|What is a concertina?|
|A concertina is a bellows-driven free-reed musical instrument. So is an accordion, but there are differences. There are also different major and minor classifications of concertina.|
|Not an accordion|
The principal difference between concertinas and accordions is that accordions have keys or buttons which sound entire chords, while on a concertina each button sounds a single note of the scale. Concertinas are generally designed to be hand-held, while accordions are usually supported by the upper body through some sort of harness or straps. Also, the keyboards on both sides of a concertina face outward from the sides; on an accordion the bass/chord (left hand) buttons may be oriented similarly, but the melody (right hand) buttons or keys face forward away from the player.
Human inventiveness being what it is, there are of course instruments with mixed or ambiguous characteristics. That's OK. Classification is a convenience, not a purpose, and I'll mainly be dealing with instruments which are obviously concertinas.
|Different kinds of concertina|
There are two main "families" of concertina, the German and the English. Though the German and English designs originally differed in both keyboard layout and engineering, the English makers soon started making instruments with other keyboard layouts, including the German, but all with the English engineering. Evolution on the German side, on the other hand, mainly extended the orignal German keyboard, while retaining the original German keyboard concepts and engineering.
Today's communities of concertina players are largely separated into those who play the English-evolved variants and those who play the German-evolved ones, and that is the "family" distinction I'll use here. There is little overlap between the communities, with the result that either group will use the term "the concertina" without qualification to mean their own particular kind.
|The original German concertina was invented by Carl Uhlig and had the notes of a diatonic scale arranged in rows of buttons on each end, with each button sounding different notes on push and draw of the bellows (commonly called "bisonoric"). The original English concertina, invented by Charles Wheatstone, had Wheatstone's patented keyboard layout which was fully chromatic and played the same note in both bellows directions (commonly called "unisonoric"), but split the diatonic scale between the two hands.|
|The German branch: Bandoneon & Chemnitzer|
Inexpensive versions of Uhlig's early design, with two rows of buttons (20 buttons in all) and each row in a different key, are still common and popular.
There are two major branches of the more highly evolved German concertinas; they are commonly known as "bandoneon" and "concertina". Both generally have squeare ends. Both are large and heavy compared to English instruments, with partitioned bellows to allow extra support, and the "hand-held" criterion is more conceptual than real. Their keyboards are conceptually similar -- with different notes on push and pull, -- but differ considerably in detail, including both number of buttons and number of rows. Both generally have at least two reeds sounding at a time for each button.
The bandoneon is particularly popular in Argentina, and it has become known to the rest of the world largely through its prominence in tango music. The popularity of one "concertina" variant in the north-central United States has led to its name, "Chemnitzer", being commonly used instead of "concertina", especially when it's necessary to distinguish between these and the English instruments.
|The English branch: anglo, English, & duet|
|The English engineering, developed by Wheatstone, is more compact and precise than the German. This and the fact that English-construction concertinas have only one reed per button and bellows direction permits much smaller, lighter instruments which can truly be hand-held during playing. The English-construction instruments are further classified into three major types, based on keyboard. These are the "anglo", the "English", and the "duets". (Only in concertinas, it seems, do the words "English" and "anglo" mean very different things.)|
|The defining characteristics of the "anglo" keyboards are that they are bisonoric (individual buttons sound different notes on push and pull) and that the low notes are on the left-hand end, with the high notes on the right-hand end, and a small "overlap" of intermediate notes found on both ends.|
The "English concertina" has C. Wheatstone's original keyboard design, which is unisonoric and splits the musical scale between the two hands. In playing a diatonic scale, successive notes are on opposite sides of the instrument, with the lower notes being located closer to the player on each end and the higher notes being more distant from the player.
The "handle" of the English concertina is unique, consisting of a fixed loop on one side of the keyboard into which the thumb is inserted and a small, angled metal plate on the other side, under which the little finger can be inserted. Both anglos and duets have a handle which consists of a raised bar against which the palm rests and a strap to hold the hand in place against the bar.
|The "duet" keyboards are attempts to combine the unisonoric quality of the English with the anglo's placement of low and high notes in separate hands, with some overlap of notes on both ends. They also allow separate parts to be played independently in the two hands, hence the name "duet". There are four principle concertina variants based on the "duet" concept... the Maccann (or Wheatstone), the Crane (or Triumph), the Jeffries, and the Hayden, each with its distinctive keyboard layout.|
Apparently neither Uhlig nor Wheatstone used the name "concertina" for their instruments when they first invented them. Until recently there seemed to be no clear evidence as to when or by whom the name "concertina" was first applied to either instrument, but new research indicates that Wheatstone started using the term late in 1833. Whichever instrument was first called "concertina", it seems that the similar appearance and sound of these two technically quite distinct instruments led eventually to their being commonly called by the same name.
The name "anglo", on the other hand, has an interesting history. Some early examples of English-crafted instruments with the 20-button German keyboard were labelled "Anglo-German". When the third row -- containing further accidentals -- was added, some of these instruments were labelled "Anglo-Chromatic", and eventually the shorter intersection of the two names -- "anglo" -- came into common use for all English-made bisonoric instruments. When I started playing concertina in the early 1970's, it was still common to refer to the English-made instruments as "anglo", but the 20-button German-engineered instruments as "German". Since then, however, it has become standard to refer to even the simple German concertinas -- though not bandoneons or Chemnitzers -- as "anglos".
|Three main divisions... and the rest|
|The "English concertina" has C. Wheatstone's original keyboard design, which is unisonoric and splits the musical scale between the two hands, with four rows of buttons on each side. The standard "treble" English is fully chromatic, with 48 buttons and a range of 3-1/2 octaves, starting on the same low G as a violin. There are also standard versions with the ranges of viola ("tenor", or "tenor-treble") and cello ("bass"), as well as some with no equivalent in orchestral strings, one ("baritone") and two ("contrabass") octaves lower than the treble, and one octave higher ("piccolo"). English concertinas with extended ranges of 56 buttons (4 octaves) and 64 buttons (4-1/2 octaves) are not uncommon, and "miniatures", with 12-18 buttons and reduced ranges were also standard models.|
The simplest "anglo" keyboards are simply copies of the early two-row German system, with the two rows tuned to different keys a fifth apart (e.g., C/G or G/D) and of course different notes on push and pull. The English evolution of this system added a third row containing accidentals missing from the 20-button layout to provide a more-or-less chromatic 30-button layout. Further extensions to 40 buttons and even more were both less common and less regular. All of these English-design bisonoric instruments are called "anglos".
Anglos with the base keys C/G were and are the most common, with G/D instruments a fourth lower being the next most popular, at least today. Anglos an octave lower or higher than standard exist, though they are much rarer than their English counterparts. But other base keys -- e.g., Bb/F and D/A -- are not extremely rare.
|There have been several keyboard designs embodying the "duet" concept, but only four -- the Maccann (also known as Wheatstone), Crane (also known as Triumph), Jeffries, and Hayden (a relatively recent design) -- have enjoyed any significant popularity. These instruments range from 35 buttons (just over an octave in the left hand, 1-1/2 octaves in the right, and only two notes of overlap) to 80 buttons (3 octaves in the left hand, 3-1/2 in the right, and 1-1/2 octaves overlap). Duets with octave-shifted ranges exist, but are quite rare.|
Various exceptional concertinas may occasionally be found. Some have unusual keyboard layouts. Some English-made instruments have two reeds per note. Some German-made instruments imitate the appearance of English-style construction, while using German-style construction internally. Etc.
Eventually I hope to prepare a page describing and picturing some of these exceptional instruments.