The Matusewitch Family: A Bibliography

For three generations, stretching back to the early twentieth century, the Matusewitch family has stood at the forefront of both the concertina and accordion worlds. Gregory (1886-1939), the family patriarch, concertized extensively in Russia and Europe before moving the family to the United States in 1923, where he had a relatively brief but active career under the auspices of the young impresario Sol Hurok. The wide spectrum of his performances included appearances in major concert halls (including New York’s Carnegie Hall and Town Hall), on early American radio broadcasts and recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company, and even, for a time, on the vaudeville circuit.

Boris (1918-1978), the younger of Gregory’s two sons, succeeded him as the USA’s leading concertinist and teacher of the instrument. Over the course of a rich and varied career, he performed at west coast nightclubs, gave annual concerts at Carnegie Recital Hall, appeared on leading television shows, was a featured soloist with orchestras, and teamed up with dancer Rod Strong in an innovative combination of music and dance. As for his students: they are legion. Gregory’s other son, Sergei (1917-1998), was primarily an accordionist, though he also played the concertina and taught the instrument together with Boris at their New York music studio from the 1950s through the 1970s. Finally, Boris’s son, Eric (b. 1951), represents a third generation of the family; and though content to call himself an amateur, he often performed publicly with his father at venues that included Carnegie Recital Hall.

In addition to popularizing the English concertina in the United States, the Matusewitch family’s legacy includes two concertina tutors, several recordings, a handful of original compositions for concertina and accordion, a veritable slew of journal articles about the family, and scrapbooks full of glowing reviews and other notices. These materials constitute a significant collection of (largely English-language) material both by and about the family and form the core of the bibliography that follows.

The bibliography deals with the careers of Gregory, Boris, and Sergei. The entries, which range chronologically from 1922 to the present day, are organized in nine parts, some alphabetically by author/title (the latter for those that are unsigned), others chronologically by ‘event’: I. books and monographs; II. articles in journals, newspapers, and newsletters; III. select concert notices and reviews; IV. a list of compositions written for concertina and accordion by Gregory and Sergei Matusewitch, respectively; V. Boris on Broadway; VI. a reference to Boris’s television appearance; VII. recordings; VIII. concertina tutors; and IX. miscellaneous items. Finally, some entries for journals and newspapers lack references to volume and/or page numbers, this because I have gleaned them from scrapbook clippings that were clipped with just a little too much abandon.

I. Books

Atlas, Allan W. The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).
Atlas dedicated his book to Boris and Sergei, with whom he studied concertina and accordion, respectively; he notes that the great concertina virtuoso of the first half of the 20th century, Gregory Matusewitch, ‘played mainly violin music, as did his sons Boris and Sergei’ (p. 72, n. 75).

Carlin, Richard. English Concertina (New York: Oak Publications, 1977).
Carlin points out that Gregory was a Russian concertina ‘master’ who toured England and the USA; contains photos of Boris with dance partner Rod Strong, c. 1952 (p. 6) and Gregory and a pupil, from the 1920s (p. 53).

Flynn, Ronald, Edwin Davidson, and Edward Chavez. The Golden Age of the Accordion (Schertz, TX: Flynn Associates, 1984).
Includes an interview with John Reuther, the founding editor of Accordion World, who notes that Sergei studied accordion with Pietro Deiro and taught at Wurlitzer’s in New York during the 1930s (pp. 142-143); there is a photo of Sergei (p. 158).

Rose, Alexander. Memoirs of a Heterosexual (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967).
The author, who studied with Boris, writes that he ‘[h]eard a concertina player in a night club and rushed to Matusewitch, the famous concertina artist, [the] next day for lessons’ (p. 284).

Taubman, Howard. The Pleasure of Their Company: A Reminiscence (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1994).
The former New York Times music and drama critic served in the army (entertainment unit) with Boris during World War II; he fondly recalls Boris as a friend and musician, writing that ‘Boris played the concertina brilliantly, and his repertoire was enormous’ (pp. 133-34).

Wagner, Christoph. Das Akkordeon oder die Erfindung der populären Musik (Mainz: Schott, 2001).
Includes a discussion of Gregory’s career, along with a publicity photo taken in Danzig during the 1920s (pp. 152-54).

II. Journals, Newspapers, and Newsletters

Accordion World 8 (September 1942); 9 (November 1943).
The covers of these two issues contain photos of Sergei, ‘concert artist, composer and teacher’.

Atlas, Allan W. ‘The “Respectable” Concertina’, Music & Letters 80 (1999), 241-53.
Refers to a recording that includes a 1927/28 selection by Gregory (p. 250; see §VII).

_____. Review of Music for the English Concertina, ed. Willem Wakker, Free-Reed Journal 1 (1999), 81-86.
Includes brief references to Gregory and Boris, and mentions that the latter performed Bernhard Molique’s Concertina Concerto in G, Op. 46 (p. 81).

Berquist, Hilding. ‘The Accordion and Concertina in Russia’, Accordion World 18 (October 1953), 7.
Notes that Gregory ‘studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Riga, graduating in 1915’.

_____. ‘Concertinas’, Accordion World 14 (September 1949), 12-13, 32-33; also online at the Classical Free Reed website:
Writes that ‘[a]ccordionists would do well to attend the recitals and other appearances of our own Boris Matusewitch’.

_____. ‘Concertina Concertos’, Accordion World 15 (January 1950), 17, 37.
Berquist states that he introduced Boris to the Molique Concertina Concerto No. 1 in G, Op. 46 (p. 17).

_____. ‘Concertina Literature, Part 2’, Accordion World 15 (October 1950),12-16; also online at the Classical Free-Reed website:
Berquist notes that he gave Boris copies of concertina concertos by Franz Bosen and Bernhard Molique.

C. Wheatstone & Co. The Concertina World, 1851-1951 (1951).
A seven-page history of—and publicity brochure for—the Wheatstone concertina company; lists Boris as one of the ‘stars’ of the concertina world and includes his photo.

Carlin, Richard. ‘The English Concertina: Hard Times’, Mugwumps 6 (April 1980), 12-19.
Devotes several paragraphs to the careers of Gregory and Boris.

‘Concertina Artist Supreme’, Accordion World 5 (November 1940), 16.
A short profile (with photo) of Boris.

Cooney, Michael. ‘Teach In: How to Find, Train, and Maintain a Concertina’, Sing Out! 20 (March/April 1971), 5-6.
Notes that Boris advertised a five-week concertina course in the Village Voice (a New York weekly) for which he used Wheatstone concertinas (p. 5).

Gabriel, Thomas. ‘The Russian Virtuosi in America: An Interview with Sergei Matusewitch’, Concertina & Squeezebox 21 (Autumn 1989), 4-10.
Sergei reminisces about the Matusewitch family.

Horowitz, Joshua. ‘The Klezmer Accordion: Old New Worlds (1899-2001)’, Musical Performance 3 (2001), 135-62.
Includes a discussion of Gregory as ‘one of the finest of the early Yiddish music accordionists [sic]’ (pp. 137-40, 145) and two European photos of Gregory.

International Concertina Association. Newsletter 155 (June 1968).
Mentions that Neil Wayne, then resident at the University of Wisconsin, ‘has been fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Sergei Matusewitch, one of the famous concertina playing brothers’.

Jacobs, Kathleen. ‘Old World to New’, Manhattan Plaza News (April 1997), 1, 10-11.
Sergei, who lived in New York’s Manhattan Plaza (limited to performing artists and their families), discusses his musical family; includes photos of Sergei and Gregory.

Matusewitch, Boris. ‘The Growth of the Concertina in the USA’, Accordion and Guitar World 23 (December 1958), 30.
Discusses the growing popularity of the English concertina in the USA.

Matusewitch, Eric. ‘Boris Matusewitch’, Mugwumps 7 (June 1983), 14-15.
Review (with photo) of Boris’s career.

_____. ‘Gregory Matusewitch’, Mugwumps 7 (August/September 1983), 10-11.
Review (with photo) of Gregory’s career.

_____. ‘The Matusewitch Family: Concertina and Accordion Virtuosi—Russia, Europe and the United States’, (1997), also online at the Classical Free Reed website: essays/matusewitch.html.
A history of the family, with photos of Gregory, Boris, Sergei, and Eric.

_____. ‘Pilat and Panzeri, Love Me Tonight, arranged for English Concertina by Boris Matusewitch’, Free-Reed Journal 4 (2002), 162-65.
A brief review of Boris’s career, focusing on his concertina arrangements; includes his arrangement of a popular song by Pilat and Panzeri.

Merris, Randall C. ‘Instruction Manuals for the English, Anglo, and Duet Concertina’, Free-Reed Journal 4 (2002), 85-118; also online at, where it is periodically updated.
Lists two instruction manuals for the English concertina by Boris and Sergei (pp. 94-95).

Palmer, Bill. ‘Should Accordionists Play Bach?’ Accordion World 14 (April 1949), 9; also online at Classical Free-Reed website:
Mentions that Sergei performed J.S. Bach’s Toccata in D Minor (originally for organ) at his concerts.

‘Piano-Accordion’s Distant Relative: The Concertina’, Accordion World 1 (April 1936), 18.
Profile (with photo) of Gregory Matusewitch.

Tarte, Bob. ‘Forces of Nature’, Beat 21 (2002); online at
Includes a review of the Global Accordion—Early Recordings (Weltmusik Wergo; see §VII), and writes of Gregory’s virtuosity as being ‘extraordinary in his performance of “Yidisher Melodien” on piccolo accordion [sic!]’.

Taubman, Howard. ‘No Amateurs, These GI Joes’, New York Times (June 18, 1944), section 2, p. 5.
Howard Taubman, music critic for the Times—and then a private in the army—writes about musicians in the Special Service Training Group at Camp Sibert, Alabama, including Pvt. Boris Matusewitch, ‘virtuoso of the concertina’.

Wakker, Willem. ‘De Matusewitch Familie’ (Pts. 1-3) Klank (January, July, October, 1999); online at
A history of the Matusewitch family (in Dutch).

Wallace, Ed. ‘Twist Its Arm and It Squeals—but Nice’, New York World Telegram and Sun (December 1, 1952), 3.
Profile (with photo) of Boris.

III. Select Concert Notices and Reviews in English

(a) Gregory

Adams, Franklin P. ‘The Conning Tower’, The World (March 4, 1922), 11.
The famed literary figure wrote a favorable review of Gregory’s February 25, 1922, Town Hall (New York) recital.

‘Again Scores Success Here with his Concertina: Gregory Matusewitch is Heard at Alliance’, Savannah [Georgia] Morning News (February 17, 1930).

‘Artist Excels on Concertina’, Houston Post-Dispatch (January 27, 1928).
Short review of Gregory’s January 26, 1928, concert at the Houston Jewish Institute.

Bennett, Grena. “Concertina Recital,” New York American (December 27, 1926).
Brief review of Gregory’s December 26, 1926, Town Hall recital; Bennett wrote that ‘the unusual and delightful instrument was manipulated by Gregory Matusewitch. Handel’s E-major sonata, as it sounded, might have been performed by an orchestra of eight musicians so fully and colorfully harmonized were its four movements’.

‘Concert Will be Given: Jewish Musician to Appear in High School Auditorium Tuesday’, South Bend [Indiana] Tribune (January 24, 1927), 7.
Notes that Gregory (here called ‘George’) has appeared in many cities and that newspaper critics have been ‘highly laudatory’ in their reviews; he is described as having ‘complete mastery of the instrument’ and his performances as drawing large audiences.

Downes, Olin. ‘Gives Concertina Recital’, New York Times (December 27, 1926), 20.
Review of December 26, 1926, Town Hall recital; Downes found that ‘[t]he great range of tone color he produced and his complete mastery gave variety and interest to the four movements [of the Handel sonata in E major]’.

‘Famed Artist on Concertina is Coming Here: Gregory Matusewitch to Appear on Thursday Night’, Erie [Pennsylvania] Dispatch-Herald (February 15, 1927).

‘Gave Splendid Program for Concertina Concert’, Norwich, Connecticut, Bulletin (February 19, 1931).
Favorable review of Gregory’s February 18, 1931, recital sponsored by the Workmen’s Circle.

‘Matusevitz and His Concertina’, Savannah [Georgia] Morning News (January 18, 1928).
A review of Gregory’s January 17, 1928, recital at the Jewish Educational Alliance; the critic exclaimed that ‘[p]laying with a virtuosity that was not short of wonderful, the artist produced music from his small instrument that the writer of these lines could never believe it contained’.

‘Matusewitch Gives Brilliant English Concertina Recital’, New York Herald Tribune (December 27, 1926), 8.
‘At Town Hall yesterday afternoon [December 26, 1926] there was a concert comprising both those rare and invigorating qualities of novelty and complete virtuosity. Gregory Matusewitch showed an astonished and delighted audience that the English concertina, played as he can play it, has a right to be designated a major solo instrument’.

‘Matusewitch Recital’, Accordion World 1 (December 1936), 6.
Reviews Gregory’s recital of November 21, 1936, at Wurlitzer Auditorium (New York), at which he was assisted by his sons, Boris and Solomon (Sergei).

‘Not So Lonely Concertina’, The World (December 27, 1926), 12.
Brief review of Gregory’s December 26, 1926, recital at New York’s Town Hall. The music critic wrote: ‘Under the miraculous manipulation of Gregory Matusewitch, the lowly concertina becomes idealized so that such music as Handel’s E-major sonata. . .emerges as though from the stop of an organ’.

‘“Out All Night” at the Colony’, New York Telegram (September 26, 1927).
Notice of Gregory’s performance at the Colony Theatre, New York; the author writes that Gregory Matusewitch, ‘virtuoso of the miniature English concertina, causes it to emit a startingly versatile collection of sounds’.

‘Russian Café Offers Treat’, New York American (December 7, 1932).
Mentions that Gregory Matusewitch, ‘virtuoso of the concertina’, will be playing at the Russian Art Restaurant in New York on December 11, 1932 (a benefit for the New York American Christmas and Relief-Fund); includes a photo of Gregory.

(b) Boris and Sergei

‘Brothers Matusewitch’, International Musician (March 1952).
Short review of the Matusewitch brothers’ joint recital at Carnegie Recital Hall, February 16, 1952. The critic wrote that Sergei ‘has revealed himself as a sensitive and finished artist, capable of producing unusual musical effects’.

‘Empire Room Headliners’, Chicago Sunday Tribune (February 8, 1953), Pt. 7, p. 13.
Notice that the ‘novelty duo’ of Gregory and Strong will be playing at the Empire Room of the Palmer House Hotel, Chicago; includes a caricature of the concertina-dance team. (Note that Boris dropped the name Matusewitch and used Gregory only in his nightclub act with Rod Strong.)

‘First Civic Music Presentation Hailed as Success by Audience’, Panama City [Florida] Herald (November 3, 1955).
The music critic noted that ‘[a]rtistry and entertainment of the highest caliber were combined last night by dancer Rod Strong and concertina virtuoso Boris Gregory’.

‘Going Out Guide: Bach on Concertinas’, New York Times (August 19, 1981), section C, p. 15.
Notes that Sergei and Randy Stein (Sergei’s student) will play Bach’s Double Violin Concerto on two concertinas with the Balalaika Symphony Orchestra (Seaside Park, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York).

Herron, Paul. ‘On the Town’, Washington Post and Times Herald (May 24, 1954).
Writes that Boris Gregory and Rod Strong are headliners at the Harlequin Room of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Washington, D.C. ‘Our advice is to stay for the second show, too. The act is unusual and you probably won’t appreciate it as much the first time as the second go-round’.

Johnson, Harriet. ‘Review of New York Philharmonic International Promenade Concert’, New York Post (June 12, 1970), 49.
Boris supplied the music for a ballet choreographed by dancer Edward Villela (Off to Sea Once More); Johnson took note of Boris’s nautical stage costume: ‘Boris Matusewitch, a sea-hippie, was there with his concertina to add sights and sounds to life on deck and in port’.

‘Matusewitch Recital’, Accordion World 4 (June 1939), 20.
Short review of a recital by Boris and Sergei at the Rand School Auditorium in New York: ‘The appreciation with which these two artists were regarded left no doubt that they were indeed masters of their favorite instruments, and doing much to make them popular’.

‘Mozart for Accordion’, New York Times (January 18, 1980), section C, p. 18.
Notice of Sergei’s January 19, 1980, recital in the Bruno Walter Auditorium of the Lincoln Center Library-Museum for the Performing Arts.

‘Play Musical Shorts’, New York World-Telegram (Nov. 14, 1952), 23.
Notes that Boris and his dance partner, Rod Strong, ‘will make a series of musical shorts after they complete their present engagement at the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel, New York City’.

Sobol, Louis. ‘New York Calvacade: Along Prattle-Tattle Lane’, New York Journal-American (November 15, 1952), 11.
Sobol writes, ‘The team of Boris Gregory and Rod Strong at the Plaza Persian Room—one plays the concertina while the other leaps around and dances like mad’.

‘Soldier Shows’, Army Times (?1944).
Notes that ‘the nation’s outstanding concertina artist’ (Boris Matusewitch) will play Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine and Fritz Kreisler’s Caprice Viennois.

‘Television Reviews: Sight and Sound’, Variety (September 23, 1953).
Short notice that Boris Gregory, ‘the sensational concertina virtuoso, and dancer Rod Strong have been booked for a return engagement on NBC-TV’s ‘Your Show of Shows’ next month’.

‘Two Matusewitches in Musical Program’, New York Times (January 25, 1948).
Review of joint recital in Times Hall, New York, January 24, 1948. ‘The concertina. . .being primarily a melodic instrument, of haunting quality, capable of delicate inflection, nuance and even vibrato. . .His rendition of Mr. [Robert] Lissauer’s works had charm and melody, and the composer added his applause to that of the audience’.

‘Up Front: Lively Music’, New York Post (May 18, 1979).
Notice of Sergei’s May 20, 1979, recital at the Priory concert hall; the program included transcriptions of works by Bach, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Paganini, Liszt, and Chopin.

Walker, Danton. ‘Broadway: Neon Nites’, Sunday Daily News (November 16, 1952), section 2, p.11.
‘The new nite club combo of Rod Strong and Boris Gregory fits in wonderfully with the background of the Persian Room. But how about letting Boris, who’s touted as the world’s leading concertina virtuoso, have at least one solo, instead of being merely background for handsome and nimble Rod’s dancing?’

IV. Music Written for Concertina and Accordion

(a) Gregory

Oriental, Op. 3, No. 1, for concertina. Arr. J.G. Samos (New York: I. Press and G. Matusewitch, 1928).

(b) Sergei

Artiste Fantasie (A Classic Composition in Modern Concert Style for the Piano Accordion) (Brooklyn, NY: Warner Publications, 1937).

Capriccioso (Classic Accordion Solo) (Brooklyn, NY: Warner Publications, 1947).

Etude in D Minor (A New Concert Bellow Shake Etude in Modern Concert Style for the Piano Accordion) (Brooklyn, NY: Warner Publications, 1942).

V. Boris on Broadway

Fanny (November 1954–December 1956), directed by Joshua Logan, music by Harold Rome, Majestic and Belasco Theatres.
Boris played concertina in the orchestra; his wife (and former student), Norma, substituted for him while he was touring with dancer Rod Strong.

How to Be a Jewish Mother (December 1967–January 1968), based on the book by Dan Greenberg, music by Michael Leonard, Hudson Theatre.
Boris played concertina in the orchestra.

They Knew What They Wanted (October 2-21,1939), play written by Sidney Howard, Empire Theatre.
Music performed by Boris (concertina) and Rosito Anthony (singer/guitarist); listed on the Internet Broadway Database:

The Wall (October 1960–March 1961), based on the novel by John Hersey, directed by Morton Da Costa, featuring songs by Robert De Cormier and Millard Lampell, Billy Rose Theatre.
Boris played the concertina offstage for actor George C. Scott.

Wisteria Trees (March-September 1950), based on The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, directed by Joshua Logan, musical arrangements by Lehman Engel, Martin Beck Theatre.
Boris played concertina in the orchestra.

VI. A Television Appearance by Boris

Your Show of Shows, NBC-TV (September 13, 1952).
Boris Gregory and dancer Rod Strong performed on the popular show starring Sid Caesar.

VII. Recordings: Gregory, Boris, and Sergei

(a) Gregory

The English Concertina. Compiled and annotated by Richard Carlin. Folkways Records FW 8845 (1976).
Includes selections by Gregory Matusewitch (V. Monti’s Czardas) and The Boris Matusewitch Quartet (Scott Joplin’s Chrysanthemum).

Global Accordion: Early Recordings. Compiled by Christoph Wagner. Wergo SM 1623 2 (2001).
Gregory plays Yiddisher Melodien.

Gregori Matusewitch. Circulated privately either as a tape or CD, this contains previously recorded selections: Zigeunerweisen (Odeon A 10212-A, Germany), Serenade (Victor 73616), Czardas and London Polka (Victor 9035), Yiddisher Melodien and Yiddisher Wulach (Odeon A 10212-A).

(b) Boris

Fanny. A musical play by S.N. Behrman and Joshua Logan; music and Lyrics by Harold Rome. RCA Victor LOC-1015 (1954).
Boris plays concertina in the orchestra of this original cast album.

Around the Samovar. Leonid Bolotine and Orchestra. Warner Bros. Records W1255 (1959).
Boris played concertina in the orchestra in this recording of Russian folk music.

(c) Sergei

Accordion-Concertina Recital. S-M Records, S M 002 (no date).
Includes selections by Frosini, Sarasate, Brahms, J.S. Bach, Massenet, Tchaikovsky, Gluck, and Monti.

VIII. Concertina Instruction Manuals

Matusewitch, Boris Gregory and Sergei. Matusewitch Associates 5 Week Course for the English Concertina (New York: Matusewitch Associates, c. 1965).

_______. Method for the English Concertina (New York: Matusewitch Associates, 1952).
A copy at the Library of Congress.

IX. Miscellaneous

Matusewitch, Gregory. Publicity Brochure (1920s).
Includes excerpts from his European and American concert reviews and a photograph; listed on the International Concertina Association website, Reuben Shaw Archive, Item #RS002:

Matusewitch Associates, “Five Week Course: Concertina’, Village Voice (November 23, 1972), 46.
The brothers’ standard newspaper advertisement for their concertina course; it ran regularly in the Village Voice and New York Times from the 1950s to 1970s.

Reed Cavity Design and Resonance

Note: In the original hardcopy publication, Equations 5 and 7 contained errors, which carried through to the Table of that publication. These errors, however, are not large enough to alter the main conclusions made in that publication. In this HTML publication, these errors have been corrected, and there are corresponding differences between the Table and Text here and the Table and Text of the original hardcopy publication. I wish to thank Johann Pascher for first pointing out these errors to me – Tom Tonon


Resonance occurs in acoustic systems, and reed cavities in concertinas and other free-reed instruments are no exception. Investigations of reed cavity resonance have been carried out in Europe and in the United States.1 It is my intention here to focus on the practical details of reed cavity resonance, and I hope this article can assist towards a more thorough and broadly accessible discussion. I present here qualitative and quantitative aspects of resonant cavity design, including suggestions on how resonance can possibly enhance as well as detract from reed performance. The approach here incorporates simple acoustic models, and is based both on suggestions from the work of others and on the limited experiments I have done myself. At the end of this article I present tabulated examples of resonant cavity geometries calculated from these models, as applied to the musical range of the concertina family of instruments.


An important function of the reed cavity is to provide secure and airtight mounting of the reed in order that a uniform stream of air can be directed through the reed and that tongue vibration can proceed without interference.2 Practical free-reed instruments cannot exist without cavities, and very few people have heard the sound of a free reed without an associated cavity. Builders are aware that cavity shape can influence reed performance, and is this feature of the cavity that concerns us here.

The vibrating reed tongue and the air within and about the cavity are acoustically coupled together. In some designs, the effect of the cavity on the musical tone is small, or negligible; in other designs, the effect of the cavity can significantly modify the musical tone; and in still other designs, the acoustic effect of the cavity can prevent the reed from speaking properly.

Coupled Vibrations

Mechanical systems possessing mass and elasticity experience natural modes of vibration called resonance,3 and two or more systems can participate in coupled vibrations. The reed tongue is one such system, and the air within and about the cavity comprises another. The combined tongue/cavity system is coupled together by the air pressure/velocity behavior at and near the vent (slot) through which the tongue passes, since both the vibrating tongue and the vibrating air mass within and about the cavity influence this region. The tongue vibration occurs at a frequency very slightly lower than its natural frequency—vibrating as a bar with one end fixed and the other free—inducing air and pressure oscillations about the vent, and thus causing air inside the cavity to vibrate.4 Because of the coupling mechanism, this influence can amplify or diminish the fundamental of the musical tone, and the precise nature of this influence depends in general upon the particular resonant mode of the cavity and the position of the vibrating tongue with respect to the cavity. The degree of any influence to be expected is difficult to determine without experiment, though there are at least two parameters that must be considered in this determination. One is the frequency match between the resonant mode of the cavity and the vibrational frequency of the tongue, and another is the size of the cavity, or, better stated, the power output of the mass of air that is induced to resonant vibration in comparison to the vibrational power output of the reed itself. Bigger cavities will have larger potential influence.

As an illustration, consider a wider scope of reed instruments. With woodwinds—the clarinet, for instance—the body of the instrument takes on the role of the cavity, which is relatively very large, and the air mass in and about this geometry resonates as the primary source of vibrational energy, with the reed vibration itself contributing very little. The beating reed of the clarinet functions as a pressure-controlling device, is placed at a pressure antinode, and vibrates at a frequency equal to that of the cavity-mode vibration, which is well below the reed’s own natural frequency. Reed vibration and air vibration are strongly coupled, and air vibration dominates, with the soft, pliable reed simply tagging along. At the other extreme are the tone chambers (cassottos) placed in some accordions. Here, the reed/tongue system is weakly coupled to the air geometry associated with the tone chamber, and resonant vibrations of air in and about the tone chamber have little effect back on tongue vibration, which provides the predominant amount of acoustical power. Tone chamber vibrations, however, do significantly alter the sound of the musical tone (volume and timbre) for those reeds that present partials with frequencies that match the resonant frequencies of the tone chamber (a phenomenon discussed in more detail below).5

An intermediate example is the beating reed used in organ pipes,6 which is again a device closely coupled to air vibration and placed near a pressure antinode. Here, the tongue is not nearly as compliant as the beating reed in a woodwind instrument, but it is also not as stiff as that in free reeds, and the resonant frequency of the combined system is a compromise between the tongue and air column systems. A final example is the Asian free reed, which normally functions with a pipe resonator, to which it is closely coupled. This reed is placed near the closed end of the resonator (bawu,with the other end open), approximately a quarter length away from the closed end (khaen), or at the open end of an open pipe resonator (sheng). Such varied placement indicates that the coupling between this reed and its resonator is complicated. For the khaen and sheng, the resonator frequencies are closely matched and the playing frequency is typically slightly above the resonant frequencies of both the reed and the resonator. For the bawu, the playing frequency is near the pipe-resonant frequency, which is considerably above the resonant frequency of the reed.7

With the Western free-reed system, tongue and air vibration coupling is also strong, but a key feature of the mechanism for vibration here is different from those of both the beating reed and the Asian free reed. With the Western free reed, tongue vibration is self-excited and does not require a vibrating air mass (resonator) in order to transfer a steady air pressure difference into oscillatory motion. The mechanism for self-excitation takes place in the neighborhood of the vent and occurs at the frequency at which the tongue vibrates: that is, the fundamental of the musical tone. The tongue can thus be made to vibrate without any cavity, and it can be made to vibrate at frequencies far from any resonant frequency of the cavity. Far from cavity resonance, air vibration in the cavity is small and will thus have relatively little effect on air motion in the critical vent region. As tongue vibration frequency and cavity mode resonant frequency become closer, however, cavity air vibration can become large enough to influence the self-excitation mechanism. Whether this influence assists or interferes with tongue vibration and the resulting musical tone depends upon the resonant mode of the cavity and how the reed is mounted in relation to the cavity. In what follows, I apply the Helmholtz, quarter-wave, and full-wave models as a way to understand the resonant modes possible with the reed cavity and how they might influence reed performance.

The interference described above can completely prevent the tongue from vibrating: the reed becomes choked. Choking is predicted, then, under certain conditions when tongue vibration frequency is in some neighborhood of cavity mode frequency. Builders occasionally encounter choking in the higher-pitched reeds, and later in this article, I provide calculations illustrating why such reeds are likely candidates for choking, based upon resonant effects. As a remedy, builders sometimes provide a ‘vent hole’ in the cavity, or file off a corner of the tongue, in order to allow the reed to sound properly. These gaps function by allowing air leakage, destroying the offending resonant mode of the cavity, and perhaps also by incorporating a larger degree of damping in the cavity mode vibration. Three other methods are sometimes used by builders to prevent choking: eliminate leather valves on both reeds mounted in the cavity, reduce cavity height to an absolute minimum, and mount the reed with the reed tip near the air opening to the cavity.8 The first of these provides the same function as the ‘vent hole’ described earlier, the second of these changes the resonant geometry, when the cavity is functioning as a Helmholtz resonator, and the third is useful when the cavity is functioning as a quarter-wave tube. I discuss these resonant geometries more fully in the following sections.

An interesting experiment is to take a reed block out of an accordion and attempt to sound the reeds by blowing or sucking through the air passages while making a tight seal between your lips and the block opening. For many reeds, weak, or even no sound results, suggesting an offending resonant mode of the large cavity created by the addition of your pulmonary system to that of the reed block. Some of these reeds, however, can be made to play well simply by holding your nostrils closed while blowing or sucking. Thus, closing your nostrils changes the resonant geometry to one that contains no offending mode. Another way to sometimes allow voicing is simply to suck in rather than blow out, or visa versa, which both engages a different reed—which may have only a slightly different pitch or a pitch one or two semitones different—and also causes a different airflow direction through the reed block. Changing reeds can change the resonance relation, and a different mean flow direction can make a slight change in the cavity resonant frequency.9 Finally, allowing some gap between your lips and the reed block, or breathing also a little through your nose can also restore clear voicing, since your pulmonary system is then partially de-coupled from the rest of the system. Such demonstrations reveal strong coupling between tongue and cavity vibration and suggest that cavity resonance can have a major effect on self-excited tongue vibration.

Fundamental, Overtones, and Partials

The vibrating reed tongue periodically chops the air stream that forces its motion, resulting in complex pressure pulses whose waveform contains many partials (the fundamental, defined by the vibration frequency of the tongue, and overtones).10 These partials have frequencies very close to whole number ratios of each other, and are thus called harmonic. Departure from harmonicity could accompany excitation of additional vibrational modes of the tongue, though such excitation is very small, occurring only at very high blowing pressures.11 In any event, acoustic waves produced by select partials can interact with resonant modes of the cavity. As a result, these partials can be strengthened or weakened, just like the fundamental, as explained above, but there is a diminishing consequence to reed performance as resonance moves up to higher and higher partials. For higher partials, then, the tongue/cavity system is weakly coupled to tongue vibration, and for these partials, one might expect the cavity to function like the weakly coupled tone chambers described earlier. One would not expect a noticeable effect on musical tone if a cavity mode resonates with, for instance, the 10th partial of a musical tone; however, for the lower partials, say less than the 4th, an attentive listener might notice a difference in tone, and even volume.

There does not appear to be an extended effort concerning resonance exploitation on the part of squeezebox builders. Perhaps this is because the last 150 years of development have taught builders that any benefits to be gained are small compared to the required effort. This seeming lack of interest is also understandable because of the danger of destructive interference, which, as I show below, becomes possible in the neighborhood of resonance with certain cavity modes and for certain reed mounting positions. There is also the danger of uneven reed performance within the musical range of the instrument. Such dangers, however, should be reduced both if the techniques for resonance exploitation are well understood and if the builder emphasizes the reinforcement of higher partials of the musical tone, staying away from the fundamental in cases where it is known that fundamental resonance will be destructive. I will explore conditions under which builders can expect such destructive interference, suggest remedies, and, where convenient, show how one might exploit cavity resonance as a way to alter, and perhaps improve, musical tone.

For those interested in such exploitation of resonance, note that, for resonant design to be optimum, air leaks through cavity walls should be eliminated. Often in practice, two reeds share the same cavity, and in such cases, both reeds should be valved, so that the non-speaking reed does not provide a leak of acoustic energy. With English-system instruments, both reeds are of the same pitch, whereas in other, bi-sonorous, designs (the Anglo, for example), the two pitches differ, usually by one or two half tones. Since resonant cavity design depends upon the pitch of the musical tone, the question arises as to which pitch to use with bi-sonorous cavities. As a starting point, one might simply design for the average of the two pitches, at least for initial investigations, with the possibility for subsequent tweaking. More elaborate treatment of these cases would require the construction of separate cavities by means of partitions,12 which is beyond the scope of this article.

The Wavelength of Oscillation

An important parameter in every acoustic phenomenon is the wavelength of oscillation, lambda_15.gif (145 bytes), defined by (Equation 1)

where c is the speed of sound (1130 ft/sec for air at room temperature) in the wave medium and v the frequency of oscillatory motion. The wavelength is our characteristic length, and all dimensions of the cavity must be compared to this length in order to draw valid conclusions concerning their acoustic relevance. In our case, the frequency, v, will be that of the partial of interest.

Comparing the various cavity dimensions to the pertinent wavelength of oscillation allows us to predict what kind of resonant modes are possible for a given cavity geometry. Practically speaking and in simple terms, a given geometry will behave at resonance in one of two ways: as a Helmholtz resonator or as a quarter-wave tube. With special instrument construction not normally utilized, full-wave resonance can also be produced, as discussed below.

Helmholtz Resonator13

Typical cavities consist of a volume of air connected to a necked-down region where vibratory air motion can be concentrated. Such geometry resembles that of the classic Helmholtz resonator. When lambda_15.gif (145 bytes) is much larger than all cavity dimensions, we can expect the cavity geometry to behave according to this model, in which case, all pressure fluctuations within the cavity will be spatially uniform. Figure 1 depicts this geometry, situated so that the reeds are placed behind, out of view, and the necked-down region produced by the air hole in the concertina Action Board is identified with the Aperture of the figure. In operation, pressure oscillations in the cavity impart oscillations in the air that travels through this aperture, and this air motion has a non-zero time average that corresponds to the net airflow in or out of the bellows. The response of this geometry will increase as some partial of the musical tone approaches its resonant frequency. In effect, this construction is a mechanical system, equivalent to the more familiar spring/mass system, with the compressible air in the cavity corresponding to the spring, and the vibrating air in the vicinity of the aperture corresponding to the mass.

Most all of us are familiar with how easy it is to excite a Helmholtz resonator; we can simply blow across the mouth of a soda bottle. One might thus question whether a Helmholtz resonator can be excited by a reed placed in the wall of the resonator, as in Figure 1, and not, for instance, near the outside of the aperture. The free reed, being a flow-controlling device, introduces mass into the Volume of the resonator in periodic fashion, resulting in cavity air pressure oscillations. Theoretically then, the Volume is excited in the very way it functions as part of the resonator, and at resonance, the coupled system should behave very differently from its behavior far away from resonance. Although it is difficult to determine solely on theoretical grounds just what this resonance behavior will be, it is, as shown below, a simple matter to calculate the resonant frequency of this geometry.

With this geometry, my own limited experimentation has shown that, when the cavity experiences Helmholtz resonance with the fundamental of reed-tongue vibration, interference occurs, and the reed-tongue vibration is seriously hampered, even choked. This interference occurs even for Helmholtz resonant frequencies somewhat below the fundamental and suggests that resonant cavity air vibration feedback to the critical vent region upsets the self-excitation mechanism, at least for those cavities large enough to supply sufficient energy. In other words, at resonance, the reed-tongue vibration is not ‘stiff’ enough to completely dominate cavity resonance. Hence the practice of some builders to provide air leaks in the cavity, or incorporate very small cavity volumes as a way to change and/or reduce the resonance response. Alternatively, one can make other adjustments to resonator geometry, by utilizing the expressions given here for the calculation of cavity resonant frequency. In addition, my own experiments show the following: for Helmholtz resonant frequencies a little larger than the fundamental, interference does not occur, and I have even observed volume amplification. Similar behavior occurs during Helmholtz resonance with the second partial (first overtone), though with reduced intensity and less interference, with the absence of choking. The resonance effect drops off rapidly for even higher partials. A general effect on tone seems to be a reduction in sound contribution from the partials with frequencies well above the cavity resonant frequency. These observations appear to be insensitive to where exactly the reed tip is located in the cavity wall.

Fig. 1. Helmholtz model.

As noted above, the acoustic wave associated with lambda_15.gif (145 bytes) in the calculation of the resonant frequency need not arise from only the frequency of tongue vibration (fundamental). Higher partials of the pressure waveform produced by the vibrating tongue should also be considered, since such partials may still result in wavelengths that are significantly larger than all cavity dimensions, which validates the Helmholtz model. The same cavity, of course, will cease to function as a Helmholtz resonator for frequencies so high that the associated wavelengths are comparable to some resonator dimension. In these cases, the cavity can perhaps function as a quarter-wave tube (see below). The Helmholtz resonator represents an extreme end of the range of resonant geometries and has only one resonance mode. By definition, overtones do not exist in its operation, simply because such overtones imply that some cavity dimension is comparable to the wavelength associated with such overtones.

The resonant frequency, v0, for the Helmholtz geometry is given below (Equation 2):

where also, from Equation 1, lambda_15.gif (145 bytes)0 = c/v0; pi_15.gif (145 bytes) = 3.14; root_15.gif (126 bytes) is the square root function; A is the area of the aperture (air hole); t is the length of the Aperture (thickness of the Action Board); d is the diameter of the aperture; V is the net air volume within the cavity, and k is a number in the approximate range 0.43 to 0.80, with the higher values chosen if the fully open pallet remains within approximate distance d of the aperture. Lower values are chosen for k if this distance is about twice d (pallets that remain close to the hole will decrease the resonator pitch). The accuracy of this ‘end correction’ term, kd, decreases as lambda_15.gif (145 bytes)0 becomes smaller and no longer large compared to the product (2pi_15.gif (145 bytes)d).14

The calculation of V depends upon the construction of the cavity. For traditional English construction, one reed is situated outside the cavity, often with its leather valve situated inside the cavity, and another reed is situated somewhat inside the cavity. For accordion-reeded instruments, the entire reed is situated outside the cavity, with a slight addition of air space due to the thickness of the cavity wall supporting the reed. In the simple case of an orthogonal cavity, of length L, width W, and height H, we calculate (Equation 3):

where Vadj is the volume adjustment because of how the reed is mounted. With this notation, the volume of any reed part within the cavity proper will contribute negatively to Vadj (reed volume is subtracted). Note that in Figure 1 the Helmholtz geometry is, for the sake of simplicity, assumed to be such an orthogonal structure. Sample calculations using these expressions will be presented below.

Quarter-Wave Tube Resonator

A tube is defined as a cylinder whose transverse dimensions are much less than its length,15 with a quarter-wave tube resonator being such a tube—of length one-quarter wavelength—with one end open and the other end closed. Reed cavities somewhat resemble tubes, and Figure 2 depicts a cavity that functions as a quarter-wave tube. This drawing depicts traditional-style English concertina reeds that are mounted with the free tip of the tongue near the closed tube end.

Fig. 2. Quarter-Wave Model.

From Figure 2, an immediate conclusion is that, with the cavity functioning as a resonant quarter-wave tube using the tongue vibration frequency (fundamental) for the relevant wavelength, there is likely to be serious interference between tongue vibration and cavity air vibration. The explanation is as follows. At resonance, the air within the cavity must vibrate with a velocity node (minimum) at the closed end and a velocity antinode (maximum) at the open end. The self-excited free reed mechanism, however, requires a large velocity oscillation near the freely vibrating tip of the tongue, which is in the vicinity where the tube air vibration requires a minimum. Thus, neither vibrating system satisfies the requirement of the other, and interference with the reed’s self-excitation mechanism is likely. I have experimentally verified such interference, including choking, which is similar to the choking caused by cavities resonating as Helmholtz resonators (as explained above). Even with (effective) tube lengths a bit different from one-quarter wavelength, the reed might speak only weakly.16 The suggestions on how to avoid Helmholtz resonance interference explained above also apply here, but with quarter-wave resonance, an alternative method to provide better voicing would be reorient the reed so that the free tip of the tongue lies near the open end of the cavity. Builders sometimes adopt this practice, which is illustrated in Figure 3, and doing so will likely result in amplification in musical tone, since each vibrating system then satisfies the requirement of the other. I have observed such amplification experimentally, and such amplification is theoretically possible both at the fundamental frequency and at overtones whose frequencies are odd-numbered multiples of the fundamental. With conventional reed placement, and if a higher partial of the musical tone provides the pertinent wavelength with which to measure the length of the tube, choking is less likely, though weak tones are still possible.

Fig. 3. Quarter-Wave Model with Alternate Reed Mounting

The resonant quarter wavelength geometry is given by (Equation 4):

where, from Equation 1, vo = c/lambda_15.gif (143 bytes)o , where vo is the resonant frequency, and the ‘effective tube length’ is given approximately by (Equation 5):

where L is the cavity length, t is the thickness of the Action Board, pi_15.gif (145 bytes) = 3.14, d is aperture diameter, and as in the Helmholtz model above, k is a number from between about 0.4 and 0.8, depending on how close the pallet remains to the aperture. In Equation 5, it is assumed that lambda_15.gif (143 bytes)o is large compared to the product (2pi_15.gif (145 bytes)d) and large compared to the difference (Leff – L).17

For some cavity geometries, W, the cavity width, is not very much smaller than L, and in such cases, there may be an occurrence of transverse standing modes, though on simple analysis, they do not appear to require much concern here.18 style> For those interested in exploiting the effect of quarter-wave tubes on musical tone, it may be advantageous to divide the cavity with a lengthwise partition, effectively separating the two reed tongues that share the same cavity and significantly increasing the ratio L/W. Figure 4 illustrates this partition, with the resulting reduction in the size of W. Such a partition may also be more useful for bi-sonorous cavities. As mentioned earlier, a quarter-wave geometry (with reed tongue tip mounted as in Figure 3) that amplifies a partial of one frequency will also amplify partials having frequencies that are odd multiples of this frequency.

Fig. 4. Quarter-Wave Model with Partition

Full-Wave Tube Resonator

A full-wave tube resonator is a tube of length one wavelength, with either both ends open or both ends closed. Because of the end conditions, such geometry does not normally exist in squeezebox construction; however, from a theoretical point of view, and for those interested in how such geometry might be exploited for its resonance possibilities, Figure 5 illustrates one way in which this could be done. The configuration here incorporates the open-end conditions. Note the partition in Figure 5, which creates a tube of one wavelength from a cavity whose length is closer to one-half wavelength. Note also the placement of the free tip of the reed tongue, which is near the air hole, at the top. With this arrangement, the requirement for maximum air velocity by both tongue and cavity air vibrations is satisfied, and amplification should theoretically occur for the design partial, as well as for partials having frequencies that are whole number multiples of the frequency of the design partial.19

Fig. 5. Full-Wave Model with Partition.

The resonant geometry for the full-wave tube geometry is given by (Equation 6):

where, from Equation 1, vo = c/lambda_15.gif (143 bytes)o, vo is the resonant frequency, and following the approach taken with the quarter-wave geometry, Leff is the ‘effective length’ of the air cavity, expressed by (Equation 7):

where L is the cavity length, t is the thickness of the Action Board, d is aperture diameter, and as in the Helmholtz model above, k is a number from between about 0.4 and 0.8, depending on how close the pallet remains to the aperture. For accuracy, the same restrictions noted in reference to the quarter-wave geometry also apply here.20

As can be seen in Figures 4 and 5, there is a small difference between the partition in a quarter-wave cavity and that of a full-wave cavity. Provided the reed tips are mounted as shown, it is a simple matter to physically change a quarter-wave cavity to a full-wave cavity, though the full-wave cavity must be excited at a frequency four times that of the quarter-wave cavity.

In looking at the Helmholtz, quarter-wave, and full-wave geometries depicted in Figures 1, 2, and 5, one might ask: what’s the difference? The difference is the magnitude of the wavelength, lambda_15.gif (143 bytes)o, which corresponds to the frequency of the partial contained in the pressure waveform produced by the vibrating tongue that is being investigated. In general, the same geometry can behave like a Helmholtz resonator at one wavelength, like a quarter-wave resonator at another, and like a full-wave resonator at still another, provided the quarter-wave tube has one end open and the other closed, and the full-wave tube has both ends open.


The resonant geometries and corresponding equations for resonant frequency and resonant cavity lengths for the Helmholtz, quarter-wave, and full-wave geometries are only models, and inaccuracies can be expected with comparison to the real world. Some sources of inaccuracy have been pointed out, especially those associated with an estimate of the effective mass (value for k), the assumed comparative sizes among cavity dimensions, and the comparison of these dimensions with the wavelength of oscillation. In practice, such limitations are usually stretched to the limit, and often beyond, in order to utilize such expressions as experimental guidelines. With the quarter-wave and full-wave models, we should also mention that air motion through the reed vent (slot) is not entirely concentrated at the end of the cavity; the vibrating tongue moves through the vent with finite clearance, causing some leakage of acoustic energy from the cavity. In addition, the presence of reed parts inside the tube causes changes in cross section that can influence the resonant frequency. Calculations performed according to suggestions here can be effective illustrators of concepts involved, but should, because of inaccuracies, be considered only as starting points for experimentation.

All lengths in inches
Note is nomenclature for piano keyboard
Partial is partial number
v is frequency of corresponding partial (Hz)
lambda_15.gif (143 bytes) is wavelength of corresponding partial
Vadj is volume adjustment to orthogonal cavity structure, Equation 3 (cubic inches)
W is orthogonal cavity width in Helmholtz model
L is orthogonal cavity length in Helmholtz model
d is aperture diameter
t is aperture length (Action Board thickness)
H is calculated orthogonal cavity height for Helmholtz resonance, Equation 2 & 3, k = 0.6
Smax = 0.15 lambda_15.gif (143 bytes)o is about maximum size of any component for Helmholtz model to remain accurate
Hfixed is cavity height used for tube calculations in next two columns
L-QW is length of cavity for quarter-wave model, Equations 4 & 5, k = 0.6
L/2-FW is length of cavity for partitioned full-wave model, Equations 6 & 7, k = 0.6
BOLD numbers indicate regions on the musical scale where resonance occurs and/or where reed choking may occur (when Partial = 1)

Sample Calculations

Table 1 presents the results of calculations that illustrate how close reasonable cavity dimensions come to resonant geometries. One can study Table 1 and draw conclusions on where along the musical pitch range there is greater or lesser tendency for cavity resonance to approach the frequencies of various partials of the musical tone. Table 1 also gives an idea of how much cavity geometries need to be adjusted in order to arrive at geometries that will resonate at the frequencies of various partials of the musical tone.

In Table 1, Column Note shows the musical note, with nomenclature based on the 88-key piano. As can be seen, the calculations represent the musical range of bass (G1 to C5), baritone (G2 to C6), treble (G3 to C7), and piccolo (G4 to C8) concertinas. Column Partial shows the partial number of the pressure waveform produced by the tongue vibration, with fundamental taken as 1, first overtone as 2, etc. Column vo gives the frequency corresponding to the overtone, and Column Vadj gives an approximate volume adjustment, accounting for departures from the orthogonal volume calculation (Equation 3). Column lambda_15.gif (143 bytes)o gives the wavelength corresponding to frequency vo , and Columns W, L, d, t, H, and Smax are used in the Helmholtz resonator calculation, listing (orthogonal) cavity width (W), length (L), height (H), and aperture diameter (d). Using Equations 2 and 3, we may calculate the value of (H) from the other parameters (W, L, d, and t), whose values were adjusted until a reasonable value for (H) was obtained. Column Smax calculates the maximum size that any of the previous five parameters can assume, without the simple Helmholtz calculation becoming inaccurate, as discussed in the previous section on Helmholtz Resonators. Column Hfixed gives the cavity height used in the tube calculations in the next two columns. Column L-QW gives the cavity length for quarter-wave tube resonance (Equations 4 and 5), and Column L-FW gives the cavity length of a full-wave resonant tube (Equations 6 and 7).

As an example, consider the first line in the calculation for note G1; this shows that the Helmholtz calculation using the fundamental as the design frequency yields a very large value for cavity height, H (166 inches!), when reasonable values for W, L, d, and t were chosen. Note that with this calculation, the magnitude of H is much larger than the value for Smax, indicating that the Helmholtz model does not apply; however, we can still conclude—and the unduly large value for H indicates—that the resonant Helmholtz geometry is very different from the cavity geometry that would exist in the real world (which would have a value for H around 0.5 inches). Thus there is no chance that a cavity for this reed pitch could resonate with the fundamental of the musical tone. The second calculation for note G1 uses the ninth partial (eighth overtone) as the design frequency, and a smaller value for H is obtained, though still perhaps not practical (1.11 inches). The third calculation, for the 11th partial, does show a realistic value for H, assuming moderate adjustments to other cavity dimensions. Bold numbers here and elsewhere in Table 1 indicate areas of susceptible resonance matching between cavity modes and various musical tone partials. Thus, one might conclude on theoretical grounds that some partial higher than about 11 for this reed pitch may be altered by Helmholtz resonance of the cavity, though it is doubtful that alteration of such a high overtone would be noticeable to a listener. Similar comments apply to the fourth line, which calculates the results for an even higher overtone. Note, however, that the value for Smax in this last calculation is less than the value for L, which indicates that the Helmholtz model is becoming less accurate.

For note G2, one concludes similarly that there is no chance that a concertina will be built wherein the cavity provides Helmholtz resonance for the fundamental at reed pitch G2. As with G1, however, the possibility for such resonance increases as we consider higher partials, and in particular, one can expect that some partial starting with the 6th or 7th might experience such resonance.

Thus, higher pitched reeds have cavities that display tendencies to resonate with decreasing ‘partial number’. For note G3, we find that 4th or 5th partials and higher give realistic values for H, and thus a possibility to encounter Helmholtz resonance in a range of overtones that could become noticeable. For note G4, we find that 3rd partials and higher are candidates for resonance. For these notes, my own experimentation suggests that the affected partials may experience reinforcement (interference) if the Helmholtz frequency is a little above (or below) the partial frequency. Note C5 produces a 3rd partial as a candidate for Helmholtz resonance, though the pertinent wavelength is becoming a bit small and the accuracy of this calculation is becoming compromised (see value for Smax). When we get to notes between C5 and C7 and upward, we see a possibility that the fundamental itself may experience Helmholtz resonance with the cavity. With notes higher than about C7, wavelengths are becoming so small that the Helmholtz model may contain serious errors, as shown by comparative values of Smax. Such errors, however, do not mean that the cavity will not resonate, but only that another model must be applied, and we retain the bold format to indicate the possibility of some sort of resonance with the fundamental.21 In some of these cases, the tube models become applicable, as discussed below.

I mentioned earlier my own experimental results that suggest interference when Helmholtz resonance is about equal to or a little lower than reed-tongue vibration frequency (the fundamental). Table 1 shows that such interference can be expected somewhere between notes C5 and C6. In theory, a simple fix for compromised reed performance would be to alter some key cavity or aperture dimension, according to the resonance formulas presented in this article. For resonance with higher partials, as with notes G3 to G8, my experimentation has shown that serious interference with the self- excitation mechanism appears unlikely, though some weakening of tone is possible when the Helmholtz frequency is close to, or somewhat lower than, the second or third partial frequency. For Helmholtz resonance at frequencies in a moderate range that is a little larger than these partial frequencies, I have observed possible enhancement, suggesting passive filtration by the cavity resonance, as explained in the sections Fundamental, Overtones and Partials. Should a builder choose to exploit any possible enhancement at resonance, Table 1 suggests that notes above approximately G4 would be likely candidates, and that precisely tuned Helmholtz resonators must be especially made for notes C6 and above, because of the danger of interference leading to choking.

style=”font-family: Verdana; color: red;”>We now examine the results associated with quarter-wave tube resonance. style> Column L-QW was calculated using Equations 4 and 5, and with the realistic values in Columns W, L, d, t, and Hfixed. style> The idea here is to compare the numbers in Column L with the numbers in Column L-QW, and quarter-wave resonance is expected for those partials where these numbers are in reasonable agreement. style> Bold numbers again indicate possible resonance areas. style> As in the case of the Helmholtz calculation, there is a general trend, with resonance possibilities occurring for lower partial numbers as the musical pitch increases. style> Thus, the fifteenth partial of note G1, the fourth partial of note G4, the third partial of note C5, the second partial of note C6, and the first partials (fundamentals) of notes C7 and C8 show such behavior. style> In some of these calculations, there is departure from the restrictions placed on Equations 4 and 5, though the trends illustrated here should be still valid.

In general terms, we thus come to a similar conclusion as with the Helmholtz calculation; namely, that the lower-pitched reeds can provide higher partials with frequencies that can match the quarter-wave resonant mode of their cavities, and that, as the pitch of the reed increases, lower-numbered partials can provide such frequencies, until we arrive at the highest-pitched reeds, where the fundamental itself provides such frequencies.

As mentioned earlier, and as shown in Figure 2, concertina cavity designs often situate the free tip of the reed tongue away from the air hole. From Table 1, for notes in the octave about C7, this arrangement invites the possibility of reed choking. As also noted previously, a simple remedy, among others, might be to mount the reed tip at the aperture end of the cavity, which might then result in tone enhancement. (See the section Quarter-Wave Tube Resonator for further explanation of such effects.)

Column L-FW does not normally apply to existing concertinas, since its calculation assumes a partition, with reed orientation shown as in Figure 5. I include it for completeness, and it may be of import to those interested in understanding and exploiting resonance phenomenon. Table 1 shows that only the highest-pitched reeds are expected to show susceptibility for fundamental resonance with full-wave tubes, indicating applicability somewhere in the vicinity of note C8.

One can see that the occurrence of resonant behavior in Table 1 is dependent upon the assumed dimensions of the cavities, and that real concertinas will have other cavity dimensions and other occurrences. It is important to note, however, that the general trend concluded here for both Helmholtz and tube models should be valid for real instruments.

Summary and Conclusions

Reed cavity resonance exhibits a full range of influence on concertina reed performance. In some cases, reed cavities have very little effect, while in other cases, there can be significant effect on the timbre and volume of the musical tone. Finally, resonance effects can cause serious interference with reed tongue vibration and musical tone, particularly for Helmholtz and quarter-wave resonance with high-pitched reeds. The Helmholtz resonator and quarter-wave tube models can explain much of the resonant behavior of reed cavities, and I have presented methods to calculate their resonant geometries. The sample calculations illustrate the range of influence of resonance on bass, baritone, treble, and piccolo instruments. For the lowest range of these instruments, only the higher partials of the musical tone appear open to influence. As one moves up the pitch range of this family of instruments, lower-numbered, more noticeable partials become susceptible to influence from cavity resonance, and for the highest pitches, I suggest resonant interference and reed choking is a danger in some cavity designs. Helmholtz resonance appears to be the more commonly experienced type of resonance, though quarter-wave resonance makes a significant appearance, in a less regular fashion.

In this article, I have presented possible mechanisms for interference and choking, remedies to prevent such behavior, and suggestions on how one might attempt exploitation of resonant effects for improved musical tone. These discussions and suggestions are based, in part, on my limited experimentation on these issues, which I cannot say is universally conclusive. Free-reed operation is a complicated affair, and I hope the discussion here can encourage participation by others.


1. See for instance, Gerhard Richter: Akustische Probleme bei Akkordeons und Mundharmonikas, Teil 1: Allgemeine Grundlagen (Kamen, Germany: Karthause-Schmulling, 1985). More recent—and in English—is a series of papers by James P. Cottingham, abstracts of which are published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America: ‘Acoustics of American Reed Organs’, 99 (1996), 2461; with Casey A. Fetzer, ‘Modeling Free Reed Behavior using Calculated Reed Admittance’, 102 (1997), 3084; ‘Theoretical and Experimental Investigation of the Air-Driven Free Reed’, 103 (1998), 2835.

2. Care must be taken so that no air jets or concentrations of air streams interfere with the self-excitation mechanism of tongue vibration.

3. Damping (friction) is also present in any real system, though it is not required for resonance. In this article, we neglect the small effect damping has on cavity resonant frequencies.

4. There is a mean (time-average) airflow through the cavity, upon which is superimposed an air vibration with oscillating pressure and velocity. The magnitude of these oscillations depends upon spatial position within and about the cavity.

5. Any concertina player can observe the tone chamber effect by playing the instrument close inside the corner of a room. Sound reflection off the walls in this case produces a tone with timbre noticeably different from that of the tone played out in the open.

6. Free reeds were used in organ pipes, though they were, to my knowledge, discontinued during the 1920’s because their start (attack) transient was regarded as too slow.

7. See Cottingham, ‘Acoustics of a Symmetric Free Reed Coupled to a Pipe Resonator’, abstract in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 107 (2000), 2896. An important difference between Asian and Western free reeds is that the Asian reed operates always as an “opening” reed, whereas the Western free reed operates as a “closing” reed and sometimes as both a “closing” reed and an “opening” reed. For an explanation of this terminology and the implications, see Neville H. Fletcher and Thomas D. Rossing, The Physics of Musical Instruments, 2nd ed. (New York: Springer, 1999), 401, 413.

8. Aldo Mencasini, owner, Bell-Duovox Accordion, West Nyack, New York, private communication.

9. The presence of a mean flow through the reed vent has a small (second order), but sometimes significant, effect on reed performance.

10. Some people are erroneously under the impression that the partials in the musical tone of squeezeboxes are caused by higher resonance modes in the reed tongue itself, in the same way that a vibrating guitar string produces its partials.

11. See Cottingham, C. Joseph Lilly, and Christopher H. Reed, ‘The Motion of Air-Driven Free Reeds’, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 105 (1999), 940.

12. By partition, I mean a lengthwise divider down the middle of the cavity, with only the vicinity of the port hole allowing acoustical communication between the resulting half-size cavities.

13. Named after Hermann Helmholtz (1821-1894), whose Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik (Brunswick, 1863; English translation by A. J. Ellis, 1875/reprinted 1956, as On the Sensations of Tone) is one of the classic studies of musical acoustics. As Allan W. Atlas has noted, Ellis himself played the concertina; see ‘Who Bought Concertinas in the Winter of 1851? A Glimpse at the Sales Accounts of Wheatstone & Co.’, Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies, 1, ed. Bennett Zon (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), 63-64.

14. The calculation of k is a complex exercise, though it has been done for cases that approximate its application here. The “end correction” kd is necessary to account for the inertia of the air mass that vibrates in the region immediately outside the air hole, and the extent of this mass depends upon the size of the hole with respect to the wavelength and the proximity of the pallet to the hole. For instruments where the pallet remains closer to the hole than stated, even larger values of k should be used. Such an effect is used in some marimbas, as a way of tuning the associated quarter-wave tube resonator. Note also that radiation loss from the cavity should be small when the stated restrictions are satisfied and is thus neglected in these calculations.

15. The main reason for this requirement is to ensure that the inherent assumptions of one- dimensional flow inside the tube are adhered to. For more rigorous conformity between this quarter-wave model and practice, one can place partitions down the center of the cavity, effectively doubling the ratio L/W, as discussed elsewhere in the text. Since the transverse dimensions are assumed much less than a quarter wavelength, waveform variations in the transverse direction are negligible, and the cross-sectional shape of the tube is not important, unless higher-order effects, such as wall friction, are included.

16. Since the clarinet is basically a quarter-wave tube with one end open and the other closed, and with the reed placed at the closed end, one might ask why the free reed behaves differently. The answer lies in the nature of the two reeds, as explained previously. The clarinet reed is a pressure-controlling device, whereas the free reed is a flow-controlling device. With the tube in resonance, the boundary condition at the wall requires a velocity node and a pressure maximum. Such a condition is compatible with the clarinet’s beating reed and incompatible with the free reed.

17. (see note 14).

18. The appearance of transverse standing waves should not invalidate the expressions given here; they can only add additional modes of vibration. Because of the geometries involved and the wall (zero velocity) boundary conditions in the transverse direction, only those transverse modes that support partials with frequencies having whole number ratios of the pertinent frequency are likely, and these would most often result in frequencies too high to be of interest. The resonant frequencies of mixed longitudinal/transverse modes, however, require a more complicated analysis.

19. One might be curious about why we skipped half-wave tube resonators, which would be shorter and perhaps more practical than full-wave tubes. The reason is that half-wave tubes require both ends open, and oscillations at one end are 180 degrees out of phase with those at the other end. Thus an arrangement with the vibrating reed tip at both ends, as in Figure 5, could not work, since this arrangement excites the two ends of the tube air with the same phase. Of course, one might separate both ends of the (half-wave and full-wave) tubes and excite only one end, but this would require two pallets connected to the same key, and this arrangement is not considered practical.

20. When the aperture area becomes too small in comparison to the tube cross section, WH, the end conditions are no longer simply ‘open’, but in this case, the tube may still function as a full-wave resonator, since even ‘closed’ conditions allow resonance (see also note 14).

21. For those interested in calculating the ‘Helmholtz’ resonant frequency in these cases, see Fletcher and Rossing, The Physics of Musical Instruments, 227–32, where a discussion is given for cases in which resonator dimensions are comparable to the wavelength in the long direction, L, but still require the transverse dimensions, W and H, to be much less than the wavelength. With these more complicated calculations involving wavelength effects, in which the resonator ceases to behave as the simple resonator, overtones occur, introducing additional possibilities for resonance.

The Black Concertina Tradition of South Africa

A Brief Outline

Two important developments in the nineteenth century bear directly on our topic. First, the Industrial Revolution made possible the mass production of consumer goods—including musical instruments—at greatly reduced costs to the consumer; and among these instruments were the concertina, accordion, and other squeezebox relatives of the free-reed family. Second, the combination of exploration and burgeoning of capitalist trade opened up Africa, Asia, and other ‘distant lands’ hitherto unfamiliar to Europeans. Among these was South Africa, which fell under British administration in 1814. And with the realization in the 1880s of South Africa’s underground resources, there began the great rush for gold and diamonds in the areas around Kimberley and Johannesburg, as well as the formation of the country’s mining towns. As Christoph Wagner notes, the global spread of mass-produced free-reed instruments ‘offered everyone active participation in the practice of music …’. He continues:

in the second half of the 19th century, young people were leaving rural areas and moving into the cities … The same went for the concertina in the newly developing mining towns of South Africa, [and for] the bandoneon in the tango music of Buenos Aires and Montevideo … people from different districts, regions and countries, with different skin colours, religions, languages, dialects and needs met each other.

And finally, he talks about the development of ‘new-style forms of musical expression’.1

Before beginning our narrative about the concertina in South Africa, a few words are necessary about that nation’s racial, political, and economic structures. That the black majority was limited in terms of both economic and musical-cultural opportunities goes without saying. In the twentieth century, for example, songs were strictly censored,2 and white and black musicians were discouraged from playing together. In fact, many social divisions were reflected in distinctive musical traditions. On the other hand, the reservoir of cheap rural labour (called upon as needed to work the country’s urban industries) meant that, despite the untold misery, there was an on-going social and cultural interchange—including a musical cross-fertilisation—between races and classes, countryside and city.3

From the early 1880s on, then, labour was required as the mines and dependent industries opened up. And since it was not possible for whole families to move into this raw, new environment, a workforce was quickly built up of rural black males of varying ethnic backgrounds and cultures who were brought into the cities by the chance of paid work. Moreover, it quickly became obvious that entertainment was needed for the miners and other workers. One of the ways in which this need was filled was by the mine shops, which sold musical instruments, in particular guitars, violins, harmonicas, and, of course, concertinas. From the start, the concertinas were the cheap German or Italian models, as the mineworkers’ main aim was usually to provide for families back in their sometimes far-distant villages and rural communities (not that they could have afforded the superior English-made instruments even had they been available).

In recent times, Bastari (now Stagi) have been the main suppliers. In fact, Zulu speakers sometimes call the concertina ‘iBastari’,4 though it is commonly known as the ‘squashbox’. The concertina most often used by black musicians (and by some Boeremusiek players, as well) is based on the twenty-button ‘Anglo-German’ system, and usually has two riveted accordion-type reeds per note, tuned an octave apart. This gives a full sound, ‘a dense texture that resembles the broad sonority of a Sotho male-voice chorus’, as David Coplan describes it.5 And though the action on these instruments is less than fast, it is astonishing to hear what a good player can accomplish.

The button board of the standard squashbox (as built by Stagi) is laid out as follows (see Figure 1):

Fig. 1. Layout of buttons on the standard squashbox.

Like the Anglo, this gives two different notes for each button, one when the bellows are pulled, the other when pushed. And to those familiar with the Anglo buttonboard, it is like an Anglo in E flat and B flat, but with the push/pull reversed on both the right-hand end of the E-flat row and the left-hand end of the B-flat row. (In addition, there is a D on the pull on the right-hand row.) To an Anglo player like myself, it is a bit like trying to ride a bicycle on which, upon turning the handlebar left, the bike turns right—but only sometimes.

In his history of the accordion, Pierre Monichon traces back to 1832 the convention that push/pull instruments have the chord of the major tonic on the push all along one row of buttons.6 This is true for melodeons, diatonic accordions, bandoneons, concertinas, and even mouth organs. In fact, the squashbox is the only instrument that I’ve come across that breaks the rule. Why? And when did this special layout become the standard in South Africa?

Some years ago, Dr Bastari assured me that he had no records concerning the origins of the system, and I have as yet found no one who can shed any light on the matter. And though there are disadvantages to the squashbox layout, there are also some advantages. One useful feature is that several notes (B flat, C, D, E flat, F, and G) are available on both push and pull, so that the player does not ‘run out of bellows’ when continually playing the same note; he can simply change button and direction. As Clegg notes: ‘The first thing you’re taught is to find out which notes sound the same when pushed in and pulled out’.7 Certainly, this factor is used to good purpose on many recordings, with exciting, sustained drone effects that cut across the rhythm, either in the bass or in a higher register, at times a fifth, at times an octave from the tonic. The system also makes it useful, if not essential, to cross rows, so that players do not think of distinct B-flat and E-flat rows, but rather in terms of discrete notes on different parts of the buttonboard.

It seems fair to assume that the earliest cheap concertinas arriving in South Africa had Anglo tunings, but that at some stage someone decided to change some of the notes around.8 Clearly, the alteration caught on, and eventually got back to the Bastari works. Though there are today high-quality concertinas made in South Africa, these would have had little relevance for the development of the black tradition.

The anthropologist-musician Johnny Clegg has developed a rich biculturalism, speaking fluent Zulu and performing throughout the world. He plays both guitar and concertina, which he learnt in his teens from black musicians (an apprenticeship which led him to many nights in custody under apartheid laws). He has a profound understanding of the concertina in Zulu music, and suggests that

A Zulu will wear a three piece suit, but with sandals on his feet. The Zulu has thus ‘neutralised’ the value attached to the suit. It is no longer a western object; he has ‘Africanised’ it … The same system of ‘neutralisation’ exists with musical instruments … each object keeps its form, but is diverted from its primary function.9

To which he adds:

[For the Zulus] the guitar and the concertina became part of what is known as the gxagxa musical tradition. The gxagxa are. . .somehow problematically situated between what we call a really fervent traditionalist, Ibhinca, somebody who wears the skins, and Ikhola, a Christian. He’s somebody who has mixed both music forms and has developed a ‘mazkande’ tradition.10

There are references to many different ethnic groups taking up the concertina at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Thus Coplan notes that

Southern Sotho miners … played … the concertina in place of traditional solo instruments as accompaniment to the individualized singing and dancing of their friends … [Mpondo miners] developed an affinity for the concertina. New concertina dances integrated rhythms and steps developed by migrants in urban areas into a framework of traditional dances.11

He goes on to say:

Mpondo players depended more on European and Cape Coloured folk rhythms and melodies than [did] the Sotho, though the latter were by no means immune to Afrikaans vastrap rhythms, Cape Melodies, and the ‘three-chord vamp’ … music constructed according to traditional Sotho principles … through the polyphonic movement of parallel fourths and fifths within the structure of the western ‘three-chord’ (tonic-dominant-subdominant) system.12

Certainly, the concertina can be used within either a two-chord or three-chord structure with few problems, though depending on the actual scales and chords used, the choice of key is limited on a twenty-button instrument.

Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, and Sotho all had their own languages, songs and dances, and instrumental traditions, and their menfolk took the new instruments back to the villages when they went on leave. Clegg talks of the Zulu concertina tradition being

generated out of acculturation, out of a process whereby migrants left their homelands, went into the city, were exposed to different musical forms and came back … in Kwasulu you will not find any exponents of good concertina music … unless they are migrants.13

Thus the concertina quickly found a place as an innovative means of interpreting the old, rural African traditions, which were still very much alive; and its low price, as well as its relative durability and portability, helped make it a favourite.

As the concertina became integrated into the black tradition, so the traditional music itself, reflecting the changes in society, was subjected to other influences. Black musicians certainly heard the folk-dance music of British and Boer traditions, as they did various styles of popular music and song. In fact, both Percy Honri and Alexander Prince, concertinsts of music hall fame (both on the Duet concertina), played in South Africa in the early twentieth century, and Honri actually made recordings there, with vocals in Afrikaans (the latter being largely irrelevant to most black musicians).

There is an interesting perspective on this ‘mixed’ musical development in J. R. Couper’s novel, Mixed Humanity, published in Natal in 1892. He offers the following description of a dance:

After knocking at the door, which was opened by a coloured man, they were accosted by a very fat, bloated woman, almost black, sitting on a chair just inside the entrance … Underneath the stage, in the place set apart for the orchestra, and facing outwards, was a band consisting of five men of various shades of colour. Their musical instruments were two squeaking fiddles, two guitars, and a loud-toned concertina. The body of the hall was occupied by about thirty couples dancing a set of quadrilles. The ladies, like the bandmen, were of all colours, from the delicate complexion of the Colonial girl to the coal-like black of the zulu. There were but few whites amongst them, and, with hardly one exception, all were ugly and coarse-looking. They were gaudily attired in ill-fitting dresses.14

Clearly, Couper hardly approved of the ‘mixed’ scene. Another passage is even more censorious:

Charlie was a ‘Christian Nigger’—a term applied to civilized and converted Kaffirs. He had been educated at a mission station in his native land, but, like many South African blacks who enjoyed this wholesome and beneficial influence, he had turned his privileges to but poor account, at least so far as honesty was concerned … He had a rather good tenor voice, which the missionaries had taken no little pains to cultivate for choir purposes … And he was a proficient concertina player.15

One more note about the nineteenth century: the Afrikaaners (Boers), too, adopted the concertina in all its forms, and even today, there are thriving Boeremusiek groups and clubs, often featuring excellent players. The instrument is seen by many to be part of the traditional Boer identity, even to the extent that I have been told that traditional music was played on the concertina during the ‘Great Trek’ (1830s), though that took place before the widespread production and commercialization of the instrument worlds away in Europe!

The process amongst those touched by the developing mixed culture of the black mineworkers continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century, and the concertina became fully part of the evolving musical tradition.16 Always versatile, it was used to accompany both songs and dancing, both as a solo instrument and as part of various ensembles. Only as the years went by, did some musicians develop a preference for the piano accordion.17

Bongeni Mthethwa of the University of Natal, mentions another—if seemingly unlikely—use for the instrument:

Traditionally, the Maskanda uses his instruments as a mode of transport. He can walk long distances to the music of his guitar/concertina. The concertina is supposed to ‘transport’ him, since the walk becomes transformed into a musical experience. It is also common to find the guitar, violin, concertina ensemble forming a walking band in the rural areas.18

To this Clegg adds, referring to the concertina:

This is a bus, this is transport, this will take you wherever you want to go … This is a very physical instrument … if you walk playing … the isifutho [air button] … will allow you to open and close it. It’s got to be pushed at the right times during the rhythms to enable you to go in and out … while you’re playing your tune … As you’re playing, you’re walking, your fingers are playing the notes … and I know that my little finger is going to go with my left foot when I put it down.19

The cross-fertilisation of musics went on. For example, a strong jazz tradition developed in the cities of South Africa, sometimes closely derivative of American jazz, at other times having its own special character. Other styles, in turn, sprang from this, notably the Kwela tin-whistle music. As time passed, recordings were released on 78 rpm discs. Some, from the 1940s, feature concertina playing that shows the influence of western, jazz-flavoured dance bands, just as they sometimes hint at European folk influences, and even echo the ‘blackface minstrel’ music which was also popular, particularly in Capetown. At the same time, the on-going two-way contact with the countryside — mineworkers came and went — ensured repeated ‘new’ influences from that source.

As everywhere, popular music styles develop and change. Yet as other instruments were introduced, the squashbox continued to hold its place well into the 1970s, by which time western pop music was making itself felt everywhere. The styles known as ‘Township Jive’ and ‘Mbaqanga’ developed as something of a synthesis of the earlier urban styles, the continuing rural traditions, and rock and pop imported mainly from the United States and Britain. Thousands of recordings were made using various combinations that one associates with rock, but which also included violins, accordions, and concertinas. And though the musical style is quite different, the concertina often plays a role somewhat parallel to the clarinet in New Orleans jazz, in that while it is not necessarily the lead instrument, it weaves in and out of the mix, with crisp, sharp, repeated phrases, adding a special feel and dimension to the overall sound.

Since the end of the 1970s, the urban use of the concertina has had mixed fortunes as regards popularity. One reasons was perhaps the rising price of concertinas in South Africa, but more importantly, musical fashions moved on, and the newer disco-oriented rhythms and technology did not offer a comfortable fit for the instrument. To cite Clegg once again:

Traditional music in the late 80s was seen to be backward. [It] was seen to be politically retrogressive, reactionary. And the rise of Inkatha meant that traditional Zulu music was seen as aligned to tribalism. There’s a very strong tension in South Africa between modernism and tribalism.20

In the late 1980s, a fourteen-year-old black friend from Soweto said, upon hearing some of my township records: ‘Yes, it’s good music; it’s what older people, like my mother, listen to’.—serious condemnation, indeed, from a fourteen-year-old.

In March 1990, Johnny Clegg told me that it was very rare now to hear the concertina played in the streets. When the famous concertinist Sipho Mchunu (also a fine guitarist) issued the recording Yithi Esavimba in 1999, he did not use the concertina at all. As Clegg, a close friend of mine for years, informed me: ‘I told him he should [use the concertina] … but keyboards play the concertina part instead’.

Though perhaps out of fashion, the concertina did not die out altogether, as more recordings including the instrument were released on cassettes by the likes of Ngane and Khamba, Amaphisi, and Inzitombi Zenhlanhla. To be sure, the tapes are not found in smart city record stores, but were aimed mainly at an ‘unsophisticated’ rural market, and usually included electric bass, guitar, drums, and powerful vocals. At the same time, maskanda musicians continue to play, generally unamplified, in streets and marketplaces, their groups typically consisting of concertina, whistle, violin, and a guitar or two. Finally, ‘Gumboot’ dance teams, whose origins reach back to the early days of the mines, compete against each other, formally or informally, often accompanied by these same instruments.

I will conclude by mentioning an exciting and perhaps far-reaching step towards the rehabilitation of the concertina. Neither ‘politically retrogressive’ nor ‘reactionary’, the singer Busi Mhlongo recently released a CD titled Urbanzulu (2000). Her strong, moving, joyful voice punches out a musical message for the twenty-first century with both power and passion, backed by a sizzling, driving, electric band—with concertina! The sensitive bellows control and the dynamic subtlety and delicacy of Mphendukwlwa Mkhize’s playing, allied with the crisp rhythmic lift, overcome many of the apparent constraints of the instrument, and make a rich contribution to the overall success of the disc. Is it too soon to ask if the concertina is back? The musicianship echoes Johnny Clegg’s words: ‘We say, you’re holding a life in your hands, because it breathes. It’s like a pulsing being that you’re holding when you’re playing. You can feel it, it breathes with you’.21

Discography: What follows is a very selective discography that includes samples of a wide range of the South African concertina. (One should supplement the recordings listed here with those cited in Jared Snyder, ‘Rusted Reeds: A Short Survey of Historic and Field Recordings of Free Reeds from Africa’, The Free-Reed Journal, 1 [1999], 60-75). Most of the recordings should be available from specialist suppliers such as Stern’s: <>; telephone numbers in London and New York, respectively, are: 44 207 3875550 and 1 (212) 964-5455.

Amakhansela, Phuzekhemisi. Gallo CDGMP 40886 (2002): where ‘Trad. Zulu’ edges towards ‘Township Jive’; electric bass, guitar, drums, and concertina.

Duo Juluka, Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu. World Network WDR 9 54.036 (1992): the Clegg-Mchunu Duo, with their take on maskanda; some of the best concertina playing around; they share the CD with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Gumboot Guitar, various artists. Topic TSCD 923 (2003): recent recordings from the international collection of the British Library; present-day street music as played for gumboot dancers; many tracks featuring excellent concertina playing; informative liner notes.

Iduma Lya Gebuza: Metal Reeds in Africa. Concertina, Melodeon & Harmonica, various artists, compiled and annotated by Peter Kennedy. Folktracks 45-815 (1976): field recordings from the 1950s, including a few concertina tracks; the rougher roots of the music; available from Folktracks, 16 Brunswick Square, Gloucester GL1 1UG; <>.

Indestructible Beat of Soweto, Ngane & Khamba. Stern’s Earthworks STEW 14CD (1985): first of a wonderful series focused mainly on ‘Township Jive’; a great concertina track by Ngane & Khamba.

Introducing Shiyani Ngcobo, Shiyani Ngcobo. World Music Network INTRO 01CD (2004): modern street maskanda; a few tracks with outstanding concertina playing.

Squashbox: Le Concertina Zoulou et Sotho en Afrique du sud, various artists, compiled and annotated by Harry Scurfield. Silex Y225107 (1993): a compilation of early 78 rpm recordings, all with concertina; currently out of print.

Urbanzulu, Busi Mhlongo. M. E. L. T. BW 2118 (2000): driving music from a wonderful voice; weaving in and out of the texture is Mphendukelwa Mkhize’s robust and subtle, punchy and delicate concertina playing.

A Pictorial Postscript: Since with the exception of Figure 4, the three illustrations that follow are not specifically related to any one point in the main text of the article, we have placed them one after the other in a postscript of sorts. All three illustrations are from the collection of free reed-related iconography amassed by Jared Snyder and are reproduced here with his kind permission.

Fig. 2 ‘A Musical Quartette’, postcard circa 1900-1910.

Fig. 3. ‘A minister visits the village’, photograph circa 1905.

Fig. 4. ‘On the way home from the mines’, from a series of postcards, circa 1900, titled ‘Sketches of South African Life’, Series I: ‘Kaffir Life’.


1. Christoph Wagner, ‘Zur Rezeption und weltweiten Verbreitung der Handharmonika-instrumente’, in Harmonium und Handharmonika: Bericht des 20. Musikinstrumentenbau-Symposiums, 1999. Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte, 62, ed. Monika Lustig (Blankenburg: Stiftung Michaelstein, 2002), 196.

2. On the way in which music was censored on the radio, see Jeremy Marre and Hannah Charlton, Beats of the Heart: Popular Music of the World (New York: Pantheon, 1987), 44-47.

3. As Johnny Clegg points out: ‘The migrant is a tragic figure, stuck between two worlds, cut in two. He spends more time in the town than in the country, but when he arrives, he brings his culture with him’; quoted in Philippe Conrath, La Passion Zoulou (Paris: Editions Seghers, 1988), 73.

4. Johnny Clegg, The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers in Johannesburg: A Focus on Concertina and Guitar (Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand, 1981), 3.

5. David Coplan, In Township Tonight (London: Longman, 1985), 24.

6. Pierre Monichon, L’Accordéon. Collection ‘Que sais-je?’ (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971), 44-45.

7. Clegg, The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers, 9.

8. The same process took place in connection with the bandoneon in Argentina and Uruguay, where tango musicians adapted the so-called ‘Rhenish’ layout to their own musical needs; see among others, Maria Dunkel’s excellent liner notes for Bandoneon Pure: Dances of Uruguay. Traditional Music of the World, 5. Smithsonian Folkways SF 40431 (1993), 10; my thanks to Allan Atlas for the information and the reference.

9. Clegg, quoted in Conrath, La Passion Zoulou, 73.

10. Clegg, The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers, 1.

11. Coplan, In Township Tonight, 22-24.

12. Coplan, In Township Tonight, 23.

13. Clegg, The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers, 3.

14. J. R. Couper, Mixed Humanity (Natal, 1892), 36.

15. Couper, Mixed Humanity, 107-8.

16. Coplan, In Township Tonight, 24: ‘These trade-store musical instruments achieved such a wide distribution among non-Christian Africans by the early 1900s that they came to be considered fully traditional’.

17. Coplan, In Township Tonight, 5: ‘Sotho musicians are highly conscious of the contrasting properties of various instruments; they insist that…the piano-accordion allows for greater melodic and tonal variety and solo improvisation than the concertina’.

18. Private correspondence (1990), and see Fig. 4.

19. Clegg, The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers, 7.

20. Clegg, in an interview in Dirty Linen, 67 (1996), 19.

21. Clegg, The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers, 8.

Marie Lachenal: Concertinist


I. 1 Introduction: Marie Lachenal (1848-1937) had three claims to fame and social prominence: one by birth, one by marriage, and one acquired as an accomplished performer of classical music on the English concertina. Born to the concertina by virtue of the family business—‘Louis Lachenal, Concertina Manufacturer’, the firm established by her father in 18582—Marie learned to play the concertina and applied her talents to the promotion of Lachenal concertinas long after her father’s death in 1861 and her mother’s divestiture of the business in the early 1870s.

In 1868, Marie married Edwin A. Debenham (1844-1925), a member of a family of photographers who specialized in portraits of royalty, statesmen, and artists, as well as somewhat less illustrious clientele. Founded by Edwin’s father near the very dawn of photography, the family photography business bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and eventually produced three generations of Debenham photographers.

Edwin and Marie’s family was large by modern standards, with nine children of whom eight survived infancy. And though Marie’s maternal responsibilities took a toll on her career as performer and teacher, she still managed to maintain high standards of performance throughout her absence from the stage for maternity and child rearing. In fact, the advent of what might be called her ‘second career’ in the 1880s saw her garner the same high praise from the critics that she had received in 1865-1866, when The Mesdemoiselles Lachenal—the teenagers Marie, Eugenie, and Josephine—first took to the stage in London and Edinburgh.

II. The Performer: Marie Lachenal and sisters Eugenie and Josephine made their debut at Myddelton Hall, in Islington, on 14 June 1865,3 at the ages of sixteen, fifteen, and thirteen, respectively, perhaps while still studying with Richard Blagrove (1826-1895), already a prominent concertina impresario by the 1860s and eventually the preeminent classical concertinist after the death of Giulio Regondi in 1872.4 The sisters’ Islington performance drew a glowing review in the Islington Times of 17 June 1865:5

… the Mdlles. Lachenal’s Concert is we believe the first entertainment available for the million[s] in which the Concertina has been in a position fairly to challenge a verdict on its merits as an orchestral instrument of surpassing beauty and extensive capabilities. The Concert commenced with an operatic selection for five Concertinas (two trebles, tenor, baritone and bass), of which the united effect was magnificent, now resembling the tones of the organ, now more like a string band, preserving the spirit of the airs, yet gracing them with novel charm … Mdlle Marie Lachenal was deservedly encored after performing a splendid fantasia on the airs from [Gounod’s] “Faust” on the Concertina with great taste and artistic effect; this one piece was sufficient to entitle the Concert to a success, but the enthusiasm of the audience rose higher still on hearing a trio of Scotch airs for treble, baritone and bass Concertinas by the Mdlles. Lachenal … the performance gave evidence of much talent and finished style and the Concert successfully demonstrated to the general public that which was known only to few enthusiastic amateurs—viz., the adaptability of the Concertina to first-class orchestral Music, where this elegant instrument shines with peculiar effect both in melody and harmony, and sustains the full score unaided by instruments of any other description.

And not only did Richard Blagrove attend the concert in order to lend support and enjoy the accomplishments of his students, but he was one of the concertinists who joined the sisters in the quintet that drew comment in the Islington Times review. The fifth member of the quintet was Blagrove’s sister, Ellen Attwater.6

In a letter to the editor of the South Hackney Correspondent for 27 July 1865, an enthusiastic admirer of the English concertina paid the Lachenal sisters the ultimate compliment, placing them in the company of the finest concertinists of the day: Giulio Regondi, Richard Blagrove, and George Case.7

Following the Islington performance in the summer of 1865, the Lachenal sisters headed to Edinburgh for an October 1865 performance at The Saturday Evening Concerts at the George Street Music Hall.8 Billed as ‘The Celebrated Performers on the ENGLISH CONCERTINA’, the ‘act’ consisted of Marie, Eugenie, Josephine, and their piano accompanist Frederick William Bridgman (1833-1892), an Edinburgh musician who also played the concertina and joined the sisters for a concertina quartet.9 What appears to have begun as a limited engagement lengthened into an October-January stay, prompted by highly favorable reviews of their performance:

The great novelty in the programme was the concerted pieces, arranged for three and four concertinas—the first occasion, we believe, in which such a combination has been heard in Edinburgh. The effect was exceedingly good, more especially in the operatic selections and the national airs. The first quartett, on themes from [Rossini’s] “Semiramide,” [Bellini’s] “Sonnambula,” and [Donizetti’s] “Lucrezia Borgia,” played by the sisters Lachenal and Mr. Bridgman, was most satisfactory both as to its arrangement and performance. Mdlle. Marie Lachenal’s solo on airs from [Gounod’s] “Faust” was also worthy of all praise for the tasteful and artistic manner in which it was rendered. Not less effective was the duet on subjects taken from [Meyerbeer’s] “Les Huguenots,” played by Mdlles. Marie and Eugenie on treble and tenor concertinas. The trio on national melodies, as might be expected met with an enthusiastic reception, and was re-demanded. Mdlles. Lachenal are unquestionably proficient on their respective instruments. . .(The Scotsman, 22 October 1865).

The successful performance on 21 October was followed by a Saturday Evening Concert at the Music Hall on 11 November; this performance received a round of accolades and an announcement of the sisters’ extended stay in Edinburgh:

The concertina playing of the Mdlles Lachenal and Mr Bridgman formed a most important feature in the concert. The quartette on airs from [Donizetti’s] L’Elisir d’Amore was exceedingly effective. It is cleverly arranged, and was most tastefully interpreted by Mr Bridgman and his fair co-executants. The duet on airs from [Auber’s] Le Domino Noir, &c, for treble concertina and pianoforte, was also most charmingly given by Mdlle Marie Lachenal and Mr Bridgman. The trio on Scottish airs by the three sisters was equally satisfactory, and received an encore, which, however, was gracefully declined. Their concluding number was the quartette introducing “Rule Britannia,” “Home, sweet home,” and God save the Queen.” During the performance of the National Anthem the audience remained seated—a phenomenon we never saw exhibited in any concert-room. We are glad to learn that these accomplished artistes intend to remain some time in Edinburgh, so that we may hope to have frequent opportunities of hearing them (The Scotsman, 13 November 1865).

The Lachenals’ next performance at the Music Hall’s Saturday Night Concerts took place on 16 December and, like the earlier ones, was loudly applauded:

Two concert solos, the one on national airs and the other on themes from [Rossini’s] William Tell, were tastefully played by Mdlle Marie Lachenal, and met with immense applause. Not less satisfactory as performances were the trio, by the three sisters, and the quartett, [Weber’s] “Invitation a la Danse,” in which they were assisted by Mr Bridgman. . .[who] discharged his usual duties as accompanist most efficiently (The Scotsman, 18 December 1865).

Between their major performances, the sisters contributed their talents to charity events, including a 13 December concert for the benefit of the Edinburgh Lifeboat Fund. The concert organizers were disappointed by the low turnout, but certainly not by the quality of the sisters’ performance:

The concertina, played by Mdlles. Lachenal and Mr Bridgman, was worthy of all praise, and loudly applauded, the quartette from [Donizetti’s] L’Elisir d’Amore and the trio on Scotch and Irish airs being re-demanded (The Scotsman, 14 December 1865).

Between their engagements at the Music Hall, the sisters also appeared at a ‘grand musical soirée’ sponsored by the Total Abstinence Society and the Band of Hope and held at the Corn Exchange Hall, Dalkeith, on 25 December. The sisters shared the instrumental segment of the program with the Band of the Edinburgh Volunteers. It was, however, Christmas Night, and there were no more than eight hundred in attendance, half of whom were children. But the Lachenal sisters played to their full-house standards and, as usual, their talents and efforts were rewarded by the reviewer:

The most attractive feature in the evening’s proceedings was the musical portion of the programme, which included a variety of excellent quartetts, trios, and solos for the concertina. . .admirably performed by Mdlles Marie, Eugenie, and Josephine Lachenal … Mr F.W. Bridgman … performed the duties of accompanist in his well-known superior style (The Scotsman, 27 December 1865).

The Lachenal sisters’ last performance in Edinburgh took place on 20 January 1866, once again as part of The Saturday Evening Concerts. And though they treated the audience to at least some pieces not included in their earlier performances at the Music Hall, they went unnoticed by the press. It appears that their last performance was not reviewed, at least not by The Scotsman, possibly because they were leaving Edinburgh and were therefore less newsworthy than when future performances loomed.

Marie and her sisters had little opportunity to capitalize on their successes. In 1868, Marie left the Lachenal household to set up housekeeping of her own with husband Edwin, and the Lachenal sisters trio was disbanded. Not until around 1920, when the Fayre Four Sisters—Inga, Tina, Sylvia, and Lillian Webb—took to the stage,10 would there be another all-sister concertina ensemble of the same high caliber as the Lachenal sisters.

The years from 1869 to the early 1880s were devoted to the Debenham children, which left little time for the concertina even in the parlor. Yet the later resurgence of Marie’s career suggests that she at least found time to maintain (possibly even add to) her technique with regular or occasional practice and through teaching both her own children and perhaps other pupils as well. If Marie performed outside the home at all, it was probably at small, fairly informal venues, somewhat akin to the charity concerts of the mid-1860s. Perhaps an exception to this was an occasional appearance at the series of concerts that Richard Blagrove liked to organize in connection with his Concertina Fund, these sometimes requiring forces of up to eight concertinas.11

We can catch a glimpse of the day-to-day stress of Marie’s life from an extract drawn from a family diary (now in the possession of the Debenham family) and dating from 1876:

Marie, pregnant with her 5th child, had joined Edwin in Weymouth where he was establishing a new business. In February [1876]. . .he took time to visit his favourite brother Arthur, in Ryde, where he worked by lamplight each evening, painting an opal picture which would be sent as a specimen. About ten days after he left the Isle of Wight, Marie sent a note to her brother-in-law requesting he come immediately to visit his brother Edwin, who had been stricken with a condition known as erysipelas [known as ‘St. Anthony’s Fire’, a viral infection]. Arthur left Ryde by train and within hours found his special brother in a delirious state with a fever ranging from gentleness in lucid intervals to raging at its height. This was an extremely anxious time for Marie as her sister Eugenie was in another room confined with scarlet fever. Finally Elizabeth Lachenal arrived from London with another brother of Edwin’s to assist.

Edwin took months to regain his strength, and, within a few months, Marie gave birth to Frederick (Albert Debenham’s father), in Weymouth, on 23 April 1876.12

In 1885, Marie reappeared among the ranks of leading concertinists. The occasion was the International Inventions Exhibition in London, which brought out the flock of high-profile concertinists from the ‘stables’ of both Wheatstone and Lachenal. The concertina activities at the Exhibition were recorded as follows:

At the Inventions Exhibition Messrs. Wheatstones’ Recitals by Mr. G. [sic!] Blagrove, Mr. J.C. Ward, and the Messrs. Chidley, were greatly admired, and the Quartettes which were played on the Treble, Tenor, and Bass Concertinas showed the beautiful effect of concerted music, when performed on the Concertinas, and by competent musicians. The solos were also artistically rendered. Again, there were the Recitals by Mr. James Alsepti, Mr. Henry Roe, Mr. George Roe, and Madame Debenham, under the direction of Messrs. Lachenal and Co., and various solos (some of them comprising the most difficult music) being accomplished on this instrument in a manner that would take a good Violinist to excel.13

That Marie must have held her own in the midst of this all-star cast is evidenced by the following review:

A concert given to prove the pure and brilliant quality of the Lachenal concertina afforded much gratification to the large audiences in the music-room of the International Inventions Exhibition last Tuesday evening. . .Marie Lachenal . . .played fantasias from Gounod, Rossini, and Meyerbeer, with consumate [sic] ease, and was deservedly applauded.14

We can see what Marie looked like at this time from a full-length portrait showing her with concertina in hand; the portrait was made by husband Edwin at the Debenham studio just around the time of the Exhibition (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Marie Lachenal with concertina (photograph by Edwin A. Debenham, Debenham & Co., York, c. 1885; reproduced courtesy of the Debenham family). (Leeds Mercury)

The positive response to her performance just a few years after the birth of her last child, Elsie Linda, in 1882, must have provided a psychological boost. And Marie began to look forward to a ‘second’ full-fledged career as a concertinist. In the next two decades, she earned acclaim from audiences from Huddersfield and Leeds in the north to Southampton and Torquay in the south, all the while continuing to take on concertina pupils.
Around the turn of the century, Marie reinforced her efforts to promote her career by having an ‘announcement’ printed that advertised her availability as both performer and teacher (see Fig. 2), and followed that with a number of choice excerpts from reviews that she had clipped from the press, a selection from which follows.15

Fig. 2. Marie’s ‘announcement’, c. 1900
(reproduced courtesy of the Debenham family).

Mme. Marie Lachenal performed R. Blagrove’s concertina solo ‘Scottish Airs’ in a manner which delighted the audience, who insisted on its repetition. (Southampton Times)

Winter Garden Concerts—Foremost amongst those on Monday evening was Mme. Lachenal, whose solos ‘Les Huegenots’ [sic], ‘Le Prophéte,’ and ‘Fantasia on airs from Faust,’ again proved her thorough acquaintance with the concertina, and the applause with which she was greeted shewed that this lady has won her way to popular favor. (Torquay Times)16

Mme Lachenal again sustained the reputation she has gained on more than one occasion for the masterly way in which she handles the English concertina, and her ‘Scotch Airs’ were loudly applauded. (Devon County Standard)17

Mme. Lachenal showed herself to be a very facile and correct executant, and an accomplished artiste in her style of playing, her accent and phrasing being particularly good, and her ability in bringing out the dramatic side of the music was really remarkable. Indeed, she showed what a wonderful variety of tone and expressiveness can be obtained from the instrument by a good player. (Huddersfield Examiner)

Leeds Coliseum Saturday Concerts—The feature of the performance was the rendering of a couple of concertina solos by Mme. Lachenal, of Huddersfield, in such a manner as to win the hearty applause of the audience. Her fingering of the instrument was perfect. She is the best performer of the kind we have heard for some time. (Leeds Daily News)18

Leeds Coliseum Saturday Concerts—A novelty in the evening’s entertainment, and one which will bear repeating was a concertina solo by Mme. Marie Lachenal, who succeeded in drawing music from the instrument which few would have given it credit for possessing.

Dating from the turn of the century is another portrait of Marie with her concertina (Fig. 3). Produced by husband Edwin, it roughly coincided with Marie’s announcement of her continuing availability for performances and teaching.

Fig. 3. Marie Lachenal with concertina (photograph by Edwin A. Debenham, Debenham Studios, Gloucester, c. 1900; reproduced courtesy of the Debenham family).

III. The Musical Repertory: Thanks to the many references to specific pieces in the announcements and reviews of her concerts in the 1860s and in the 1880s through the turn of the century, we can form a fairly good picture of Marie’s repertory. The Appendix lists all the pieces culled from those announcements and reviews.

IV. The Lachenal and Debenham Families: Marie Lachenal was born on 13 August 1848 in the family home at 26 King Street (now part of Shaftesbury Avenue),19 London, and was christened on 11 February 1849 at St. Anne’s, Soho, London. She was the first of nine children born to Louis (1821-1861) and Elizabeth Lachenal (1825-1904), born Jeanne (or Françoise) Marie Elisabeth Irion.20 Louis and Elizabeth married on 3 November 1847, probably in Elizabeth’s hometown of Ferney Voltaire (France), but possibly across the border in Geneva (given that Louis was Swiss-born). They departed for London shortly thereafter, arriving there on 10 November 1847. (Louis had originally settled in England in December 1839.)

The Lachenals’ eight other children were: Jane Elizabeth (23 July 1849 – 2 March 1883), who adopted the stage name Eugenie; Josephine (b. 28 January 1851), the third of the concertina-playing sisters; Louis Jules (b. 16 May 1853); Constance (b. 19 August 1855); François Edouard (b. 27 July 1856), Marie Louise (b. c. 25 October 1857); Alice (b. 27 November 1859); and Alexander (b. 17 October 1861). Louis Lachenal died on 18 December 1861, just three years after beginning to market concertinas under his own name (rather than wholesaling to Wheatstone) and moving his operations to 8, Little James Street, Bedford Row, London, WC, along which street Lachenal concertinas would be manufactured for the next seventy-some-odd years.21

After Louis’ death, Elizabeth managed the firm until 1873, at which time she sold the business to a group of Lachenal employees, who changed the name to Lachenal & Co.22 Elizabeth then spent three decades in retirement, and died on 10 September 1904 in the home of daughter Marie Louise Waddell in Stout Green, North London.

To return to Marie: by 1867 she had met and fallen in love with Edwin Alfred Debenham, who, having a fine voice, was also something of a performer, and often sang at public concerts. Marie and Edwin married on 7 April 1868 in St. Peter’s Church, Regent Square, London. Edwin was born on 7 June 1844 in Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk, where the Debenham family was long established and well known.23 He was the seventh of eight children born to Samuel and Salome Debenham (born Warren). Recognizing the opportunities stemming from the recent advances in photography and with something of an artistic flair of his own, Samuel Debenham had moved his family to London in 1846 to pursue a career as a photographer. By 1860, he was well established with his own studios, having learned much about the new art form, which he then taught to his sons.
By 1862, Edwin and younger brother Arthur were working for their older brother, William Elliott Debenham (age twenty-three), who had already set up a successful studio at 158 Regent Street, London. In 1867, Edwin and Arthur formed a partnership and set up a studio of their own in Ryde, Island of Wight. Within a year, though, Arthur had married, and Edwin agreed to withdraw from the partnership, though not without a cash settlement. The Isle of Wight became the center of Arthur’s business and an opportune site for advancing the Debenham slogan of ‘Photographer to Royalty’. Indeed, Arthur was a favorite photographer of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra when they resided at Osborne House, their summer home, or went sailing on the royal yacht ‘Victoria’.24 In addition, Arthur produced a family portrait of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandria, taken during the Russian royal family’s last visit to England in 1910.

Edwin’s older brother, William Elliott, preferred to operate mainly from his Regent Street studio, which was an ideal location for attracting such high-profile clients as members of the royal family, prime ministers, poets, and artists. Edwin chose a decentralized approach, expanding his operation around England, especially (but not exclusively) along the southern coast. Among his locations: the early studio in Reigate, Surrey, as well as E. Debenham (later Debenham & Gould), Glen View Studios in Bournemouth,25 E. Debenham (later Debenham & Smith) in Southampton, E. Debenham’s ‘Royal Portraits Studio’ in Weymouth, Debenham & Co. in York, and the Debenham studios in Torquay and Gloucester. The Debenham studios also reached north to Edinburgh, where Edwin had a studio that would later belong to his son and namesake, Edwin Holford Debenham (c. 1872-1936).26

A number of calling cards and cabinet cards produced at the studios of Edwin, his brothers, and their sons may still be found among collectors.27 A particular passion of Edwin Debenham was the pleasure of photographing Marie and his children. In addition to portraits of Marie with her concertina (see Figures 1 and 3), Edwin produced a cameo-mount portrait of her at age seventy. Shown in Figure 4, it dates from 1919.
In 1869, with Marie at his side, Edwin opened his studio in Reigate, Surrey. At the same time, the family began to grow with the arrival of their first child, Lucy Alice. Their first son, Arthur Jules, was born in late 1870, and seven more children arrived during the next twelve years: Edwin Holford (c. 1872-1936), Leonard (b. 1874),28 Frederick William (1876-1956),29 Philip Eugene (b. c. 1877), Leonard Coleman (b. c. 1879), Josephine (b. 1880), and Elsie Linda (1882-1967), their places of birth seemingly following the path of Debenham studios across England.

Fig. 4. Marie Lachenal (photograph by Edwin A. Debenham, Debenham Studios, 1919; reproduced courtesy of the Debenham family).

The 1871 census shows that Marie and Edwin’s residence was in Reigate. A decade later, the family was located in Holford, Holdenhurst, near Bournemouth, whereas the 1891 census has the family at 24 Newton Lane, Castlegate District, York, and records Edwin and Marie as ‘Photographer[s]’. The 1901 census places Marie, Edwin, and three of the children in Gloucester; by 1920, Marie and Edwin were residing in Nottingham.

Though Marie taught the concertina to some of the children, none of them followed her as a profession concertinist. Nonetheless, the 1901 census records both Josephine (then age twenty) and Elsie Linda (age eighteen) as ‘Musical student[s]’, with Josephine eventually having a career as a music teacher.

Finally, retirement took Edwin and Marie to Darlington, in northern England (a few miles south of Durham). This was a time for Edwin, patriarch of a family with deep religious convictions, to direct his energies to the church, where he was a lay reader. Edwin died on 21 February 1925 at their home on Northgate Street; and after a widowhood of twelve years, Marie Lachenal died on 29 May 1937, at age 88. She was buried on 1 June in the Darlington East Cemetery, Geneva Road, Darlington.


Marie Lachenal’s Repertory

What follows is a list of pieces that constitute at least part of Marie Lachenal’s repertory as these may be culled from the Islington Times review of her 1865 concert, the announcements and reviews of the 1865/66 Edinburgh concerts that appeared in The Scotsman, and the reviews that appeared in various newspapers of the concerts that Marie gave in the 1880s and later. The great majority of works—both for concertina with piano and for concertina ensembles—belong to the almost-proverbial ‘Fantasia on. . .’ genre, that is, settings of well-known songs and popular opera arias of the day that were intended to display the performer’s virtuosity. In some instances, it is not possible to identify the composer with certainty, as more than one concertinist-composer/arranger drew on the same ‘common stock’ of materials. We have, therefore, attributed pieces as follows: (1) when the composer is named in either an announcement or a review, his name is indicated together with an asterisk; (2) when a title can be assigned to more than one composer (that is, more than one composer wrote a piece with the same title, based on the British Library’s online catalogue or Wheatstone’s Catalogue of Music for the English Concertina or Aeola, c. 1919), we have favored the piece by Blagrove (as long as it is known to date from before the concert in question) on the grounds of his close relationship with Marie Lachenal. Publication dates follow those in the British Library online catalogue <>. Finally, the list is organized by type of ensemble.

A. Treble concertina and pianoforte

Concertante Duet on Airs from ‘Le Domino’, ‘Fra Diavolo’, and ‘Masaniello’, Blagrove and Sydney Smith* (n.d.)
Duet on Airs from Herold’s ‘Zampa’, Blagrove (1862)
Fantasia on Airs from Donizetti’s Opera ‘Linda di Chamounix’, Blagrove (1848)
Fantasia on Airs from Gounod’s [Opera] ‘Faust’, Blagrove* (1863)
Fantasia on Airs from Meyerbeer’s Opera ‘Le Prophéte’, Blagrove (1851)
Fantasia on Airs from Meyerbeer’s Opera ‘Les Huguenots’, Blagrove (1851)
Fantasia on Airs from Rossini’s Opera ‘Guillaume Tell’, Blagrove (1855)
Fantasia on Airs from Schira’s Opera ‘Niccolò di Lapi’, Blagrove (1863)
Fantasia on Airs from Verdi’s Opera ‘Il Trovatore’, Blagrove (1856)
Fantasia on English Airs, Blagrove (no copy in the British Library)
Fantasia on Scottish Airs, Blagrove (1854)
Fantasia on ‘Souvenir de Donizetti’, Blagrove (1867)
Serenade, Regondi* (1859)30

B. Concertina ensembles

Invitation à la Danse, probably based on the famous piece by Carl Maria von Weber (two trebles, tenor, and bass)
Mozart, Quartet in F major [K. 590] (two trebles, tenor, and bass)
Quartet on Airs from [Donizetti’s]‘L’Elisir d’Amore’, George Case* (two trebles, tenor, and bass)
Quartet on English Airs, George Case* (two trebles, tenor, and bass)
Selections from Meyerbeer’s Opera ‘Les Huguenots’, Blagrove (treble and tenor)
Selections from Rossini’s Opera ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’, (two trebles, tenor, and bass)
Selections from Rossini’s Opera ‘Guillaume Tell’, Blagrove (treble and tenor)
Themes from [Rossini’s] ‘Semiramide’, [Bellini’s] Sonnambula’, and [Donizetti’s] ‘Lucrezia Borgia’ (two trebles, tenor, and bass)
Trio on Scotch Airs, George Case* (treble, baritone, and bass; or two trebles and bass)
Trio on Irish Airs, George Case* (two trebles and bass)

C. Treble concertina and strings

Beethoven, Serenade (likely that in D major, Op. 8, 1797, with viola and cello)
English Airs (with violin, viola, and cello)
Mayseder, Duet No. 1, (with violin)
Mozart, Quartet, No. 23 [in F major, K. 590] (with violin, viola, and cello)


1. We appreciate the comments of Chris Algar, Richard Carlin, Stephen Chambers, Geoffrey Crabb, Robert Gaskins, Douglas Rogers, Neil Wayne, Wes Williams, and the editor of PICA. Stephen Chambers’s contribution to the documentation of Lachenal and Debenham genealogy deserves a special note of thanks.

2. On the firm of Lachenal, see the two important articles by Stephen Chambers: ‘Louis Lachenal: “Engineer and Concertina Manufacturer”, Part I’, The Free-Reed Journal, 1 (1999), 7-18; ‘Some Notes on Lachenal Concertina Production and Serial Numbers’, Papers of the International Concertina Association, 1 (2004), 3-23.

3. Both venue and date are identified in a review printed in The Musical Times, xii/269 (1 July 1865), 101; the review goes on to say: ‘The effect [of the concertina quintet] was exceedingly good; and the adaptability of the instruments to the execution of orchestral music was most successfully shown’.

4. On Blagrove’s concertina-related activities (he was also a violist in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and taught that instrument at the Royal Academy of Music), see Allan W. Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England, especially Chapters 4-6; on the Blagrove family of musicians, see The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., ed. Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 2001), iii, 670-71. In later years, Marie described herself as a ‘favourite student of Richard Blagrove’. A Richard Blagrove photograph in the form of a calling card was produced by the studio of Debenham & Gabell, 158 Regent Street, London; see <>.

The bibliography on Regondi (1822/23-1872) has grown rapidly in recent years: to cite only those items that are entirely or mainly concertina-related (he was also a virtuoso guitarist): Douglas Rogers, ‘Giulio Regondi: Guitarist, Concertinist, or Melaphonist? A Reconnaissance’, The Guitar Review, 91 (Fall 1992), 1-9; 92 (Winter 1993), 14-21; 97 (Spring 1994), 11-17; Tom Lawrence, ‘Giulio Regondi and the Concertina in Ireland’, Concertina World: International Concertina Association Newsletter, 411 (July 1998), 21-25 (online at <http:// www.ucd.le/pages/99/articles/Lawrence.pdf>); Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina, 48-54; ‘Collins, Count Fosco, and the Concertina’, Wilkie Collins Society Journal, new ser., 2 (1999), 56-60; ‘Giulio Regondi: Two Newly Discovered Letters’, The Free-Reed Journal, 4 (2002), 70-84 (the latter two articles online at <>); Helmut C. Jacobs, Der junge Guitarren- und Concertinavirtuose Giulio Regondi: Eine kritische Dokumentation seiner Konzertreise durch Europa, 1840 und 1841 (Bochum: Augemus, 2001); two forthcoming articles: Atlas, ‘A 41-Cent Emendation: A Textual Problem in Wheatstone’s Publication of Giulio Regondi’s Serenade for English Concertina and Pianoforte’, to appear in the journal Early Music (2005),33/4; Alessandro Boris Amisich, ‘Where was Regondi Born?’, to appear in Papers of the International Concertina Association, 3 (2006).

5. Our attempts to find a copy of this newspaper have come up short. We therefore quote the review as it appears in William Cawdell, A Short Account of the English Concertina by an Amateur: Its Uses and Capabilities, Faculty of Acquirement, and Other Advantages (London: W. Cawdell, 1865; reprinted with new title page, 1866), 15 (both versions online at <>).

6. Already a widow, Ellen (born c. 1816) is listed as living in Richard Blagrove’s household along with her three sons in the 1861 census.

7. See Cawdell, A Short Account, 22. The letter, signed ‘TREMELO-NON-TROPPO’, was almost certainly written by Cawdell himself. George Tinkler Case (1823-1892) was a violinist (in the Covent Garden Opera Orchestra), pianist, and concertinist, who turned out a voluminous amount of music for the concertina; see Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina, Chapters 4-5.

8. On the George Street Music Hall and the performances held there, see Robert Gaskins, ‘The Lachenal Sisters Visit Edinburgh, 1865-1866’, at <>, which includes all the notices from The Scotsman cited below (and more).

9. On the day of the concert, The Scotsman focused on the following highlight: ‘The programme for to-night contains a novelty—viz., the performance of a movement from Mozart’s Quartett in F major, played on four concertinas. The artistes are the Mdlles. Lachenal, of London celebrity, and Mr. Bridgman’. There are three possibilities for the quartet in question: K. 138 (1772), which Mozart called a Divertimento, the equally early K. 168 (1772/73) or, most likely, the late K. 590 (1790), one of the so-called ‘Prussian’ quartets (our thanks to Allan Atlas for this information). On Bridgman, who was noted as a child prodigy and enjoyed a successful career as a teacher in Edinburgh, see James D. Brown and Stephen S. Stratton, British Musical Biography: A Dictionary of Musical Artists, Authors and Composers Born in Britain and Its Colonies (London: Reeves, 1897; reprint: New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), 61.

10. On the Webbs, see Richard Carlin, ‘The Fayre Four Sisters’, The Free-Reed Journal, 3 (2001), 79-88.

11. See Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina, 67-68; it was for one of these concerts that the Dutch-born composer Edouard Silas wrote his now-lost Adagio in E for eight concertinas.

12. The late Albert Debenham was the husband of Faye Debenham, co-author of this article.

13. John Hill Maccann, The Concertinist’s Guide (London: Howard, 1888), 3-4 (online at <http://>). The initial ‘G.’ before Blagrove’s name should probably be ‘R.’ Maccann likely refers to Marie as ‘Madame Debenham’ because of the lengthy period that had elapsed since Marie had performed under her own name. On John Charles Ward, see Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina, passim; Alsepti is treated in some detail in Atlas, ‘Signor Alsepti and “Regondi’s Golden Exercise”’, Concertina World: Newsletter of the International Concertina Association, No. 426, supplement (July 2003); on the brothers Roe, see Atlas, ‘The Victorian Concertina: Some Issues of Performance Practice’, forthcoming in The Nineteenth-Century Music Review; finally, the Chidleys took over the firm of Wheatstone & Co. c. 1870 (see Chambers, ‘Some Notes on Lachenal Concertina Production’, 20, n. 18).

14. Illustrated London News, 1885. (We have not been able to determine the exact date of this review, which was preserved as a press clipping by Marie herself.)

15. Though Marie identified the newspapers from which the clippings were cut, she did not provide dates, which have yet to be determined.

16. The Winter Garden in Torquay, an iron and glass structure located behind the post office on Brandons Hill, was built in 1881 with about a 3,000-seat capacity. The structure was relocated to Wellington Pier in Great Yarmouth in 1904.

17. The Devon County Standard, founded on 1 April 1882, changed its name to the Torquay Observer and District News after 29 April 1898, which is therefore the terminus ante quem for the review; see ‘Devon Newspaper Bibliography’ at <>.

18. Opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales in July 1885, the 3,000-seat Coliseum Theatre became Leeds’ first full-time cinema in 1905.

19. This was a busy year for the Lachenal family, as it was in 1848 that Louis began large-scale production of concertinas to be sold by Wheatstone’s.

20. She changed her name from Jeanne to Françoise on the birth certificates of her children. In his last will and testament, dated 8 May 1856, Louis referred to his ‘dear wife Françoise Marie Elizabeth Lachenal’ (Chambers, ‘Some Notes on Lachenal Concertina Production’, n. 12). After her husband’s death (or even possibly before it), she became known as ‘Elizabeth’ (altering the French ‘Elisabeth’).

21. See Chambers, ‘Louis Lachenal’, 16.

22. See Chambers, ‘Some Notes on Lachenal Concertina Production’, 8-9.

23. In fact, there is a town called Debenham in Suffolk.

24. Arthur’s studios on the Isle of Wight included those at Arcade and 28 Union Street in Ryde and a studio in Cowes. Arthur (later Debenham & Sons) also had studios in Brighton, Newport, Sandown, and Seaview.

25. The most famous client of Debenham & Gould at the Glen View Studios may have been Oscar Wilde, who posed for the photographers in 1887. Two photographs from that session are owned by the Clark Library at the University of California, Los Angeles.

26. The Debenham studios had various ownership and operating structures: sole ownership and management by a Debenham brother or nephew; partnership with a brother, son, or unrelated party; and studio sub-contracting under a lease or franchise-type arrangement. Competition was strong, but the demand for portrait photography kept pace with—and even outpaced—the proliferation of studios. During the period of Edwin and his brothers, the popularity and affordability of studio photography filtered down from royalty and celebrities to the upper and middle classes, and finally to the more prosperous members of the working class. Most upscale Victorian parlors had wedding and other large portraits, and collecting small cardboard-backed portraits—calling cards (2½” x 3½ prints) and cabinet cards (about 4” x 5”)—was all the rage from the royals on down. The popularity of the studios would only wane with the rise of amateur photography and the advent of George Eastman and the Kodak.

27. The Roger Vaughan Collection of images of calling cards, some made at the Debenham studios and some two thousand others produced at several hundred other Victorian studios, appears online at <>. Many original photographs by the Debenhams are preserved in museum collections in England and elsewhere.

28. He died on 15 July 1874, just fifteen days old.

29. Frederick William, father of Faye Debenham’s late husband, was born on 23 April 1876 in Weymouth, Dorset. He and Margaret Pottar Guthrie-Russell were married in Alberta, Canada, on 19 April 1916. He died 16 May 1956 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

30. There is a recording of the piece by Douglas Rogers, English concertina, and Julie Lustman, piano, on The Great Regondi: Original Compositions by the 19th Century’s Unparalleled Guitarist and Concertinist, The Regondi Guild, Bridge Records BCB 9039 (1993). For a discussion of a textual problem in the Serenade, see Atlas, ‘A 41-Cent Emendation’ (see note 4).

Frank Butler: An Interview


Frank Butler (Fig. 1) will hardly need an introduction to concertinists: he was one of the twentieth century’s finest players of the English concertina, with a career as a performer that spanned the 1920s-1940s; he was one of the most important teachers of the instrument, which he taught for several decades in London’s schools for adult-education; beginning in the 1950s, he was a driving force in—and one of the founding members of—the International Concertina Association, to which he devoted himself with his usual energy; and he was even a historian of the instrument, having contributed an informative article on the behind-the-scenes business of concertina manufacturing in the nineteenth century. 1 In addition, Butler touched many concertinists with whom he never came into personal contact through his fine tutor for the instrument, The Concertina,2 which not only offers a comprehensive method for playing the instrument, but provides a primer on the basic elements of music theory, and thus reflects Butler’s strongly held belief that concertinists should be good, well-rounded musicians.

What follows is based on an interview that I conducted with Frank Butler in January 1975.3

Frank E. Butler was born in March 1904, 4 the youngest of three children. His formal education came to an end when he was fourteen, at which time he was apprenticed to a wholesale drapers for two-and-a-half years. He then spent the remainder of his working life in the employ of a publisher that specialized in school textbooks, rising from book packer to the important post of advisor on educational publishing. Frank began his musical career as a pianist:

My mother made efforts to teach me the piano, not very successfully because she belonged to the ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ fraternity, and therefore she was quite harsh in her teaching. But when I was sixteen-and-a-half, I suddenly took to it on my own account, except that if my mother walked in to play, I walked out. I wasn’t having the risk of another cuff!

Frank taught himself to play the piano and read music by using the Trinity College of Music examinations for the piano as a guide. Before long, he was touring as a pianist with a ‘concert party’, that is, a group of musicians who normally joined forces with a comedian, singer, and Master of Ceremonies to perform at local clubs. Most of the members of the party were employed in regular day jobs, and used their party performances in order to earn a bit of extra money on the side.

Frank’s interest in the concertina was inspired by the memory of his grandfather, the well-known concertina manufacturer George Jones: 5

My grandfather, George Jones, was a manufacturer of concertinas. I can’t tell you from memory when he started in the business; I think he gave up around 1910. He started as an out-worker for Wheatstone’s. He joined with another outworker of Wheatstone’s [Jabez Austin] in some sort of partnership. . .My grandfather [joined Austin] at the age of twenty, as manager, which was a pretty hectic rise for those days, and [within a year, Austin] had drunk himself to death. So my grandfather found himself in possession of quite a good-sized music business…

Two of Jones’s students would play a crucial role in Butler’s career: Arthur and Joseph Webb. Better known as the ‘Brothers Webb’ (Arthur as Root-Toot, or Ruté, as it was sometimes spelled, Joseph as Jo-Jo), they were among the most popular musical circus clowns of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and also played the music halls and clubs that were, at the time, ubiquitous throughout England. And in addition to their fiddle, musical saw, and drum (not to mention their feats of acrobatics, juggling, and comic skits), the brothers played concertinas in the course of their act. Moreover, since the circuses of the period offered Sunday concerts of semi-classical music, the brothers had an opportunity to show off their concertina-playing skills, Arthur on the treble, Joseph on the baritone. 6 It was the Webb brothers who encouraged Frank to take up the concertina in the late 1920s, when Frank was twenty-five years old:

The brothers Webb said, ‘What an appalling thing it is that Frank, the only one of the Jones brood that seems to have gone truly musical, doesn’t play a concertina’. My grandfather, of course, was dead. My grandmother had two of his instruments, not very good ones, so the brothers Webb lent me a treble English ‘tina; and, in all honesty, I can say that within six weeks I was using it on the stage; I was playing Dvoøák’s ‘Humoresque’ and Beethoven’s ‘Minuet in G’, and they remained my stock solos for three months…

At that time, light-classics such as those mentioned by Frank, along with selections from operas, marches by Sousa, and popular songs of the day were the meat-and-potatoes of the concertinist’s repertory. This was the music that people wanted to hear in the music halls, and this was what the professionals played.

Frank used the concertina as a ‘novelty’ to perform one or two solos as part of the concert party. And though Frank never became, in his words, ‘a full-time, professional “artiste’’’, he was able to find a good deal of work, since opportunities for semi-professional performers at this time were numerous:

A lot of churches used to run regular concerts. There wasn’t the radio or television…the clubs, the working-men’s clubs, and so forth, were all in existence and all had regular concerts. I don’t know that they have the same now; I believe they switch the television on and leave it at that. Several cinemas were not allowed to open on Sundays unless it was a ‘concert’. So by some weird logic, if you put on two films and a short program of music in between, it became a ‘concert’. And that was legal! With some concerts, it was lethal, I should think! That provided us with Sunday night jobs, and some of them were very well paid. This work was not limited to London, and we used to go far afield for those days: Folkestone, Cambridge, Bedford, Luton. . .it meant, very often, not getting home until 2:00 in the morning, which will tell you why I didn’t want to do any more than three a week.

In the early years of the Depression, Frank’s concert party broke up, and he began to tour as a solo artist. He limited his solo work to the concertina, and he soon had well over thirty numbers under his fingers. Yet Frank found performing unrewarding:

I went on to working solo turns, and my heart really wasn’t in it. The people wanted popular choruses, and they wanted ‘ditties’ that they could sing, and I got no pleasure out of playing the concertina while eight hundred to a thousand people bawled choruses at me. . .I had some thirty numbers in my repertory then, which I knew from memory, and I knew [them] so well that I could carry on a conversation at the same time I was playing them. I always had a selection going of the popular songs of the day. Funny enough, the only ones that comes to mind immediately [are] ‘If I Had A Talking Picture of You’ and ‘Sonny Boy’, that sort of thing. I also had several selections of old music hall choruses; these would always go down well, particularly in the clubs. Truthfully, I didn’t like playing them, but this was your only way to get encores. In the end, I didn’t care whether I got an encore or not; that’s why I gave up.

Frank put away his concertina until after the Second World War. In the meantime, his wife had encouraged him to take up the piano again, which, as it turned out, led him to playing classical music on the concertina. In 1953, the grandly named International Concertina Association—really at first just a London-based group of players—was formed. Frank attended his first meeting a year later, and became the Association’s secretary in 1955, editing the ICA Newsletter from 1956 to 1967. Frank also organized the ICA’s first festival, which subsequently developed into a yearly competition aimed at encouraging young players to take up the instrument. Finally, he began teaching group classes at various London-area ‘Institutes’ (schools run by the individual boroughs and devoted to adult-education), which he would continue to do through the late 1970s:

Harry Minting [the last manager of the Wheatstone firm, and a concertina player and teacher active in London for many decades] started this school [in the early 1950s]… He recruited so many students it became a little bit of a problem, and he engaged me to take his beginners’ classes. He had two classes. And this really got me deep into teaching. I’d only done it in a desultory fashion up to then. I decided immediately that there was nothing published that met my requirements, [so] I wrote the exercises myself, and that, in 1955, was the beginning of the Butler tutor… Minting after a time transferred his club to the Holloway Institute, where I teach now [1975]. Minting himself became ill, and I stepped in as his substitute, his deputy, and was quite happy over it. . .And [when, in 1959,] Minting… decided to give that up entirely… [he] asked me if I would like to take the class. And I took this class over from him, really, on a few hours notice. And I’m now in my sixteenth year of it.

One year before that [thus in 1958], Battersea Institute started a class of concertina playing at the request of an old gentleman in the borough who asked the principal if he could have a class. And the principal said, ‘If you can get sufficient students, yes’. The old gent advertised in all the local papers, put little notices in the local shops, and he recruited a class. The principal of Battersea Institute engaged me as the teacher. So there I was with Battersea Institute, substituting for Minting at Holloway, and then [after Minting left] I found myself with Holloway Institute as well. And from that moment, for many years I reigned supreme as the only accredited teacher of the English concertina, with two of London’s Institutes to work in.

Butler soon discovered that many of his students could not read music, so he designed a course of study that would teach the basics of reading music while it developed exercises that would help students understand the unique layout of the English concertina’s keyboard. Like the Trinity method with which he had taught himself, Frank’s method was based on taking the students from elementary scales and exercises to the most difficult classical music. He also drew on his experiences developing textbook material for beginning readers. Butler’s method was based on constantly challenging the student with a wide variety of graded material:

To me, the most important thing in playing is sight-reading. When you’re teaching an infant at school to read, you don’t give him one book, and let him read that until he can read it perfectly. [Better to have him] read something different every time he opens a book. You get some repetition, but on the whole, the child’s reading capacity is being expanded the whole time.

And I work very much the same [way] with music. I’m very anxious to get these pupils to the stage where they can read music as fluently as you or I read a newspaper or a novel. As in reading [a] text, you start off with a small vocabulary and gradually expand it, so with music you start off with one note and expand it until you’ve got twelve different pitches and four different variations of duration. And when you’ve acquired that much, you’ve already opened an enormous field to explore, because all of your simple folk or traditional tunes lay within your grasp. I aim that within two years the concertina player will be a fluent reader and have considerable dexterity in playing. A brilliant pupil will go through my course in eight months; I shouldn’t think I’ve seen this more than about three times in fifteen years, but it’s done.

Sadly, by the early 1970s, Butler’s eyesight was failing, and he had to wait several years to get the operation that he needed through Britain’s National Health system. Still, he continued to teach through the early 1980s. Fortunately, the concertina revival of the mid-1970s—based mainly in England—brought him to the attention of a new generation of players, and with the publication of his instruction book, his method of teaching spread widely and quickly. Although Butler was himself primarily interested in the ‘classics’, he was whole-heartedly sympathetic to all styles of music, and his teaching gave students a strong foundation for playing in any style they wished.

Honored and admired by all who knew him, Frank Butler—a gentle man with a wonderful sense of humor—passed away on 21 February 1992.7


1. See ‘Concertinas in the Commercial Road: The Story of George Jones’, Concertina & Squeezebox, 20 (1989), 5-14; Jones was Butler’s maternal grandfather.

Photo of Frank Butler

2. Frank Butler, The Concertina: A Handbook and Tutor for Beginners on the English Concertina (Duffield: The Free Reed Press, 1974/reprint: New York: Oak Publications, 1976); another of Butler’s pedagogical publications was Concertina Two (n.p.: Frank Butler, 1983), with a supplement titled Arranging Music for the English Concertina, with an Introduction to Harmony; there is a review of the 1983 publication in Concertina Magazine, 7 (1984), 18-19; see Randall C. Merris, ‘Instruction Manuals for the English, Anglo, and Duet Concertina: An Annotated Bibliography’, The Free-Reed Journal, 4 (2002), 90 (Merris’s valuable inventory of concertina tutors is also available online:

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3. The interview was conducted as part of a research project on the concertina that I was able to carry out thanks to a Youth Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Eventually, Butler wrote about me in a short note titled ‘Richard Carlin Revisited’, Concertina & Squeezebox, 20 (1989), 21. In addition to Frank Butler, I interviewed Harry Minting, Harry Crabb, Arthur Austin, and the sisters Inga, Tina, Sylvia, and Lillian Webb, known as the Fayre Four Sisters, who were the daughters of the concertina-playing Joseph Webb (about whom see below); I reported on my interview with the Webb sisters in ‘The Fayre Four Sisters: Concertina Virtuosi’, The Free-Reed Journal, 3 (2000), 79-88.

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4. There has been some confusion about the year. Although 1904 is the year cited both by Butler himself in the interview and Alex Richards in ‘The Frank Butler Story’, Concertina Magazine, 9 (Winter 1989), 20, the obituary in Concertina & Squeezebox, 27 (1992), 4-5, gives the year as 1903. My thanks to Stephen Chambers for calling Richards’s article to my attention and to Jon McNamara for providing me with a copy.

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5. Jones (1832-1918) is usually credited with having expanded the scale of the Anglo-German concertina from its original 20-button, diatonic format to a fully chromatic, 30-, 36-, or 40-button instrument; he also manufactured English concertinas, and designed a portable harmonium that was a commercial success. Jones himself played the concertina in the music halls, and was influential as a teacher of the instrument; on Jones, see Butler, ‘Concertinas in the Commercial Road’; Neil Wayne, ‘Concertina Book-Final Edit’, online at unpublished manuscript, 58-65 (a copy in the Wayne Archive, Horniman Museum, London); Stephen Chambers, ‘Louis Lachenal: “Engineer and Concertina Manufac-turer” (Pt. 1)’, The Free-Reed Journal, 1 (1999), 7-8; Jones’s own ‘Memoir’ appears (heavily edited by Frank Butler and Neil Wayne) as ‘The Concertina in Victorian Times: An Echo from the Past—Recollections of the English Concertina Trade by George Jones’, Free Reed: The Concertina Newsletter, 16 (1973), 14-20.

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6. Further on the Brothers Webb, see Frank Butler, ‘The Webb Brothers: A Memorial’, Concertina & Squeezebox, 18-19 (1989), 11-14; Carlin, ‘The Fayre Four Sisters’, 79-82.

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7. There is an eloquent obituary by Joel Cowan in Concertina & Squeezebox (see note 3); although the ICA Newsletter did not run a formal obituary, No. 385 (May/June 1992), 3, contains some letters of tribute (my thanks to Wes Williams for this information).

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View or Download the PDF format file for this pageEnlarged: 385*591, 188.9 KB

Fig 1. Frank Butler and Eileen Jones in Frank’s garden, 1991

Some Notes on Lachenal Concertina Production and Serial Numbers


Concertinas of a new—and revolutionary—‘mass produced’ model,2 manufactured for C. Wheatstone & Co. by Louis Lachenal, started to be sold in, or shortly after, April 1848.3 The first instruments have numbers in the 1500s series, the earliest example that I know of being number 1563 in my own collection (see Fig. 1). Unfortunately the Wheatstone ‘Red Book’4 ledger for the period 6th April 1848–31st December 1850 is missing, so I cannot be more specific about the date, though the highest serial number in the previous ledger5 is 1495, sold on 14th November 1847, and the last recorded sale is that of 1126, a second-hand instrument, to George Case,6 on 5th April 1848.

During the years 1853-1858, Lachenal occupied Alpha and Omega Cottages, British School Lane,7 Chiswick, as a ‘House’ and ‘Manufactory’,8 respectively (see Fig. 2). The Chiswick Rate Books show both to have been owned by ‘Messrs. Wheatstone & Co.’,9 and it is interesting to note that they were only about a quarter of an hour’s walk from Charles Wheatstone’s house, in Lower Mall, Hammersmith,10 suggesting that he was probably taking an active interest in the venture.11

Lachenal seems to have been manufacturing for Wheatstone’s on a contract basis, and would have owned the machinery and made the tooling himself.12 My guess, then, is that the contract probably ran until the beginning of August 1858, when Charles Wheatstone’s Patent, No. 10,041 of 8th August 184413 (for a term of fourteen years), would have expired. This would appear to be confirmed by John Crabb having sold the lease of his own house, only a few doors away from the manufactory, on 2nd August 1858.14 By this time Wheatstone’s serial numbers had reached as high as the 10600s series,15 though the ledgers are in date-of-sale order, and the numbering is extremely erratic.

Louis Lachenal then set up his own business at 8, Little James Street,16 Bedford Row, London, W.C., though I believe his firm continued to manufacture for Wheatstone’s until the 13700s series in late 1865/early 1866.17 This series overlapped with that numbered in the 18000s, which would seem to mark the beginning of Edward Chidley’s18 production for Wheatstone’s, the first sale being 18000 on 28th April 1865 (so there is a gap in the sequence of more than 4,000 numbers between the two series).

As noted above (see note 16), the first notice in MDRA for Louis Lachenal as an independent concertina manufacturer appears in 1859, and I think we can safely assume that his own production commenced sometime around, or shortly after, August 1858 (indeed, many of Lachenal & Co.’s later directory entries confirm that the business was established in 1858).19 In addition, it looks as though he probably started his own numbering of English concertinas at 6000, perhaps reckoning that he had already made about that many for Wheatstone’s.20

The lowest (confirmed) serial numbers that I know of for Louis Lachenal English concertinas are 6119 (CMC 72 from Neil Wayne’s former Concertina Museum Collection),21 which has its end-label missing, 6372 (author’s collection; see Fig. 3) and 6599 (CMC 37), both labelled Russell (a major customer at the time), and 8488 (author’s collection), which is labelled Louis Lachenal (see Fig. 4). This last instrument has an early repair inscription inside it: ‘Repaired and Tuned by J. Cooke, Ipswich 6/3/63, 1302’.22 I have taken the precaution of checking for serial numbers 6372 and 8488 in the Wheatstone Red Books.23 Both are listed: Wheatstone 6372 was supplied to Mrs. Sidney Pratten (guitarist, concertinist, teacher, friend of Giulio Regondi, and wife of the flautist R. Sidney Pratten) on 9th May 1856, though no price was recorded; Wheatstone 8488 was one of a consecutively numbered batch of twelve concertinas (so all of one model) that were sold to Messrs. Harraden on 13th October 1856 for the wholesale price of £67.4.0 (=£5.12.0 each), while Louis Lachenal’s price lists show that the surviving Lachenal 8488 was only a £3.3.0 model. Thus it would appear, at least from these examples, that both Wheatstone and Lachenal instruments were given the same serial numbers, which implies that there were two separate sequences.

Lachenal’s 1859-1862 advertisements in the annual MDRA are double-page price lists (see Fig. 5). They list English-system trebles with 22, 24, 32, 40, and 48 keys, 48-key baritones, and 24-key Duets. However, by the time we reach the price list published in the Catalogue of the (May) 1862 Exhibition (see Fig 6),24 trebles with fewer than forty-eight keys have been discontinued and replaced by a new, cheaper 48-key ‘People’s Concertina’ at £2.2.0. (Members of the Lachenal family have told me that Elizabeth Lachenal had Socialist leanings!).25

C. Wheatstone & Co. sometimes sold concertinas (usually second-hand) by other makers, and these are marked as such in the Red Books. There are a couple of very useful entries for early Lachenal Englishes:26 Lachenal 9641, sold on 28th July 1862 to Eales for £2.2.0; and Lachenal 7728, sold on 4th April 1863 to Bagshaw for £3.3.0.

It is not until the MDRA for 1863, by which time Lachenal’s advertisement has been reduced to a half page, that an engraving (the first hint) of an Anglo concertina appears (opposite that of an English), with ‘prices [running] from £1.11.6 to £21’. The following year—in MDRA, 1864—the distinction between systems/prices is made clear, with prices from ‘£1.11.6 to £2.15.0’ shown under the engraving of the Anglo and ‘£2.2.0 to £21’ under that of the 48-key English.

It would seem, therefore, that Lachenal’s probably started to produce Anglos only after the 1862 Exhibition,27 where ‘German concertinas’ had been exhibited by John Simpson,28 and Rock Chidley had probably also shown ‘German Fingering Concertinas’, as we know that he was already manufacturing them.29 It is probably no coincidence, then, that the first sale of an ‘Anglo German’ in the Wheatstone ledgers does not occur until 14th July 1863,30 and though the sales of Anglos are usually recorded without serial number (sometimes not even the name of the purchaser), an entry on 16th December 1864 names one as ‘Anderson’, who bought six Duets for £3.3.0, three Anglos (Nos. 782, 829, and 1470) for £3.12.0, three more Anglos (Nos. 823, 1483, and 1493) for £4.10.0, and two English concertinas for £4.15.0 (it is as though he was stocking up with cheap concertinas for Christmas!).31 These Anglo serial numbers do not look to be Wheatstone’s, as they do not fit in with what we know of the firm’s very limited sales of such concertinas at this time. Thus I would speculate that these are most likely Lachenal Anglo serial numbers, though the instruments would appear to have been labelled C. Wheatstone (otherwise we would expect Lachenal’s name to have been entered in the ledger).

The known serial numbers for early Lachenal Anglos suggest that they belonged to a separate numbering sequence from the outset. The lowest-numbered surviving Anglo by them that I am aware of is 865 (CMC 360), with mahogany ends, twenty keys, a simple circle of fretwork (with no central motif, such as later instruments had), and numbered buttons, labelled Louis Lachenal. It is the same model as 7602, labelled H. Journet (see Fig. 7), or a rosewood-ended instrument numbered 2655, labelled Louis Lachenal (both of which are in my own collection).

Louis Lachenal died on 18th December 1861, aged 40, and the entries in the Post Office London Directory show that the business was then carried on by his widow, ‘Lachenal Elizabeth (Mrs,) concertina maker’,32 until the name of the firm changed to ‘Lachenal & Co.’ in 1874.33 It seems reasonable to suppose, then, that it was probably in 1873 that Mrs. Lachenal sold the business to ‘five workmen who’d pooled their resources’ (according to Tommy Williams).34 That the decade is correct is attested by Elizabeth Lachenal’s census returns, for in 1871 she was listed as a ‘Concertina Maker’,35 whereas in 1881 she described herself as a ‘Retired – Concertina Manufacturer’.36

Lachenal & Co. applied for its trademark, No. 15,222, on 31st August 1878, and it was published in the Trade Marks Journal on 8th January 1879. The mark consists of a drawing of an individual, double-screwed, English-style free reed. The outline of this device, along with the words ‘Trade Mark’ and ‘English Make’, was thereafter stamped into the right-hand rail (handle) of the firm’s Anglos in order to differentiate them from the cheap ‘imitation Anglos’ of German make—with ten reeds riveted onto each plate, wooden actions with glued-on buttons, and cardboard bellows (see Fig. 8)— that were being marketed in large numbers, and being built, at least externally, to resemble instruments made in England and thus deceive the unwary buyer.

Lachenal & Co. introduced the ‘New Model’, their top-of-the-range, raised-ended concertina in hexagonal form, in the late 1880’s. The 66-key ‘New Model’ baritone, 28320 (CMC 106), gives every appearance of having been made to advertise ‘Signor’ James Alsepti’s newly patented bowing valves,37 as it has ‘Lachenal & Co.’s Patent Bowing Valve No. 8290’ very noticeably, and uniquely, emblazoned in gold leaf on the bellows frames. The patent, however, describes them as ‘relief valves’, and it is not until 1888, with the publication of Keith, Prowse & Co.’s advertisement on the back cover of The Concertinist’s Guide, that they are referred to as the ‘Patent Bowing Valves’. Therefore I think this instrument should probably be dated to c.1888, and I wonder if it was made either for Alsepti himself or for one of his circle, where instruments with fifty-six or more keys seem to have been preferred (see below). In addition, it became Lachenal’s normal practice to provide slots (beside the thumb straps) for the so-called bowing valves in the fretwork of all but the very cheapest English concertinas made after the patent (even if the valves themselves were not fitted), so that instruments so-provided cannot be any earlier than the patent (1885/6). (By way of illustration—and advertisement—Lachenal’s supplied Alsepti’s The Modern Concertina Method [Lachenal, c. 1895] with a detailed loose-leaf diagram of the keyboards of a 56-key concertina fitted with bowing valves; even the serial number of the instrument, 37281, is given!)

Lachenal’s also introduced a new, raised-ended, twelve-sided ‘artistic’ concertina,38 which they named the ‘Edeophone’, the Registered Design for which (RD 129662) was entered on 27th July 1889. The lowest serial number that I know of for such an instrument is 28821, a tenor-treble now owned by Chris Algar (see Fig. 9). This instrument has a lot of unusual features,39 which suggest that it is a very early developmental model, and that it should be dated to no later than 1889. The next known Edeophone number is 35874,40 a regular production model, evidently made several years later.

Edeophone number 38694 (CMC 262)41 is a 63-key instrument with bowing valves and aluminium reed frames. It sounds remarkably like the unusual instrument described by J. A. Black in January 1895:42 ‘…I have just come into possession of an edeophone (treble) by those truly progressive makers, Messrs. Lachenal…This fine instrument (played by Mr. Alsepti [Black’s teacher] at Islington on December 4th last) though of sixty-three keyed and four and a half octave compass, weighs only two and three quarter pounds, or exactly the weight of a forty-eight keyed concertina’. So perhaps No. 38694 should be dated to circa 1894.

That Lachenal’s supplied a large number of wholesalers and dealers with concertinas bearing their own names over the years could be used to date some serial numbers, though this would take a comprehensive study of directories in order to establish the years in which those dealers were at one or another address. However, we should always bear in mind just how erratic the numbering for Louis Lachenal’s production appears to be in the Wheatstone Red Books and question if the Lachenal firm’s own numbering might have been no less so.

The date they closed down is problematic. Tommy Williams told Neil Wayne:43 ‘we finally closed in 1936—it was the Depression, very often they’d have no money to pay out for the workmen. They’d go and say, “Where’s the money?”, and the boss got so fed up, he decided to close the works down’. And whilst an article in a 1950 Accordion Review stated:44 ‘For some years Lachenal made Concertinas for Wheatstone’s but afterwards started a business of his own which became the famous firm of Lachenal & Co. of London which was incorporated with Wheatstone’s in 1934’,45 I have still not managed to find a definitive date for the closure, and there seems to be evidence (below) to suggest that it actually occurred even earlier, probably in 1933.

Williams went on to say (in the same interview):46 ‘Well, the machinery, and all that, was put up for sale, along came Wheatstone’s and bought the bloomin’ lot up, and scrapped most of it.47 Nobody else could get it. . .It all went for as little as a hundred quid, including the gas oil that drove the machinery. They took barrow loads of unfinished work; they’d really come into it alright!’. And I have now discovered that those pieces of ‘unfinished work’ start to appear in the Wheatstone ledgers as early as the autumn of 1933 with the following two consecutive entries:

Sept 22 [Model] 51 Rosewood 26 keys Lach’48 33053
Oct 10 Accordeaphon49 1st 40 keys 33054

There is also, in connection with a pair of concertinas completed around that same time, a reference to ‘1st Erin’ (their first use of the plastic Erinoid) a material that Lachenal’s had been using to make buttons since the late 1920s. Wheatstone’s had not used it previously, but continued to use it thereafter:

Sept 11 1st Erin 48 keys Black & White 32947
Sept 11 1st Erin 48 keys Black & White 32948

Finally, speaking about the Lachenal premises ‘at Little James Street, just along the Gray’s Inn Road’, Williams told Neil Wayne: ‘They’ve pulled it all down now’,50 a statement very much confirmed by the 1930’s Art Deco building at 4 & 6, Northington Street, that now occupies the site (see Fig 10a, 10b, 10c.).51

In conclusion, the tabular compilation that follows provides both a ‘quick guide’ to dating certain features of Lachenal’s concertinas and some notes about individual instruments:

I. A Quick Guide to Dateable Features of Lachenal Concertinas

Labelled C.Wheatstone = 1848–1866
Labelled Louis Lachenal = 1858–1873
Labelled Lachenal & Co. = 1873–1933


Fewer than 48 keys (trebles) = 1858–1862
With slots for bowing valves = 1885/6–1933
Edeophone = 1889–1933


Without trade mark = 1862–1879
With trade mark = 1879–1933

II. Notes on Specific Instruments


(a) As Louis Lachenal (1858-1873)

6119 label missing, earliest known (CMC 72)
6372 labelled J. Russell, 80, Goswell St., Clerkenwell, London (author’s collection)
6599 labelled Russell Manufacturer, Presented by the Proprietors of the Companion for Youth, 80, Goswell St., London (CMC 37)
7728 sold by Wheatstone’s, 4th April 1863
8488 labelled Louis Lachenal, repair date 6th March 1863 (author’s collection)
9641 sold by Wheatstone’s, 28th July 1862
15435 labelled Joseph Scates, Dublin (up to 1866?) (seen on eBay)

(b) As Lachenal & Co. (1873-1933)

28320 New Model, probably made about 1888 (CMC 106)
28821 pre-production Edeophone, 1889 (Chris Algar)
37281 before 1895 (in Alsepti’s Method)
38694 lightweight Edeophone, like J.A.Black’s, perhaps 1894 (CMC 262)


(a) As Louis Lachenal (1862-1873)

782 sold by Wheatstone’s, 16th December 1864 (?)
823 ditto ditto
829 ditto ditto
865 labelled Louis Lachenal (CMC 360)
1470 sold by Wheatstone’s, 16th December 1864 (?)
1483 ditto ditto
1493 ditto ditto
2655 labelled Louis Lachenal (author’s collection)
3207 labelled Thomas Prowse (a dealer who died in 1867), 13, Hanway St., London (sold on eBay)
5681 labelled G. King, 31,North St., Manchester Sqre. (author’s collection)
7602 labelled H. Journet, 43, Tottenham Court Rd., London, 1870-c.1900 (author’s collection)
9637 labelled Jones & Son, 6, Cross St., Hatton Garden, London (author’s collection)

(b) As Lachenal & Co. (1873-1933)

196865 sold for £5.0.0, 9th January 1926 (receipt, author’s archive)


1. This article originated as a set of guidelines that I sent to Chris Algar for the Lachenal serial number dating project. However, I felt that it was potentially of much broader interest, as it contains some important new discoveries about Louis Lachenal, Lachenal & Co., and C. Wheatstone & Co. I have, therefore, reworked it for publication, and it can stand, in the interim, in lieu of the projected Part 2 of ‘Louis Lachenal: “Engineer and Concertina Manufacturer”, Part 1’, The Free-Reed Journal, 1 (1999), 7-18 (hereafter cited as ‘Louis Lachenal’); the article is available online at
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2. The same design would carry on as the ‘standard Lachenal model’ until the closure of Lachenal & Co. some eighty-five years later, and formed the basis for much of that company’s range of English concertinas.
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3. C. Wheatstone & Co. issued a price list that year, advertising that ‘. . . a very considerable reduction in price of the various descriptions of the Concertina has been recently effected, as the subjoined list will show’. A transcription of this price list appears in Chambers, ‘Louis Lachenal’, 16-18; a copy of the original is reproduced online at . For information on both the start of Lachenal’s work for Wheatstone’s and evidence that he was employing staff on behalf of that firm in 1848, see ‘Louis Lachenal’, 15.
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4. The surviving nineteenth-century ledgers of C. Wheatstone & Co., including most of the sales records from the 1830s to the 1860s, production records from the 1860s to the 1890s, and two wage books from the 1840s (twelve volumes in all), were preserved from destruction for us by the late Harry Minting, who was Wheatstone’s Sales Manager at the time the company moved to the Boosey & Hawkes factory at Edgware, in 1961. All but one of these records are written in red, leather-bound notebooks, and Harry always described the set as a whole as ‘The Red Books’, seemingly the name by which they were known at Wheatstone’s. Housed for a number of years at the former Concertina Museum, Belper, Derbyshire, they are now part of the Wayne Archive at the Horniman Museum, London, where they are in the process of being digitised by Robert Gaskins; when that work is completed, they will be made available for research both on the web and on a CD-ROM (which will be available from the Museum). The surviving twentieth-century ledgers, from 1910 on (part of the Dickinson Archive), are already available in both formats; see

The Red Books, with the numbers given to them by Neil Wayne (and retained by the Horniman Museum), consist of the following:

SALES LEDGERS (chronological according to date of sale, and listing names of purchasers): C1046— 30th April 1839 to 5th April 1848; C1047—1st January 1851 to 23rd October 1852; C1048—23rd October 1852 to 21st March 1854; C1049—21st March 1854 to 4th April 1856; C1050—5th April 1856 to 4th November 1857; C1051—4th November 1857 to 21st October 1859; C1052—21st October 1859 to 30th April 1864; C1053—30th April 1864 to 23rd May 1870.

PRODUCTION LEDGER (written in a copy of ‘Harwood’s Diary 1864’, serially numbered by date of manufacture, with no purchaser information): C1054—March 1866, serial number 18061, to 22nd December 1891, serial number 21353.

SERIAL NUMBER REGISTER (in serial number order, listing names of purchasers; this volume, which seems not to have received a number from Neil Wayne, has been catalogued as C104a by the Horniman Museum): C104a—the lowest recorded Wheatstone serial number is 59, the highest, 1500, with dates ranging from 1835 to 1849; there are, however, many missing entries, especially in the earliest period.

WAGES BOOKS (cash books showing expenditures, both in wages and payments to suppliers): C1055 —25th January 1845 to 1st August 1846; C1056—1st January 1848 to 30th June 1849.

On the set of books (subsequently cited only by their Horniman/Wayne number), see Neil Wayne, ‘The Wheatstone English Concertina’, The Galpin Society Journal 44 (1991), 144-45 (now online ); Allan W. Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 146; Atlas, ‘Who Bought Concertinas in the Winter of 1851? A Glimpse at the Sales Accounts of Wheatstone & Co.’, in Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies, I, ed. Bennett Zon (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), 65 and n. 8; Atlas, ‘Gendering the Concertina: Women in the Wheatstone Sales Ledgers’ (forthcoming in the Research Chronicle of the Royal Musical Association); Chambers, ‘Louis Lachenal’, 14 and n. 36.
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5. C1046.
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6. A member of the Royal Society of Musicians, George Tinkler Case (1823-1892) both performed on and composed and arranged for the concertina. He was also a manufacturer in the 1850s. In addition, he played violin in the Royal Opera orchestra (Covent Garden) and was a good enough pianist to serve as an occasional accompanist for Giulio Regondi; see Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina, 56-57; James D. Brown and Stephen S. Stratton, British Musical Biography (London: William Reeves, 1897; reprint: New York: Da Capo Press, 1971),81; Betty Matthews, The Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain: List of Members 1738-1984 (London: Royal society of Musicians, 1985); Charles Ward, ‘The English Concertina’, Musical News, 25 (21 August 1891), 511.
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7. British School Lane was another, perhaps the original, name for British Grove, the name under which it is listed in the 1851 Census, and which it still bears today. It was named after the non-denominational school founded there by the British and Foreign School Society in 1832. The east side of British Grove formed the boundary between Chiswick, in the old County of Middlesex, and Hammersmith, in the County of London. It was in British Grove that Frederick Walton invented linoleum in 1863.
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8. I revisited the area earlier this year, and was surprised to find that the buildings formerly at the location, occupied by Kingscourt Publishing Limited, 20, British Grove, have been demolished and that a large new commercial building is nearing completion.
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9. The Rate Books were compiled twice yearly, in April and October/November. The first relevant entry appears in the Rate Book for 19th April 1853, when the occupier is listed as ‘Messrs. Wheatstone & Co.’, and the owner as ‘Themselves’; the next Book, 22nd October 1853, gives ‘Louis Lachenal’ as occupier, ‘Messrs. Wheatstone & Co.’, as owner. This suggests that Louis Lachenal was not an employee, as such, of Wheatstone’s, but rather that he was running a workshop for them on a contract basis; otherwise they would have still had their own name listed as occupier of the workshop. Lachenal’s independence would also seem to be confirmed by the entry for ‘Lachenal Louis, machinist, British grove’ (under the heading Traders, in Chiswick) in the Post Office Directory of Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex (London: Kelly, 1855); online at the website of the Digital Library of Historical Directories,

By 1855 there was evidently a need for more living space, as the Rate Book for 18th October shows that Wheatstone’s had also acquired the house beyond the ‘Manufactory’ as another ‘House’, though by 22nd April 1858, it had become a second ‘Manufactory’.
In the Rate Book for 12th November 1858, the name ‘Louis Lachenal’ is crossed out, and ‘Captain Bauman’ substituted as occupier at Alpha Cottage, though the status of the other two premises seems unclear; as of 25th April 1859, however, both Alpha and Omega Cottages are shown as unoccupied, though still owned by ‘Wheatstone & Co.’, with the other house being occupied by one A.G. Whichels, but with no owner listed.
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10. About Wheatstone’s Hammersmith residence, Ms. Anne Wheeldon, Archivist with Hammersmith & Fulham Archives and Local History Centre, has informed me of the following in a communication of 10 February 2004: ‘The first reference to Charles Wheatstone was in the Hammersmith rate book of May 1847, when his name was entered in pencil against a property consisting of a house, garden and buildings in Lower Mall … [He] was rated for the property until some time after October 1861 as his name was crossed through in that rate book … The house was at the eastern end of Lower Mall near Hammersmith Bridge [in which he owned shares] … By 1871 … the premises was known as Digby House in the census…In 1885 Digby House was numbered 5 Lower Mall … [a new suspension bridge was built in 1887 and the intervening houses demolished, hence] In the 1891 census … Digby House … was described … as being at the corner of the new road by the side of the suspension bridge … It was demolished around 1894 and part of a large block of flats, named Digby Mansions, was built on the site in the late 1890s’. A photograph reveals that Digby House was a five-bay, three-storey (over basement) Georgian mansion, whilst an 1865 Ordnance Survey map shows that it had an extensive garden behind it, with a rear carriageway and outbuildings (my thanks to Ms. Wheeldon for sending these, and diligently answering other questions from me). I have walked from British Grove to Lower Mall in a little over fifteen minutes.
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11. The area was then still largely rural, with many market gardens supplying the London markets. It would have been much more convenient both for Wheatstone’s Conduit Street shop and most of the manufacturing staff, as well as for out-sourcing of materials, had the factory either remained in Central London (it had previously been at George Yard, Princes Street, Soho; see ‘Louis Lachenal’, 14) or moved eastwards, towards the craft district of Clerkenwell, as Louis Lachenal later did. Indeed, Lachenal suggested as much in his first advertisement, which appeared in the 1859 edition of the annual Musical Directory, Register and Almanac (London: Rudall, Rose, Carte, 1859-; hereafter MDRA): ‘L. LACHENAL … having removed from Chiswick to the above more convenient and central premises [8, Little James St., Bedford Row, London], has now every facility for carrying on the Wholesale Business …’ Little James Street is now called Northington Street, and runs between Gray’s Inn Road and Great James Street, near the junction of Theobalds Road and Clerkenwell Road.
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12. As evidence for this, we have the testimony of the former Lachenal employee Tommy Williams, who was interviewed by Neil Wayne in 1968. Transcripts from this interview were published in three instalments—and under three different titles—in The Concertina Newsletter: ‘Tommy Williams’, 3 (January 1972), 5-6; ‘The Tommy Williams Interview—Part 2’, 5 (May 1972), 6-7; and ‘The Tommy Williams Story—Part 3’, 7 (August 1972), 10-12; they may be viewed online at: . An edited version appears in the sleeve notes to his LP recording, Tommy Williams—Springtime in Battersea. Free Reed Records, FRR 008 (1976). Williams stated (‘The Tommy Williams Interview’, 7): ‘Sir Charles Wheatstone, he commissioned Louis Lachenal to make them [concertinas] for him, under the name of Wheatstone’. But ‘concertina folklore’ (or anecdotal evidence) has long held that Lachenal ‘… left the house of Wheatstone, taking with him … it is alleged, a complete set of concertina-making tools!’ (Neil Wayne, ‘An Outline History of the Concertina and Related Instruments’, The Concertina Newsletter, 4 [no date], 11), or ‘The story goes that Louis Lachenal, who had been employed by the Wheatstone company, left to set up his own business (possibly taking some of Wheatstone’s tools, and even some employees) …’. (David Aumann, ‘Lachenal Concertina Production’, in the—Buyer’s Guide, online at

However, Lachenal’s Last Will and Testament, made on 8th May 1856, while he was still living at Alpha Cottage, British School Lane, left ‘all my stock in trade, plant, machinery, working tools and implements … carts and carriages … to my dear wife Françoise Marie Elizabeth Lachenal’, thus suggesting that the machinery, tooling, and even the means of transport were all owned by him, and confirming that he was no mere employee of Wheatstone’s, but rather worked for them as an independent contractor, with his own equipment and staff. For information on what is known about Louis Lachenal as a watchmaker and engineer, see Chambers, ‘Louis Lachenal’, 10-16.
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13. British Patent No. 10,041, 8 February 1844: ‘Improvements on the Concertina and other Musical Instruments’, in which the Sounds are Produced by the Action of Wind on Vibrating Springs’; online at
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14. Henry Joseph (‘Harry’) Crabb (1911-1981) told Richard Carlin that ‘… Wheatstone … asked my grandfather [John Crabb] to make the woodwork … and Lachenal was a French [sic, read Swiss] engineer … they all got together … and they started making concertinas. Well my grandfather was, until the patent ran out, with Wheatstone, and Lachenal had made all the tools for the plant, and he started on his own … my grandfather went with Lachenal…and then he started with Nickolds as a partnership.’ And that ‘My grandfather’s brother [Charles Crabb] worked for Lachenal, all his life …’. See Carlin, ‘An Interview with Harry Crabb’, in English Concertina (New York: Oak Publications, 1977), 54-56.

John Crabb (c.1826–1903) first appears at the address in question, 12, British School Lane, Chiswick, in the Rate Book for 17th April 1856. Interestingly, his name seems to have been added as a late entry, in different ink, the house having earlier been marked as unoccupied. He was still living there on 22nd April 1858, but an Indenture (Numbered 960, preserved at the Greater London Record Office, Ref. MDR 1858 BK9 PTS1-2) between ‘John Crabb, 3, Spring Street, Clerkenwell … Cabinet Maker, on the one part, and James Richard Eden…Plumber’, on the other, shows that he sold the lease of the house on 2nd August 1858. He seems to have first moved to the area between the christening of his second daughter, Emma Louisa Crabb, at St. Andrew’s, Holborn, on 18th April 1853, and the birth of his first son, John Charles Crabb, at 9, Park Cottages, Hammersmith (now Ravenscourt Gardens, a short walk from British Grove), on 20th October that same year. His fourth child, Henry Thomas Crabb (d. 1930, father of ‘Harry’ Crabb, grandfather of Neville and Geoffrey Crabb), was born at 12, British Grove, Chiswick, on 17th July 1856. Moreover, there is evidence to confirm that John Crabb’s brother, Charles (1835-1885), was also working for Louis Lachenal in Chiswick, for he married Elizabeth Matilda Nichols, from Turnham Green, Chiswick, at the Episcopal District Chapel of St. Peter, in Hammersmith (now St. Peter’s Church, Black Lion Lane, only two streets from British Grove), on Christmas Day 1855. Both gave their ‘Residence at the time of Marriage’ as ‘Hammersmith’, and since the marriage was ‘after banns’, they were evidently both living in the district at the time. Also, he appears to have become a concertina maker in 1853, as his firm’s advertisement in ‘Professor’ John Hill Maccann’s The Concertinist’s Guide (1888) claims ‘for 35 years concertina maker’ (online at:
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15. C1051.
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16. Lachenal’s advertisement in the 1859 edition of MDRA takes the form of a double-page ‘List of Prices’ for English concertinas, with twelve models of treble starting at £1.13.0 (for a 22-key in mahogany) and rising to £8.8.0 (for a 48-key in rosewood, with silver buttons), two models of baritone, at £9.9.0 or £11.11.0, and Duet Concertinas for £1.2.0 (mahogany) and £1.6.0 (rosewood). The advertisement states: ‘L. LACHENAL, several years Maker of the Concertina as Patented, having removed from Chiswick to the above more convenient and central premises [8, Little James St., Bedford Row, London], has now every facility for carrying on the Wholesale Business, and can offer Instruments of the very best manufacture, and warranted superior in quality to any hitherto produced, at the greatly reduced prices annexed … In future, all Concertinas from this Manufactory will be stamped LOUIS LACHENAL’. Finding this advertisement was the first clue that there had been a factory in existence at Chiswick. And though it avoids actually stating that he had been manufacturing for Wheatstone’s there, it strongly hints at just that by using the phrase ‘Maker of the Concertina as Patented’ (by Charles Wheatstone).

Messrs. Wheatstone & Co.’s advertisement in the same directory also occupies two pages, but it is principally for harmoniums, an instrument that was becoming both more fashionable and more important for them by the late 1850s (continuing into the 1860s). Their list of concertinas takes up only one third of one page and states (as it had also in 1858): ‘Messrs. WHEATSTONE and Co., having completed their machinery for manufacturing CONCERTINAS of the following scales of notes, are now enabled to offer them to the Public at the low prices annexed’. They listed only six, inexpensive models starting with the same 22-key (as Louis Lachenal) in mahogany, but for a price of three shillings more at £1.16.0, and rising to a 32-key in rosewood at £3.3.0 (thirteen shillings more), though they also mentioned ‘Concertinas, with full compass (48 Keys) from 4 to 12 Guineas’.
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17. C1053. This is evidenced both by the different construction of those instruments and by the addition of the phrase ‘Twenty Years Maker of Wheatstone & Co.’s Patent Concertinas’ to Lachenal’s advertising in MDRA, 1867 (et seq.) and elsewhere.
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18. Related to the Wheatstone family by marriage, Edward Chidley (1830-1899) and his older brother Rock (1825–1894) had worked for Wheatstone’s in the 1840s. They appear in the 1845-1846 Wage Book (C1055) as ‘Chidley and brother’, and both became concertina makers in their own right. According to Kenneth Vernon Chidley (1892-1964), a later director of Wheatstone’s: ‘My grandfather, Edward Chidley, purchased the firm from C. Wheatstone in 1860, and when he died in 1899 was succeeded by his son, also Edward Chidley, who died in 1941. I entered the business in 1906 and have managed production since 1924—and am still in harness!’ (quoted in Accordion Review, 4/6 [June 1950], 21). However, Charles Wheatstone’s younger brother, William Dolman Wheatstone (chr. 9th March 1804) appears to have run the business until his death, at 20, Conduit Street, on 30th August 1862. (The firm had borne his name alone in directory entries since 1848, although the concertinas continued to be labelled C. Wheatstone & Co. throughout the period. His Death Certificate gives his occupation as ‘Concertina & Harmonium Manufacturer and Inventor’.) Neil Wayne has suggested that Charles Wheatstone returned ‘ … to a more active involvement in the concertina firm after the death of his brother … [he] appears to have returned to concertina-making and to research on “new” free-reed instruments in later life …’ (‘The Wheatstone English Concertina’, 121). Finally, Edward Chidley is listed as a concertina maker in his own right, at 28, Store Street, Bedford Square, London, in the period 1861-1870 (Neil Wayne, Concertina Book—Final Edit [unpublished typescript, 1986], 65, where the street name is given incorrectly as ‘Stone St.’). Certainly, Chidley was living at 29, Conduit Street, close to the Wheatstone shop, by April 1871, as he was enumerated there for the Census. In all, I would suggest that 1870 is perhaps a more likely date for his acquisition of C. Wheatstone & Co. (though more work needs to be done on the subject).
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19. See (among others) the notice in Musical Opinion & Music Trade Review Directory of the Music Trade of the United Kingdom 1903, 227.
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20. While Louis Lachenal was manufacturing his ‘mass-produced’ models of treble concertina exclusively for Wheatstone’s — between about April 1848 (the 1490s series) and the end of July 1858 (the 10660s series)—there appear to have been some 9,170 serial numbers, but I do not believe that all of these will be found to have been allocated to instruments during that time. Moreover, other models of treble, as well as all the tenors, baritones, and basses, were still being made by hand (though using reeds supplied by Lachenal, except for the basses, which used French harmonium reeds). In addition, though there are potentially more than 9,000 Red Book entries during this period (allowing for a missing volume, between April 1848 and January 1851), not all of them would have been for sales of new concertinas, as numerous entries in the surviving ledgers are for instruments that were lent, hired, or sold second hand, sometimes several times.
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21. Neil Wayne sold his Concertina Museum Collection to the Horniman Museum, London, in 1996. A photostat catalogue of the collection was privately published: Neil Wayne, The Concertina Museum—Incorporating the Wheatstone Collection of Scientific Apparatus: An Illustrated Catalogue, Checklist and Historical Introduction (The Free Reed Press, 1986). All further references to CMC numbers are to instruments from that catalogue.
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22. ‘Cooke, J. Major’s Corner, Ipswich’, is entered, as a Music Seller in MDRA, 1864.
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23. C1050.
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24. The International Exhibition of 1862, Illustrated Catalogue of the Industrial Department, British Division, Vol. II. (Class XVI.—Musical Instruments), 112.
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25. Bill La Chenal and his mother, Dorothy (‘Dee’), whom I visited on 15th March 2000. Bill is a great-grandson of Louis Lachenal; his grandfather was Louis’ youngest son, Alexander (born 27th October 1861, a Crown Agent and civil engineer), about whom I did not know when I wrote ‘Louis Lachenal’, and his father was Alexander’s youngest son, Ronald. The form of the family name was changed to ‘La Chenal’ in England at the time of the First World War, in order to appear more French (and more importantly at that time, less German!). Another branch of Alexander’s family, in the United States, uses the original form, ‘Lachenal’.
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26. C1052.
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27, Significantly, Anglos are missing from their 1862 Exhibition Price List.
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28. Exhibition Catalogue, 114.
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29. The entry for Rock Chidley in the Exhibition Catalogue, 96, simply states: ‘Harmoniums and concertinas’, but that he was already manufacturing Anglos is attested by his having published a tutor, Chidley’s Instructions for the German Fingering Concertina [1858], which promoted the instruments: ‘These instruments being made by English workmen under the superintendence of R.C. …will be found very superior in tone to those generally sold…’.
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30. C1052.
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31. C1053.
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32. Post Office London Directory 1863.
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33. Post Office London Directory 1874.
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34. ‘The Tommy Williams Interview’, 7.
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35. RG 10/384, folio 18, p. 29.
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36. RG 11/210, folio 13, p. 22.
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37. British Patent No. 8290: ‘Improvements in Concertinas’, applied for 8th July 1885, granted 8th April 1886 to James Alsepti and Richard Ballinger; the patent is available online: On Alsepti and the view that the bowing valves are somewhat tantamount to charlatanry, see Atlas, Contemplating the Concertina, 27-31; for new information about the biography of Alsepti, see Atlas, ‘Signor Alsepti and “Regondi’s Golden Exercise”, Concertina World, supplement to No. 426 (2003), 1-8, which shows that his real name was almost certainly ‘Alsept’ (online at:
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38. With its radial internal design, the ideal shape for an English-style concertina is circular, but for practical purposes it tends towards that of a ‘squared circle’; while the traditional hexagon is the easiest to make, the octagon is better, and the twelve-sided is nearest to the ideal, allowing longer-scale reeds to be used and a larger volume of air to be contained in the bellows.
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39. These include the design of the fretwork, long thumb straps with top screws (like a regular concertina) instead of the usual short straps with clips, and an ordinary paper maker’s label, not an engraved nickel-silver one; hence it is not badged as an Edeophone (was the name even in use when it was made?).
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40. According to Chris Algar, communication of 29th April 2004.
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41. Wayne also gives the number as 28694 in the same catalogue entry, but he has told Chris Algar that he believes this is an error (communication from Chris Algar, 28th April 2004).
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42. In Musical Opinion & Music Trade Review (1 January 1895), Correspondence, 222.
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43. ‘The Tommy Williams Story’, 11
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44. ‘Introducing our New Feature Devoted to the Concertina,’ Accordion Review, 4/4 (April 1950), 22. The article was ‘compiled with information kindly supplied to us by K.V. Chidley, Esq., of Messrs. C. Wheatstone & Co., Ltd…’.
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45. For a few years, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Wheatstone’s used a rubber stamp with the wording ‘(incorporating LACHENAL & CO.)’, which appeared immediately after ‘C. Wheatstone & Co.’ on their letterhead and elsewhere. An example of this is the receipt for a 36-key Anglo, 51406, sold on 26th Sept. 1941, and an associated letter dated 20th August 1941 (sold on eBay).
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46. ‘The Tommy Williams Story’, 12.
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47. The evidence from Wheatstone’s seems to indicate the contrary. Steve Dickinson, the present owner of C. Wheatstone & Co., believes that much of the tooling now in his possession originated with Lachenal’s, having been refettled, and modified by Wheatstone’s in the mid-1930s. Further, John Wicks, who worked for the flute makers Rudall, Carte & Co. and shared premises with Wheatstone’s during the 1950s, told me that he remembered Wheatstone’s having a different drill press for every size of hole (a mass-production technique, saving a lot of set-up time), until Geoffrey Hawkes, Director of Boosey & Hawkes, came along and scrapped them, in the name of economy!

From 1934 on (33000 series), Wheatstone’s instruments began to change, becoming progressively cheaper in their construction and materials, as the firm seemingly embraced the mass-production ethos and technology of their former rivals. An example of that technology is the pattern-following router, for cutting the tapered, dovetailed slots for the reed frames in the pan board, which is still in use by Steve Dickinson. One can see it used at Wheatstone’s factory in Duncan Terrace, Islington, in the British Pathe newsreel ‘Concertina Factory’ (a.k.a. Concert in a Factory), filmed on 3rd April 1961: online at (search the database for ‘concertina factory’). Not surprisingly, under the circumstances, the router can cut slots in six, eight, or twelve-sided pans. It was as a result of having Lachenal’s tooling that Wheatstone’s started to build some Edeophones, starting with a batch of three Anglos numbered 33301-33303, in July 1934. On Wheatstone’s Edeophones, see Neil Wayne, Margaret Birley, and Robert Gaskins, ‘A Wheatstone Twelve-Sided “Edeophone” Concertina with Pre-MacCann Chromatic Duet Fingering’, The Free-Reed Journal, 3 (2001), 3-17 (a revised and expanded version is online at;; see also, Wayne, ‘Wheatstone 12-Sided Duete [sic]’, online at
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48. This is the earliest reference in the ledgers to a concertina being a ‘Lach’, that is, one of the unfinished Lachenal stock of instruments eventually completed by Wheatstone’s. The Wheatstone model number 51 denoted a 20-key Anglo with mahogany ends; a 26-key rosewood-ended Wheatstone should have been described as a model 55B.
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49. The Accordeaphone is a large, square, triple-reeded English concertina covered in blue pearloid, with translucent red plastic buttons. It was developed by Lachenal’s in an attempt to compete with the piano accordion, which became extremely popular in the 1930s, with many concertina players finding it advantageous to take up the newer, more fashionable, instrument. Very few Accordeaphones were made, but a rare example, made for a player named Sid Ive and now owned by Chris Timson and Anne Gregson, can be seen online:
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50. ‘The Tommy Williams Interview’, 7.
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51. Lachenal’s address changed from 8, to 4, Little James Street in the Post Office London Directory 1867, though a later (undated) price list indicates that they occupied the premises at both 4 & 6, Little James Street.
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View or Download the PDF format file for this pageFig1 Wheatstone.jpg, Enlarged: 1000*750, 150.2 KB

Fig. 1. C Wheatstone, No. 1563, 48 keys, made by Louis Lachenal (author’s collection)

Enlarged: 1000*687, 230.6 KB

Fig. 2. The former Kingscourt Publishing Ltd, 20, British Grove, Chiswick (now demolished), the site of Alpha and Omega Cottages

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Fig. 3. J.Russell, No. 6372, 32 keys, made by Louis Lachenal (author’s collection)

Enlarged: 1000*750, 181.9 KB

Fig. 4. Louis Lachenal, No. 8488, 48 keys (author’s collection)

Enlarged: 2648*2360, 1.7 MB

Fig. 5. Louis Lachenal’s double page advertisement in the Musical Directory, Register and Almanac, 1859

Enlarged: 2068*3100, 1.2 MB

Fig. 6. Louis Lachenal’s price list from the 1862 Exhibition Catalogue

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Fig. 5 & Fig 6. PDF resource

Enlarged: 1000*750, 166.8 KB

Fig. 7. Journet Anglo, No. 7602, made by Louis Lachenal (author’s collection)

Enlarged: 1000*750, 188.3 KB

Fig. 8. A German imitation Anglo (author’s collection)

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Fig. 9. Lachenal & Co. Edeophone, No. 28821(?) (courtesy of Chris Algar)

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Fig. 10a. The old Lachenal & Co. premises at 4-6-8 Northington Street, Formerly Little James Street; the site at numbers 4 and 6 was evidently redeveloped in the 1930’s.

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Fig. 10b. Another photo of Northington Street

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Fig. 10c. Number 8


In this part of the site we have links to the sites of members of the ICA. Some of the sites have a lot of information about concertinas and the people who play them, as you would expect. Others have nothing at all about concertinas, but are interesting anyway (concertina players are, by and large, an interesting bunch).

For your convenience, we have divided up the links into two sections: sites that are primarily about concertinas or have a high content of concertina-related material, and sites that have no or low concertina content. Have fun browsing around this lot!

Please send comments etc. to

All links open in new browser windows. 

Concertina-related sites This is the successor of the website which also still extists but is no longer updated. the updates are now on this new website. It is also a successor for the previous magazine PICA (see elsewhere on this website) The Concertina Library: Digital Reference Collection for Concertinas : Documents for the study of English, Anglo, and Duet concertinas, including history, instruction books, sheet music, patents, technical papers, rare periodicals, and new research articles. A comprehensive free guide by fourteen leading concertina scholars, mostly ICA members. Developed by Robert Gaskins from his Maccann Duet web site. This is probably the most popular and comprehensive concertina site on the Net, including an online Discussion Forum. Built and maintained by Paul Schwartz. The home of the Concertina FAQ, maintained by ICA committee member Chris Timson – the second most popular concertina site on the Net! Home page of the very able Dutch English concertina player *and ICA Newsletter Editor) Pauline de Snoo. It describes her new tutor for the English concertina, which has been garnering some very favourable comment. Also from Pauline de Snoo, this site concentrates on tuition and other academic aspects of the concertina. Maker of the Geuns-Wakker concertinas, restoration of vintage concertinas, music publisher. These people have a long history of support for and involvement with the concertina. Web site for the well-known concertina repair guru Dave Elliott, which he is developing into a technical resource on concertinas. Run by Neil Wayne, Free Reed is a long-standing name in the concertina world. Paul Hardy’s site has several pages about his Wheatstone, Lachenal, and Case English concertinas. Robert Gaskins’ MacCann Duet web site is now part of the Concertina Library (see above)
Other members’ sites Long standing ICA member Juliet Woodin makes beautiful fuchsia earrings inspired by visits to Ireland. Folk/acoustic trio, AJAR, based in Nottingham, includes long standing ICA member, Juliet Woodin. playing Jeffries C/G and Bb/F, and Wheatstone baritone Anglos. The web site for Stortfolk Music Club, a club in Bishops Stortford run by ICA committee member Jon McNamara. (dead link) Sally Keene also has a business selling unusual perennial plants Folkworks is an educational charity operating in the field of traditional music, dance and song. The organisation was formed in 1988 by Northumbrian musician and ICA president Alistair Anderson. Ferrette Morris is the first and so far only Morris side in France. Their band consists solely of ICA member Jonathan Taylor. ICA member Anne Gregson produces beautiful greetings cards. See them here. ICA member Jochen Riemer plays duet concertina, Chemnitzer concertina, guitar and ukelele as a member of the German folk band Hampelmuse. This site (in German) will tell you all about them. Arms Folk/workshps.html The webpage for the Saturday workshops organised by the Lewes Arms Folk Club which show a distinct concertina bias (hardly surprising with Bryan Creer’s involvement). The site for Charlotte Oliver’s Magic Lantern Show This is the web site for the band Pierrot, who include in their lineup ICA member Peter Barnard Sheffield City Giants – two processional Catalan Giants, belonging to the City of Sheffield, and representing War (the male) and Peace (the lady) whose band includes at least 3 concertina players – including Gill Noppen-Spacie, ICA Newsletter Editor. Spot them at Folk Festivals and community events both in the UK and overseas. At 15 feet tall these are no shrinking violets! The Traditional Arts Team organises activities in the Midlands relating to traditional storytelling, song and music. ICA member Pam Bishop is one of its founder members. Self-guided walking holidays in Mid Wales with guest house accommodation. Musicians particularly welcome – resident concertina, fiddle & hurdy gurdy players. Kettlebridge Clogs is a ladies’ Northwest Morris side. The band contains three concertina players, including John Wild (former ICA Treasurer).

Pay by bank

Renewing your membership or becoming a new member:

If you don’t wish to use Paypal, you can also pay by bank and send us an e-mail with your data. Follow these two steps: 

1 Pay the membership fee by bank

Ordinary (Single Person) Membership
UK resident : £20.00
Europe : £23.00
Other Overseas (including US) : £26.00
Family / Club & Corporate Membership
UK resident : £30
Europe : £34.50
Other Overseas (including US) : £39
Junior Membership
UK resident : £4.50
Europe : £6.00
Other Overseas (including US) : £6.00

Transfer this fee to:
Account holder – International Concertina Association
Bank – Barclays Bank, Saffron Walden Business Centre, Market Place, Saffron Walden, Essex
CB10 1HR
Sort code 20-74-05
Account number – 10514489
IBAN GB13 BARC 2074 0510 5144 89

Most banks allow selecting the pound as currency when doing an international payment.

2 Send your data by e-mail

Next, send an e-mail with:

your name and post address
your phone number (and/or mobile)
what type of concertina you play


As soon as your membership has been processed by us, you will also receive a welcome e-mail by our Membership secretary.

In case you do not receive an e-mail from the International Concertina Association within 10 days following your payment, please contact and we will sort this out.

The Swaledale Squeeze

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The 12th Swaledale Squeeze will take place from 15 – 17 May 2009

at Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel, Grinton, Swaledale, N. Yorks., UK.

Why not banish memories of grey skies, wind and rain and look forward to a convivial weekend of concertina playing, meeting friends, music, concert, ceilidh, sessions, Black Sheep bitter, walks, the comfort of Grinton Lodge and fantastic scenery – what more could one want!! As usual, everything will be centred on Grinton Lodge (a former shooting lodge) which is now a Youth Hostel, based just outside Reeth, in the picturesque setting of Swaledale. The venue is excellent for our purposes and we are made to feel very welcome. All accommodation is in bunk rooms (bedding provided) and meals are included for those in bunks (with or without the Friday evening meal which will be served at 7.30pm).

Campervans and tents are also welcome but, because the dining room is relatively small, campers are asked to use the self-catering kitchen. There are also many B&Bs in the area if you would like more comfort/privacy – please let me know if you’d like a list. You are welcome to bring your own alcohol to the ceilidh but not to consume at Grinton Lodge.

Friday consists of a walk in the afternoon (for those who can make it), a meal at 7.30 pm and informal sessions in the evening – a chance to unwind after your journey, play a few tunes and meet friends old and new. There will be workshops on Saturday and Sunday, a mini-concert on Saturday, a ceilidh on the Saturday evening, featuring ‘spots’; from participants, and a farewell concert on Sunday afternoon, including tutors’ spots. The ceilidh and concert will be held at Reeth Memorial Hall. Families and friends are welcome too – they may enjoy the area’s many craft shops, tearooms and outstanding walks.

The line up of tutors is as good as ever – see the flyer and application form PDF) for details.

Youth Hostel prices have risen again and I have had to reflect this in the fees. As I am busier than ever this year, I would very much appreciate receiving booking forms, deposits, balances, any odd requests etc in good time. Please feel free to contact me if you have any queries – I look forward to seeing you there!

Jane Edwards
“Turning Tide”, 1 Coast,
Ross-shire, IV22 2LR

Tel: +44 (0) 1445-781225

Click here for flyer and application form with email address (PDF)


Kilve Annual Concertina Weekend

The Kilve Annual Concertina Weekend is hosted by the West Country Concertina Players ( at Kilve Court, a former large country house now used by the Local Authority for residential courses.

The weekend normally comprises an exciting combination of workshops, sessions, a concert, a ceildh and lots more (details on the web site).

This weekend is primarily intended for post beginners, intermediate and advanced players. A weekend specifically for beginners is normally held in October (2007: 19-21 October).

Contact: Mal Derricott, 49 Medbourne Close, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 7JA, UK (01 258 450927)

See Kilve 2005 pictures on David Nind’s web site (