File:Chemnitzer Concertina Star Old Timer.jpg
Chemnitzer concertina made by Star Mfg., Cicero, Illinois, USA in 2000

The German concertinas, developed within Germany itself for its local market and diaspora, tend to be larger than the English or Anglo concertinas. They are generally bisonoric, use a different style of "long plate" reeds, and tend to be square rather than hexagonal.[2] Unlike the English and Anglo, they sometimes have more than one reed per note, creating a vibrato effect.

Chemnitzer concertina

Various German concertina systems share common construction features and core button layout. In the United States, particularly in the Midwest where there are many German and Central European descendants, the term concertina often refers to the Chemnitzer concertina. Chemnitzer concertinas are bisonoric and are closely related to the bandoneón, but with a somewhat different keyboard layout and decorative style, with some mechanical innovations pioneered by German-American instrument builder and inventor Otto Schlicht.[3]:204 A related variant is the Carlsfelder concertina of C. F. Zimmerman, unveiled in 1849.[3]:1 and at the 1851 London Industrial Exposition.[4]


The bandoneon (also rendered bandoneón, bandonion) is a German concertina system with an original bisonoric layout devised by Heinrich Band. Although intended as a substitute for the organ in small churches and chapels, it was soon secularized and is now associated with tango music, due to the instrument's popularity in Argentina in the late 19th century when tango developed from various dance styles in Argentina and Uruguay.[5] Though the typical bandoneon is bisonoric, the 1920s saw the development of unisonoric variants such as the Ernst Kusserow and Charles Peguri systems, both introduced around 1925.[6]:18[7] Bandoneons typically have more than one reed per button, dry-tuned with the reeds an octave apart.[6]:18 Ástor Piazzolla was one of the most famous exponents of this instrument.

Anglo concertina

Bastari 40-button Anglo concertina

The Anglo or Anglo-German concertina is, historically, a hybrid between the English and German concertinas. The button layouts are generally the same as the original 20-button German concertinas designed by Uhlig in 1834, and in a bisonoric system. Within a few years of its invention, the German concertina was a popular import in England, Ireland, and North America, due to its ease of use and relatively low price. English manufacturers responded to this popularity by offering their own versions using traditional English methods: concertina reeds instead of long-plate reeds, independent pivots for each button, and hexagon-shaped ends, resulting in the modern Anglo concertina.


German concertina, mid 19th century

19th century

In the mid-1830s concertinas were manufactured and sold in Germany and England, in two types specific to the country. Both systems continued to evolve into the current forms as the popularity of the instrument increased. The difference in prices and the common uses of the English and German systems led to something of a class distinction between the two. German or Anglo-German concertinas were regarded as a lower-class instrument, and English concertina had an air of bourgeois respectability. English concertinas were most popular as parlour instruments for classical music, while German concertinas were more associated with popular dance music of the day.

In the 1850s, the Anglo-German concertina's ability to play both melody and accompaniment led English manufacturers to start developing the various Duet systems. The popular Maccann system were developed towards the end of the century. Meanwhile, German manufacturers were producing concertinas with more than 20 buttons for local sale. Three keyboard systems for German concertinas eventually became popular: Uhlig's Chemnitzer system, Carl Zimmerman's Carlsfeld system, and the Bandonion's Reinische system. Various German manufacturers tried to develop a single unified keyboard system for all German concertinas—but this was only partially accomplished at the end of the 19th century, when the Chemnitzer and Carlsfelder systems merged into the unified concertina system, and a unified bandonion system was created. Despite the new standards, the older systems remained popular into the 20th century.

The concertina was popular throughout the 19th century. The Salvation Army in England, America, Australia, and New Zealand commonly used concertinas in their bands, and other concertina bands and musicians performed in all parts of the English speaking world. German emigrants carried their Chemnizters and bandonions with them to the United States and Argentina where they were regionally popular. In England, America, and Australia the concertina became nearly ubiquitous.

Early 20th century

In the early 20th century, this popularity rapidly began to decline. Reasons included growing relative popularity of the accordion, mass production of other instruments such as the piano, increasingly chromatic and less tonal forms of music such as blues and jazz, and the overall decline of amateur musical performance due to radio and the phonograph. By the middle of the century, few concertina makers remained, and most of those used accordion reeds and inexpensive, unreliable button mechanisms. Yet, the various forms of concertina survived in some areas: Anglo concertinas in Irish traditional music, the English and the Anglo in English Morris dancing, the Anglo in Africa, among Afrikaners (see Boer music) and Zulus (who call it a "squashbox"), the Chemnitzer in the United States as a polka instrument, and the "bandoneón" in Argentina as a prominent part of the tango tradition. Between World War I and World War II, there were many concertina and bandonion bands in Germany, but with the rise of the Nazi regime these musical clubs disappeared.

Folk Revival and present

The folk revival movements of the 1960s led to a modest resurgence in the popularity of the concertina, particularly the Anglo. More recently, concertina popularity again seems on the rise, particularly the Anglo in the traditional music of Ireland. Renewed interest in tango since the 1980s has also seen interest in the bandoneón increase.

Traditional music playing continues in many parts of the UK in the 21st century, often using English and Anglo-system concertinas. Concertinas are mass-produced in Italy and China, and are produced by individual workshops in Europe, South Africa, Australia, and North America. Modern-made instruments are in a spectrum of quality and traditionalism, with the most expensive instruments using traditional concertina-type reeds, while mid-level and inexpensive instruments take advantage of the lower price of mass-produced accordion reeds.

See also


  1. Giacomo Meyerbeer (1 January 2002). The Diaries of Giacomo Meyerbeer: The years of celebrity, 1850-1856. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. pp. 138–. ISBN 978-0-8386-3844-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Helena Simonett (2012). The Accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco, and More!. University of Illinois Press. pp. 247, 316. ISBN 978-0-252-03720-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dan Michael Worrall (1 January 2009). The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History. Dan Michael Worrall. ISBN 978-0-9825996-1-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Tango: Geschichte und Geschichten. Deutscher Taschenbuch. 1999. p. 74. ISBN 978-3-423-24182-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Carlos G. Groppa (30 December 2003). The Tango in the United States: A History. McFarland. pp. 69–. ISBN 978-0-7864-2686-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Alejandro Marcelo Drago (2008). Instrumental Tango Idioms in the Symphonic Works and Orchestral Arrangements of Astor Piazzolla. Performance and Notational Problems: A Conductor's Perspective. ProQuest. ISBN 978-0-549-78323-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Rubén Pérez Bugallo (1 January 1993). Catálogo ilustrado de instrumentos musicales argentinos. Ediciones Del Sol. pp. 77–. ISBN 978-950-9413-49-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links