1. Sheng, Jew's harp and the spirit of the age

The concertina, bandonion and accordion form the instrument family of the hand harmonicas (squeezebox). Their sound production, like that of the harmonica, is based on reeds that penetrate the body, which are already known from two very old instruments: the since more than 3000 years in China and Southeast Asia used mouth organ Sheng and the in many cultures used Jew's harp. The latter is proven in Europe until Celtic-Roman times.

The physicist C. G. Kratzenstein from Wernigerode got to know the sheng in St. Petersburg. He used this type of sound generation in his experiments on the artificial generation of speech sounds (1770-80). An acquaintance of his, the organ builder Kirschnigk, began to build keyboard instruments with piercing reeds around 1780 thanks to Kratzenstein's experiments and findings. His assistant Rackwitz in turn brought these ideas to Abbot Vogler (a teacher of Carl Maria v. Weber) in Germany, who introduced them to organ building (e.g. in 1792 for the organ of the Carmelite monastery in Frankfurt am Main). Organs had been built for centuries (even in small portable sizes as portatives and shelves), but the sound of a single pipe could not be made dynamic. Only on larger organs was it possible to change the volume at least gradually by combining several pipes to form choirs or by opening and closing sound covers.

The new sound ideal around 1800, however, was the singing tone, which was supposed to be changeable in volume and duration, as it were, as an expression of feelings, as in singing and violin. In contrast to the previously popular but static sounding lute and the harpsichord, now the swelling and declining of a tone delighted the listener. In this way, the spirit of the times promoted the spread of the free reed (in german also known as the tone-feather), first as an additional voice in organs, then in 1810 in the "Aeoline" of Eschenbach and Schlimmbach in Bad Königshofen, in 1821 in Anton Haeckel's "Physharmonika" in Vienna, until the instrument of the French organ builder Debain (1842), which was first called the "Harmonium". These, as well as other unnamed developments, are comparable to today's pianos in appearance and were supplied with wind by a pedal bellows. Some of these instruments, such as the physharmonika, were already produced in small, arm-sized models, on which one hand played and the other operated the bellows. The spread of another musical instrument with free reeds - the harmonica - also occurred during this period. Around 1825 this instrument was already in great demand. Initially equipped with only a few notes and attached to walking sticks and similar everyday objects, it was, however, in its early days more of a curious toy than a musical instrument. Before the first hand harmonicas were invented, free reeds had already led to two different new types of instruments: the harmonica variants oriented to piano and organ and the wind instrument harmonica.

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2. Who invented it?

In order to establish the family of hand harmonicas (hand pull bellows instruments), it took two changes to the hand organs (portativs) which have been in use for several centuries. Firstly, free reeds had to replace the pipes that had been used up to then. Shortly after 1800 this was done with Aeoline and Physharmonika. Secondly Secondly, the previously separate instrument parts: the manual, the sound generators and the bellows fuse into one unit. This way the movement of the bellows into the making music can be integrated, so that it must no longer be operated with one hand (which can not used for playing), a second person or pedals were needed.

Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann from Friedrichsroda in Thuringia, son of a instrument maker, took a decisive step in this direction in 1822. Bushman had already built what he called an 'aura' mouth aeoline with several reeds, the how a harmonica was blown on. He provided this aura with valves and connected it to a bellows, so that the wind pressure could be used to produce the sounds. Since the keys and the bellows now formed a structural unit, they could be operated with one hand. The already long known bellows instruments portativs and shelves with so far separated key and bellows operation (one hand or with an assistant on the bellows), could be adapted according to this principle to new types of hand pull instruments. These made it possible to design the single tone and thus a contemporary expressive play by the use of free reeds. Buschmann called his development "Handaeoline", soon also "Concertina". The members of the Buschmann family were not only instrument makers, but also lecturers, who on their many concert tours through Europe also brought their latest developments with them and made them public, so that imitations and further developments of their ideas are not long in coming had to wait.

At the same time Anton Haeckel in Vienna 1821 succeeded in making a decisive improvement in free reeds. He fixed it asymmetrically to its frame, not as usual centrally in the vibration frame, but on one side of the reedplate. His patent concerned "...thin leaves attached at one of their ends to a brass plate which is attached to the sheets of the same cut-out...". Although these reeds (in contrast to the the Sheng and the Jew's harp) only at one wind direction, but with a sound quality and volume never achieved before. He built these new reeds in the reed system of his designed "Physharmonica", a piano-like pressure wind instrument with pedal operation of the bellows. Its reed construction quickly became the standard.

The development thus includes various innovations of several resourceful minds, which together made the new family of hand harmonicas possible.

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Foot of a sheng pipe with a free reed. more


Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann (1805-64).


The asymmetrically attached reed of a mélophone. The reed is in its resting position one end of the oscillation channel into which it swings when the wind blows.

3. Cyrill Demian (Wien) and Charles Wheatstone (London).

Following Bushman's key idea, Cyrill Demian and Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) developed hand harmonikas, which were quite different in their purpose. Demian applied for a patent for an accordion in Vienna and offered the buyers of his first model 5 alternating tones for the left hand (the right hand operated the bellows), with 5 prefabricated chords (multiphonics: 3 major and 2 seventh chords) could be played.

Wheatstone built a concertina in London in 1833 with 24 keys of the same tone distributed to both hands - all single tones, which in contrast to Demian's diatonic tone supply, have a chromatic tone sequence. The instrument was conceived as a melody instrument and should compete with the violin. Demians  "Accordion", on the other hand, was for the harmonic chord accompaniment thought of singing. So a melody instrument and a chord instrument were developed separately - both in one will follow shortly afterwards. But already here at the beginning of the development there are the two different concepts: bisonoric and unisonoric.

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4. Why were the first hand harmonicas bisonoric?

By shifting the reeds into the bellows, wind can now be used in two ways to stimulate the tongues: when the bellows are pulled apart inflowing and when squeezing it outflowing wind. The reeds are in chambers (channels) made of wood, whose wind supply is controlled by the keys. Are two tongues of different pitch are installed in a chamber of a key in such a way, that one for pressure wind and the other for suction wind, two different tones can be called up with one key. The tone changes depending on the direction of movement of the bellows - the key has a different tone occupied. If this applies to the majority of keys, an instrument is called bisonoric.

This construction method does not arise from musical requirements, but enables a cost-effective manufacture, because a tone range can be accommodated in the smallest of space with the smallest possible number of keys and the following mechanism, because two different tones require only one key mechanism and one chamber. But each tone should be playable for both bellows directions would require twice the number of reeds, chambers and keys. Which would mean a higher price for the buyer but not a larger tone range. (Especially the reedplates with tongues are a considerable cost factor due to their complex production. Their machine production only succeeded from 1878 (Graf, p.114).) Cyrill Demian used this economic advantages in the development of its accordion, also because it is responsible for the playability of chords meant no restrictions. On the contrary, practical for the game was the changing Assignment of the chord keys with frequently occurring harmony sequences.. Cyrill Demian used this economic advantages in the development of its accordion, also because it meant no restrictions for the playability of chords. On the contrary, practical for the game was the changing assignment of the chord keys with frequently occurring harmony sequences. For example, with only one key pressed, the dominant and tonic are simply played. For the most common harmonic final turn, the finger can remain on the same key.

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The reedplate and 10 tongues cover the chambers for 5  keys of a very early concertina. The visible tongues sound when the bellows are compressed (pressure wind), the covered by leather when pulled apart (suction wind). The leather strips should avoid wind loss via the mute tongues. On the back of the reedplate are 5 leather for the visible tongues.

5. The Deutsche Konzertina (German concertina) from Chemnitz

The manufacturing centre of the early instruments with free reeds was Vienna. Mouth Harmonicas, the Physharmonika and also the first Accordion were made by instrument makers of this city. Through trade these instruments reached other regions and were copied there or used as inspiration for own developments. Around 1830 Carl Friedrich Uhlig (1789-1874) occupied himself as instrument maker in Chemnitz with the improvement of the Handaeoline of F. Buschmann and the Accordion from C. Demian. In the beginning his square instrument had both sides 5 bisonoric keys. However, there were no prefabricated chords (as was already the case with C. F. Buschmann), but only single notes, which in contrast to Demian's 'Accordion' means the branch of 'Deutsche Konzertina'. But this self-designation was only used later. The single tones were only available in one bellows direction (either tension or compression), because only one reed was built into each tone. Already around 1836 the range was increased to 40 tones (10 bisonoric keys on each side) and included 2 keys, e.g. C and G major. Between the left and right sides there was a gap of 4 tones, but already in 1840 the 56-tone model complemented the tonal ranges of both sides and were later built overlapping. Other manufacturers also made Konzertinas, for which a stock of 88 and 108 tones can be proven. The constant increase of the tone range was firstly the aim of enlargement of the tone range. On the other hand, repetition tones were built in for better playability, to play a tone not only in one but in both bellows directions.

Uhlig's 20- and 40-tone concertina with one or two keys were suitable for folk music, but due to the bisonoric principle, it is hardly possible to go beyond this. Because playing through notes, holding, ornaments (trill, mordent), nachschlag, or fast scale passes, everything that requires fast second steps is not possible at all or only with difficulty playable due to the necessary bellows changes. And if a chord is played on the left, it can only be added on the right with notes of the same bellows direction. With Uhlig's first enlargement of his concertina to 40 tones and two identically constructed rows of keys on the right hand side also resulted in 3 repeat tones (tone doubling), with whose help those tones could now be played for both bellows directions. At the end point of these tone expansions, which were carried out over decades, almost all tones were doubled. The original advantage of the bisonoric tone principle, the saving of reeds, mechanics and the resulting low-cost production, was eaten up by the need for a larger tone range. The development ultimately led to two reeds for each tone, as was the case decades earlier has been common practice at Wheatstone's Double Concertina from the very beginning. However, these two reeds were not assigned to one key each, as in Wheatstone within its consistently systematic keyboard system, but in their overwhelming majority, spread over two in line with changing priorities.

At the beginning of the development of models with only 10 keys, instruments with up to to over 70 keys and the resulting complexity not foreseeable. Although with tone expansions and repetition tones the described musical limitations as far as possible have been overcome, but only at a significant cost to learners: at this path of development, a tone (dis)order was established in complete contrast to a spatially logical, systematically structured keyboard system. This circumstance should today be a major reason why there is not much interest in learning this instrument in Germany. A keyboard with bisonoric tones follows the logic of the favourable grip as far as possible. However which tones are hidden behind which key, cannot be opens up by the learner by a logical system, but requires an (actually unnecessary) extremely high learning effort for the orientation on the keyboard alone. Four different tone arrangements are to be learned: the manual on the left and right side - each for push and pull, without a corresponding musical advantage compared to an unisonoric instrument.

That despite the ever-increasing complexity of the following tone enhancements, the bisonoric principle was further maintained is probably best explained by the fact, that the buyers of the first Konzertinas with small tone stock was also considered a potential customer for the following expanded models. Every tone extension had to take into account their learned playing skills, what excluded a change from the once established keypad system. Generally speaking, a path dependency arises. A Reproduction mechanism that matches the initial investment and benefits of manufacturers and players continues to follow, although these are already proving to be sub-optimal. The once selected bisonoric basic principle is no longer questioned. Alternative modifications of the keyboard system were made from the middle of the 19th century only on the basis of this principle, manufacturer-dependent and without a uniform standard. Rather various regional solutions for the most favourable grip options are developed in the search for Keyboard layout, which are also reflected in corresponding designations: the "Chemnitzer-", "Carlsfelder-" and "Rheinsche" system. These designate different spatial arrangements (positions) of the keys on the manual and the assignment of the tones. There is no connection on tone pitch.

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Repeated tones on the manual of a Konzertina

6. The English concertina from London

Charles & Wheatstone in London also built single tone harmonicas, but from the beginning unisonoric. With his 'Concertinas' the same tone sounds on one key in both bellows directions. Initially the tones in a scale changes continuously between the left and right manual. Wheatstone had adopted this from his earlier built 'Symphonion', a wind instrument with free reeds. But he soon gave this up in favour of his Double Concertina. This has already similar chromatic manuals on both sides, while still for a longer time the bisonoric German concertina remained built up mainly diatonic according to scales. By opting for the unisonoric principle, Wheatstone's early Double Concertina enabled (in contrast to Uhlig's Konzertina) a game independent of bellows changes. The musical design possibilities were no longer subject to structural restrictions. At Wheatstone musical aspects had priority over economic aspects of production. As a result of this fundamental difference between the two instruments the designation distinguishes between English Concertina' and 'German Concertina' (abbreviated here also by the notation with 'Concertina' or 'Konzertina').

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English concertina by Wheatstone from London with the case cover removed. Characteristic is the hexagonal construction. Also the inner construction is fundamentally different to the German Concertina.

7. The Bandonion in Krefeld

The concertina, built by C. F. Uhlig in Chemnitz since 1834, also came to Heinrich Band (1821-60) in Krefeld in the Rhineland. This one had opened an instrumental shop in 1843 where soon also Konzertinas were sold. This were extended in the range of tones according to his designs. That the conceptual delimitations were not yet firmly established at that time is shown by a learning guide for bandonion which was published in 1855 as an "Accordion" school. For 1856 the name "Bandonion" introduced by H. Band can be proven. Deviations from this have only come into circulation much later.

So what is the difference between a Konzertina and a bandonion? Only in the System according to which additional keys and tones are arranged on the manual to expand the tone range were. For the manufacturers of the Konzertinas, this was done in a vertical position, whereas for H. Band especially in horizontal direction. This means that a concertina can only be 4 vertical rows, whereas a bandonion has up to 6. A bandonion is therefore a after H. Bands concept extended Konzertina. This comes for the first time with the expansion of 56 to 60 tones for use. H. Band itself already sold instruments with up to 130 tones. Based on the keyboard system from H. Band, the model with 142 Tönen ("Tango-bandonion") was later developed, as well as the Einheitsbandonion. The latter represented from 1924 the attempt to unify the different bandonion systems, but this failed. All these models were produced of numerous instrument makers, mainly in Germany, where they were not limited to one product, but according to demand Konzertinas, bandonions, accordions, but also (mouth) harmonicas. The industrial city of Chemnitz in Saxony was transformed by C. F. Uhlig's work into a place of origin of the production. Subsequently developed between Carlsfeld in the Erzgebirge and the neighbouring so called "Musikwinkel" around Klingenthal in the Vogtland the most important manufacturing region of Konzertinas and bandonions. Produced was also by companies in Berlin, Gera, Bitterfeld, Magdeburg, Zwickau, Waldheim (Saxony), Munich, Vienna and other.

Initially, the term bandonion was only used to distinguish it from the handle systems of the Konzertina. From 1900 onwards it was increasingly used by the public as a collective term for Konzertina and bandonion. Decisive for the naming was no longer the special keyboard system of Heinrich band, but only the single tone principle, the two-handed bellows and the outer appearance.

So to whom does the bandonion owe its existence?
The basic constructive design was developed by C. F. Uhlig from Chemnitz at his Konzertina (German concertina) preceding the bandonion. On H. Band the naming is connected with its special Rheinisch keyboard system, the basis of the later tango instruments. For the also international renown provided the two most important bandonion building companies in the world "Alfred Arnold" (AA) and "Ernst Louis Arnold" (ELA) in Carlsfeld. Both were emerged from the local Konzertina factory of C. Zimmermann.

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The mainly horizontal extension of a bandonion manual. These 6 rows are is based on the Rhenish keyboard system by Heinrich Band. Shown here on the 142-tone bandonion.


Production facilities in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century

8. Music from the clothesline: The Griffschrift

As already explained, the concertina and bandonion developed with bisonoric tonal key assignments. However, this does not follow a logical system. It is impossible to conclude from one key to the tone of an other key, because there are no regular, recurring tone intervals between the keys.

But how could such an instrument become a popular instrument? The solution of this riddle is the Griffschrift (grip writing or number notation). In order to be able to play in spite of the confusing tone arrangement and to provide a necessary orientation for learning the instrument, the keys have been numbered. The non-logical tone allocation of the keys was replaced by a logically arranged numbering system. These numbers have been written as so-called Griffschrift (number notation for the keys to be gripped) and are placed in front of the notes in the learning materials. Originally intended as a learning aid, however, the grip writing was soon transferred to all sheet music in general. Because with it the tones on the instrument could be found logically. And in order to acquire a playing skill, the learning of notation was no longer absolutely necessary. Even those unfamiliar with musical notation were able to find the right tone on the instrument. but also for musicians who played by notes it became tempting to play only by key numbers. In contrast to the assignment of notes to the keys, the key numbers are a system that can be understood on the instrument. And if numbers promote sales more than notes, the manufacturers will not stand in the way of this practise.

The usual notation of a piece of music was reduced by 1900 to such an extent, that only a line that "clothesline" was left over, on to which the numbers "hung". These have been supplemented by signs for the tone duration and necessary bellows direction. The enormous time saving for obtaining the playfulness had its downside of course. The most Konzertinas and bandonion players could not play by notes, but they needed the Griffschrift. This had to be appropriate for the type of instrument, so that the numbers corresponded to the keypad used. For one piece of music there were therefore extra printouts for the Carlsfelder-, Chemnitzer- and Rhenish keypad system (which are not all of them yet). But before all the simplest music theory education was impossible, because it is based on notes and not numbers.

What may seem curious in retrospect made the Bandonion in Germany to a people's instrument. Only through the Griffschrift the Konzertina and bandonion achieved their broad effect, because it made the bisonoric principle spatially and logically controllable for the players. In addition, the Griffschrift also made it possible for those not familiar with music (and that was the vast majority) to play an instrument, the price of which (in contrast to a piano) was affordable for workers and small employees (if even under deprivation). It was the "little man's" piano, who not had the time by the long working hours and only one day off from work to learn a bisonoric instrument according notes as is still required today. One learned sequences of numbers instead of notes, because it was faster to reach the desired goal of making music in a bandonion club or family for fun and conviviality. Without the help of the Griffschrift, the bisonoric instruments would have not retained their wide range of distribution. Only this gave one actually difficult to learn and playable instrument a large group of buyers.

Conversely, however, this means that its popularity depends above all on the acceptance of the Griffschrift. But this is completely useless for a music theoretical education. In the past, adults often acquired a bandonion, for whom was the quick acquisition of the ability to play in an association the focus. A deeper music education was mostly a privilege for children of wealthy parents who had the necessary money. Today music schools educate children from all walks of life. Parents expect their children to be educated not only in learning mere playing skills, but above all a music theoretical knowledge based on notes. With this claim is not more space for a note replacement like the Griffschrift. With the renunciation of this, the bisonoric Bandonion loses its makeshift, logical orientation system, without which the learning effort increases by a many times over.

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There are no notes here. What for, most people said to themselves, if it is easier with numbers goes. Due to this long and widespread playing practice, in Germany a bisonoric instrument were also called number bandonion. The Griffschrift (tabulator) are also used for bisonoric accordions and the guitar.


"The C major scale is ...,
try playing by notes and maybe learn it''

9. Why are there unisonoric instruments?

An instrument in which the tone allocation of the keys is not affected by recurring relationships logically, but must be learned hard, is only by a small tone range easy to learn. The larger the range, the greater the learning effort. Four different tone assignments (left, right for pull and push) must be learned. No two melodies are alike. Every chord grip, every inversion are unique for left, right and each bellows direction. Just to learn the tone allocation must be estimated at around 2 years. Logically structured manuals, on the other hand, allow not only the faster mastering of the tone allocation, but offer repetitive grip patterns and at best even fingerings (use of the same fingers) when playing. Time and energy of the learners do not have to use for a lengthy, mere tone orientation, but can be directed much earlier to the essential, the actual making of music.

Just as the unisonoric principle became more and more established in accordion making, from 1900 there were also first attempts to build the Bandonion bisnoric and to equip it with a logical keypad system. On other hand harmonicas, however, this was started much earlier. The English Concertina by dozens of British manufacturers has been built from the start since the 1830s unisonoric and with logical keypad system. Around 1870 is the "Wiener chromatische Harmonika", later called Schrammelharmonika, verifable with a bisnoric and logical keypad (B-grip). Their development may extend to 1854 back. It becomes the forerunner of all today's unisonoric accordions. 1891 Dr.med. Franz M. Gerl from Hindelang patented his single tone Handharmonium as unisonoric on both sides. In 1892 a unisonoric predecessor of the Symphonetta has been applied for a patent.

An unisonoric bandonion was only logical. A corresponding keyboard system was designed by the multiple inventor Kaspar Wicky (1866-1917) and patented in 1896. With this unisonoric and chromatic system of whole-tone rows, he built his Schweizer Concertina with four different tone supplies as a small concertina or in bandonion size. Wicky's system was independently invented a second time by Brian Hayden in 1963, patented in 1986 and still built in series as the Hayden-Duet (Concertina).

1903 Julius Zademack (1874-1941) presented another model in Germany, which however contained two different manuals. Their optimisation has been the subject of a constant tinkering, which 1925 flowed into the model Kusserow. In 1920 Hugo Stark (1873-1965) developed in Auerbach/ Vogtland his model Chromatiphon according to the unisonoric principle with logical keypad system. From 1926 the company Schönherr u. Matthes (Olbernhau) built the model Praktikal. On both sides the 5-row C-grip system of the button accordion use, which 1996 from Norbert Gabla was taken up again in a different form in its development of his Hybridbandonion. For all these and many unnamed models, new manuals have been used, which were designed completely different from the bisonoric bandonions.

Unisonoric instruments were also made by rebuilding the bisonoric bandonion. This happened to avoid a complex and expensive new construction and to be able to keep the size and construction of the instrument for tonal reasons. The unisonoric principle following each chamber had to be equipped with two equally tuned reeds. I.e. other reedplates are installed and if necessary, the soundpost should be adjusted. The latter because the shape and size of a chamber vary according to the reed inside it. In this way, an bisonoric model could be converted with a manageable modifications relatively inexpensive and with an timbre of a bisonoric instrument. Probably the most frequently used system in this way is the Péguri-Bandonion, developed around 1920 by Charles Péguri (1879-1930) in France. There were still many more designs, samples or small series, to make an unisonoric from a bisonoric bandonion by exchanging the reedplates and smaller modifications. (Lastly from 2007 with the model from A. Birken). In contrast to these ways, which keep the shape of the bisonoric manuals, for a different manual form not only exchanged reedplates, but the entire keypad mechanics, soundposts, case frame etc. The whole instrument has to be redesigned, which naturally causes a considerable effort and cost as well as changes the sound. The price of such a prototype can correspond to that of ten instruments produced in series.

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Symphonetta in use. The predecessor of this table instrument with two bellows was developed in 1892.


Swiss concertina by Kaspar Wicky in the collection of the Castle Museum Beromünster/ CH. Manual consisting of whole tone rows, each shifted by a fifth in relation to the other. Also known as Janko keypad, there but only with a half tone offset.


An bisonoric bandonion was transformed by a new tone allocation of the manuals into a unisonoric. Charles Péguri thought of this way around 1925. The instrument in the picture was made around 1960.

10. Unisonoric bandonions - a short comparison

Decisive for the evaluation is the ergonomic playability, the logical order of the keypad and design effort including resulting timbre. Meisel, Praktical, Chromatiphon and Péguri, all of which use the C/B grip of the button accordion have a more difficult way of playing. Because on the button accordion the hand is moved at an angle of 45° along up and down the manuals, which, however, is not possible due to the hands being tied to the bandonion in a hand strap or thumb hole. Here must be played fixed at an angle of 90° to the manual alignment, which makes it difficult to play the melodyis with the C/B grip. This technical shortcoming is confirmed by the development of the Hybridbandonion where, to avoid this problem, the manuals are mounted at an angle at the front. There are no tight but wide hand straps, which extend over the entire height of the case as on an accordion and in which the hands can move more freely. The front manuals and wide hand straps require, especially when playing staccato, a greater dexterity and the lack of auxiliary rows a larger number of grip variants. The latter concerns also the Péguri, but where the C-grip is only part of the keypad system.

Praktikal, Meisel, Chromatiphon and also the Kusserow have been designed for the additional space requirements of their auxiliary rows (16-25 keys on one side) usually built in slightly larger housings, what the timbre deviates from the bisonoric bandonion. The péguri, on the other hand, use the case of a bisonoric instrument therefore has no auxiliary rows. In the Kusserow, the mechanics of the auxiliary rows required complex sheet metal bending work, which could only be replaced in 2005 by Peter Spende with the installation of a reform keypad and under renunciation of an auxiliary row. For the timbre, the size of the housing could be adapted to the bisonoric bandonion. (However, Alfred Arnold already built Kusserows in the 1930s in the dimensions of bisonoric bandonions)

In summary, it can be said that 'unisonoric' does not yet say anything about sound and technical quality. The Kusserow convinces with its constructional innovations of 2005 as an unisonoric bandonion type in playing technique and sonic. The ergonomically best solution of a continuous C/B grip on the Bandonion certainly offers the Hybridbandonion.

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Hybridbandonion with wide hand strap and diagonally mounted manuals at the front


Praktical with C-grip and thumb hole
(see enlargement)

11. Unisonoric or chromatic, diatonic or bisonoric?

The superficial use of these terms are for laymens who are interested in hand harmonicas always a source of misunderstandings. Because often instead of 'unisonoric' the term 'chromatic' is used, and instead of 'bisonoric' 'diatonic'. But these are completely different facts. Chromatic and diatonic describe a musical aspect, the type of tone range of an instrument. In contrast, unisonoric and bisonoric are constructional conditional functional features: unisonoric means, one key makes the same ton on push and pull by two identically tuned reeds in a chamber; bisonoric, however, two differnet tones by two various tuned reeds.

In contrast to this chromatic describes an instrument that has additional tones beyond a scale. With these the musical play can be 'colored' (Chroma = Color), in contrast to diatonic instruments (dia = passing through a scale), which can only be played over the the tones of one or more scales. The terms diatonic and chromatic describe the type of tones available in terms of the ton stock, but not their key assignment, whether the same or different tones sound on one key. For example with a chromatic instrument, chromatic (extended) tone sequences can be played, more as the 7 diatonic tones of a major or minor scale, which are only a part of the 12 tones of an octave. However, this can also be used for bisonoric intruments, as soon as its tone range has not only own tones of a scale, but also external tones. Full chromatic means that as with the piano, each octave comprises 12 semitone steps, i.e. 12 tones without gaps. In contrast to the bisonoric, the unisonoric instruments were built fully chromatic from the beginning (Engl. Concertina, Schrammelharmonika, Handharmonium, Symphonetta, Swiss Conzertina), so that the (incorrect) equation of chromatic and unisonoric naturalized itself in linguistic usage. Since bisonoric instruments were built only with diatonic tone range for a long time, followed analogously the (incorrect) linguistic equation of diatonic and bisonoric. It is true that diatonic harmonicas are almost always built bisonoric, but for example the diatonic Russian hand harmonica Harmoshka is an unisonoric instrument. Conversely, for example, the bisonoric Einheitsbandonion is a fully chromatic instrument, whose tone range is continuously in semitone steps like a piano and is therefore not limited to the tones of individual scales.

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Harmoshka from Russia: diatonic and unisonoric

12. Why of all things Bandonion?

Each type of instrument has its own charms. In this treatise on the bandonion it is but allows its peculiarities to be emphasised. All squeezeboxes with their free reeds combine characteristics of completely different types of instruments. On the one hand, as with the piano, harpsichord and organ are played in several voices and the melody itself is accompanied harmoniously. Furthermore a dynamic sound design is possible, which can only be achieved with string and wind instruments. This squeezebox combination of polyphony, accompaniment and dynamic sound design is unique and represents both an opportunity and a challenge. This characteristics enable even a solo musician to give a filling performance. In contrast to the accordion, bandonion also have single tone systems on both sides, as C. F. Uhlig and C. Wheatstone had decided to build instruments without ready chords. Also the left hand should play single tones over the entire tone range of the left side. A standard bass accordion is content with less, which is, among other things, its wide range of distribution explained. In addition, the demanding bellows work must be mastered by one arm while at the Bandonion both are available and enable a more controlled (e.g.  for tango sharper) bellows guidance. Furthermore the instrument can be play in a completely relaxed position. The arms are not subjected to strenuous playing positions because the instrument rests practically and comfortably on the thighs.

The bandonion can produce a distinctive sound that is clearly distinguishable from the accordion. When the timbre of an accordion stroke the ears, like a cat cuddling around the legs, so the bandonion appear with more distance. Their sound has a certain effect more brittle, sharp and direct than the soft, pleasing accordion sound. However, the size of this difference depends on the type of bandonion is adapted to the preferences of the audience. The timbre is significantly influenced by the number of choirs and how they are tuned to each other. One-choir instruments can be good for aural training in children but they sounds 'naked' and are therefore unusual. Two choirs, on the other hand, have a sufficient base fullness. If not tuned to beat, they are clear, sharp and rich in contrast. In the higher tones they are almost shrill. Like a violin, its sound can pass through your bone and marrow or even tear the heart apart. Not for nothing this is the desired timbre of the Tango with its yearning sounds full of unfulfilled hope and disappointed love, as it sung in the lyrics of tango music - melancholic, sad or quick-tempered and love-crazed. In short - Tango is not music that makes you joyful and jubilant tapping the thighs, like e.g. with Polka or Schuhplattler.

In contrast to the Tango, the latter were preferably played in former times especially in Southern Germany with choirs tuned to beat slightly different. The unisonoric bandonion by Charles Péguri was mostly tuned to beat for the French Musette. But a tuned beat is not incompatible with classical music or the strongly rhythmic of tango with its characteristic intermittent playing (staccato). However, a bandonion should not be judged by whether sounds with or without tuned beat. Rather, the question arises whether a beat to the music being played fits. But tuned beat is waived (as is generally usual today), then a bandonion unfolds its unique timbre most clearly. On instruments where more than two choirs sound together, this is lost again a little bit, because the timbre will softer, more organ-like, more blurred, which is further intensified by a beat. That is why such instruments are mostly used solo or only in small formations, because it is difficult to assert themselves in larger chapels due to the lack of sound contrast.

Besides the unmistakable timbre of a bandonion, there are two non-musical aspects mentioned: its size and weight. A bandonion is easy to transport. Who was allowed to carry a a standard bass accordion with 96 or even 120 basses, will be able to weight the luxury of a instruments in suitcase size, especially with this single tone instrument potentially more is possible. Single tone accordions also offer these possibilities, but require with the most common converter models an additional weight in mechanics and a significant larger housing. How does this relate to your own musical and tonal ideas, everyone has to weigh up for themselves.

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Bild Gran Orquestra Carambolage from Germany
Direction: Jürgen Karthe (left)
Today a worldwide rare listening experience: Tango, played by a bandonion orchestra (founded 2011)


Particularly popular in Southern Germany - the tuned beat. Probably also among the Marquartsteiners
around 1912. (From Sänger- u.Musikantenzeitung 1986)

13. Bandonion? What is that? Questions of today

This question may sound exaggerated, but unfortunately it is the result of many everyday experiences. In Germany only a few people can still associate a concrete idea with the term bandonion. In one area of course this does not apply - that of tango music. The bandonion lives and is at its centre and symbolises them. Diverse national and international activities reach a large circle of tango lovers. The Tango music has been saved the instrument over the last decades and mainly through the tango music it still experiences a noteworthy public perception. This is a good thing, but it also has its downside. The bandonion is perceived, if at all, as a pure tango instrument. Only a few people still know about its use beyond this area. It disappears, as it were in a Drawer. An interest in the instrument stands or falls often with the personal attitude towards Tango music.

But to limit the bandonion to tango does not do justice to its manifold possibilities of playing and expression. With the playful possibilities of a piano certainly comparable, it can be used in the most diverse musical styles. Classical piano and Organ works can be a rich field of activity for bandonion players. Representative of this field is Rene Marino Rivero (Uruguay) with its classical repertoire. Dino Saluzzi (Argentina) even demonstrates the diversity of the instrument in the field of jazz. At Per Arne Glorvigen from Norway, the complete musical breadth of bellows can be experienced. And the traditional possibilities in the folk and Entertainment music goes without saying. A large and grateful audience would find at Folk festivals, in beer gardens, while hiking, as well as at events with family and friends. Just - the instrument is (at least in Germany) hardly audible anymore. Apart from the lower presence of amateur music at all in comparison to the earlier, which is largely due to today's technical world, the question arises as to the reasons for the absence of the Bandonions in Germany.

Why is an instrument that was once an integral part of everyday culture in Germany almost unknown and hardly to be found? There are several reasons for this. The first incision brought the mass introduction of the much easier to learn unisonoric piano accordions around 1930, which the confusing multitude of various concertina and bandonion models opposite. Also with the intensified turn to musical notation, the difficult learnable bisonoric instruments lost their acceptance. Furthermore from 1920 changed the taste of music lasting through the influences of jazz. The decision whether to play the piano accordion or bandonion also became a generational issue. However, special consideration must be given to that bandonion music in Germany was primarily club music. The Bandonion clubs were the relevant places for the dissemination of the instrument. But they served not only the musical purpose, but also always fulfilled a social one. The former variety of concertina and bandonion player is not only explained by the instrument, the musical aspect, but also by the social function of the associations among workers, small businesses and simple employees. In their decision for this instrument, not only musical ideas, but often the social environment is decisive. No matter how the weighting between musical demands and social gathering in the individual clubs may have been, the clubs formed the existential framework for the wide dissemination of the instrument (see Graf).

Most of them, however, with their adherence to the Griffschrift, the often missing knowledge of music theory and due their age structure were neither able nor willing to acquire new challenges. They embodied with their mainly from the imperial period play goods no modernity in these times of rapid technological, cultural and political changes. This could not remain without consequences for the public perception of the instrument and the recruitment of young talents. The 1924 established nationwide organisational structure of the bandonion movement broke up again after 10 years also as a result of these contrasts. The Second World War, which soon followed, also tore many gaps in the local music clubs.

The close connection between bandonion clubs and the spread of the instrument had led to the consequence that a decline in the number of clubs was also associated with a decline in the number of instruments. In addition to the dwindling number of clubs, the effects of the war also caused the end of the production structures of manufacturers whose main centres were now located in the Soviet occupation zone. As a result of the expropriations there, many company owners and production managers moved to the West Germany, while the highly specialised workforce was left behind in the East. Both could not really replace the missing part.

But in addition to these factors of the instrument environment, the reasons for today's absence of the bandonion in comparison to the presence of the accordion must also be sought on the instrument. Because Klingenthal and Carlsfeld remain in the GDR production centres of the instrument industry. The  bandonion production will soon be discontinued - in favour of the accordion. The VEB Klingenthaler Harmonikawerke supplied large parts of Eastern Europe with Weltmeister accordions. With  corresponding demand, the bandonion in the GDR could also have been built further. But this demand was no more. This was not only the case for manufacturers in the East, where demand was not necessarily a mandatory criterion for the planned economy, but also those in West Germany and West Berlin.

At the end of the 1960s the bandonion production had come to a standstill. A first revival was carried out by Klaus Gutjahr in West Berlin, who produced in 1976 a further developed bisonoric bandonion in his own construction and has made many improvements to the 142-tone and Unit Bandonion over the years.

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BildJazz - in Poland, where else? Dino Saluzzi and son at the Festiwal Jazz na Starówce in 2008.

14. From high into low

An accordion is comparatively easy to learn, if it is bisonoric and has a logical keypad. Konzertina and bandonion were also easy to learn, if the numbering of the keys and the corresponding Griffschrift was used. This was until the 1930s the Standard with the bisonoric bandonion. Note players were the exception. The Griffschrift was the logical makeshift system of the bisonoric instruments, such as  tabulator still make playing the guitar easier today. With the increasing turn towards playing by notes even in the layman's area and the associated turning away from the Griffschrift, the very high learning effort of a bisonoric keypd comes to light. Instruments are often recommended and a difficult to learn is not good advertising. This may not be a good argument under musical aspects, but  for the distribution of an instrument this is a decisive factor besides the price.

But although there were also easier to learn unisonoric instruments from 1925 onwards, also these are no longer present. Their development came probably too late, because around 1930 the marketing of the standard bass accordion was already at full speed, as a result of which the bandonion is strongly lost acceptance. Whoever felt obliged to playing by notes, resorted to the general fashion following rather to the accordion, than to rack their brains ober the existence of a new unisonoric bandonion type. The time for the unisonoric bandonion was much too short, as that it could have established itself as an alternative to the bisonorics and possibly can uncouple from its incipient decline. Due the much lower production figures of unisonoric instruments, there is no corresponding second-hand market for beginners today. With new-prices from 4.500 Euro, this is also a considerable obstacle for the distribution of a musically potent instrument.

The new companies of bandonion construction, wich were founded in Saxony since 1990 continued there due to market conditions, where in the 1940s the former end point was reached - at the Tango market with its traditional focus on bisonoric instruments. Another market, such as folk and entertainment music, no longer existed for the bandonion around 1990. Already in the 1930s, the tango market brought the company Alfred & Arnold a production high. Over 30.000 instruments were exported to Argentina, while at the same time, sales in Germany were already declining. The tango musicians were a welcome market, which made them the focus of interest for manufacturers and distributors - until today. However, almost all tango musicians use the bisnoric bandonion as without alternative. With today's market-driven advertising for this only at great expense learnable type of bandonion, many interested people will probably not be able to learn how to play the instrument, which they might go with a unisoric model with logical keyboard. In concrete terms this e.g. the once famous Kusserow- Bandonion nowhere is mentioned in the product range on the manufacturer's pages, although in 2005 Peter Spende had considerably optimised this system on the left side in the style of Hugo Stark's Reform keybad. Who is interested in playing the bandonion, but he can not make friends with bisonoric instruments, for whom one of the most useful alternatives is not visible. The last 30 years show that with the superficial application more bisonoric instruments, the interest in playing the bandonion in Germany has not increased. Not to mention from a reunion in everyday life.

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Translated with help of DeepL.com/Translator


Who still wants to play bandonion at this sight? Besides the easier learning and playing also the marketing of the company Hohner provided for the rapid spreading of the piano accordion. Compared to the bandonion it embodied modernity. The picture shows Die Ahrensschwestern, a very popular well-known accordion quintet around 1938.


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