I. WHY DID THE ENGLISH CONCERTINA LOSE ITS POPULARITY
This, of course, is a fascinating question, one for which I doubt there is a single -- or even "best" -- answer. What does seem fairly certain, though, is that it was not because "Victorian England was so racist that the concertina's domination by an Italian virtuoso doomed it" (as James at least suggests). Quite the contrary, Victorian England had something of a love affair with certain aspects of Italian culture, no doubt a residue of the "Grand Tour" syndrome of the eighteenth century. The Victorians particularly prized the great Italian virtuosos, so much so that a number of native English musicians actually banded together to form a short-lived "league" whose aim was to promote native talent.
We might also remember that mid- and late-Victorian London was absolutely awash with Italian musicians, particularly voice teachers, the most well-known of whom Sir Paolo Tosti, a native of the Adriatic coastal town of Ortona al Mare, was actually "singing master" to the royal family.
As for Regondi in particular (whose nationality, we should remember, is still open to question: was he Italian [Genoa], Swiss [Geneva], or even, as Tom Lawrence would seem to have it, French [Lyons]?): he was viewed with anything but anomosity. In fact, what documentary evidence there is seems to argue that he was adored, both as a performer and as a human being. There is wonderful testimony to this view by Richard Hoffman, a native of England who studied the concertina with Regondi, emigrated to the United States in the 1840s (?), gave what seems to be the first concertina in the United States (in New York) and was the sometimes accompanist for Jenny Lind when she toured in America. In addition, I have argued that it was Regondi who served as the model for Wilkie Collins having placed the concertina in the hands of Count Fosco in his spectacularly successful novel The Woman in White.
In all, I fail to find any merit at all in the "racist" argument.
James then goes on to wonder if it was a result of the instrument's being "too expensive, so that its popular support. . .was not able to reach [a] critical mass." Here I would argue that if concertina prices had anything to do with the matter at all, they may have worked just the other way around. In other words, the middle and upper classes were drawn to the instrument as long as it was expensive -- and thus rare -- enough to mark those who played it as being somewhat above the "riff raff." Only when the likes of Lachenal and others began mass producing the instrument, thus lowering the prices -- Lachenal, after all, produced his so-called "Peoples Concertina" for just over £1.0.0 -- did its vogue-like appeal began to wither. Why, after all, should Lord This or Lady That (not to mention Countess of This or Marchioness of That) seek an association with an instrument that, as the novelist George Gissing so accurately depicted it at the end of the century, was more customarily association with the working classes? (See Gissing's The Nether World, where he places the instrument in the hands of the despicable Bob Hewett (and otherwise associates it with ruffians), who plays it because he could not afford any other instrument.
Finally, while we can seek purely sociological reasons for the instrument's "fall from grace," we should not overlook matters musical. Some year's ago, I presented a lecture-recital in New York. A very well-respected musician came up to me at the end of the presentation and, after saying very nice things about my playing ("toot toot", he mentioned what he considered to be the lack of "tonal/timbral" variety. In a way, he might have a nail on the head.
Consider the following remarks about the concertina by the English musician Thomas Attwood (briefly a student of Mozart, with whom he studied counterpoint--note that the counterpoint exercises, with Mozart's alterations, still exist), who seems to have heard the concertina shortly before his death in 1838 (a performance by Regondi?); Attwood's comments are reported by the important Victorian musician and music educator John Hullah (in his Music in the House, 1878), who tells us that the comments represent Attwood's reaction to the instrument over the course of a quarter of an hour: "This [the concertina] is exquisite. . .This will revolutionize the orchestra. . .What can you want with two clarionets when you can have this?. . .This is rather monotonous. . .This certainly wants relief. . .I'm sick of this. . ."
On the other hand, the prickly music critic Henry Fothergill Chorley, who liked nothing better than to savage his subjects, had the following to say about the concertina: "The concertina. . . has varieties of tone [my italics] out-numbering those of any wind instrument,--and besides these, a certain talking quality of voice (akin to) the sound of a stringed quartett which " rescues it[the concertina] from such monotony 'as comes over the ear,' after a time, when flute, horn bassoon, oboe, and even clarinet are used for a solo [my italics] (Athanaeum, 28, June 1854).
Thus, two sensitive musician/critics -- two very different opinions.
In the end, though, I think it might have been the lack of timbral variety (at least that might have been one of the reasons) that -- once the likes of Regondi and Blagrove were finished commissioning the likes of Bernhard Molique, Jules Benedict, George Alexander Macfarren, and John Barnett (and there is no known documentation that would show that Wheatstone & Co. itself was active in this respect) -- prevented the mainstream composers of "art music" from flocking to the English concertina on their own accord.
II. MEANTONE TUNING AND LAYOUT OF BUTTONS
Despite much ink having been spent on it (especially in this forum), I have yet to see an argument that convincingly resolves the following chicken-and-egg question: did Wheatstone lay out the buttons on the English concertina to meet the demands of meantone tuning, or was it the layout of the buttons that led him to use meantone tuning?
What can be said, however, is the following: Wheatstone undoubtedly chose a meantone tuning on the grounds that, when he was developing the instrument in the late 1820s, that was the standard tuning in England, which, conservative in its musical tastes as it was, "lagged behind" developments on the Continent. Thus it was not until the middle of the century (the mid-1840s) that equal temperament became standard "trade usage" on English-built pianos, while organs were still being tuned in one meantone temperament or another well into the 1880s. And that Wheatstone thought in terms of meantone tuning is evident from his so-called "Harmonic Diagram (preserved in the British Library and reproduced in facsimile in my The English Concertina in Victorian England), which is further explained in "An Explanation of the Harmonic Diagram Invented by C. Wheatstone (printed in The Scientific Papers of Sir Charles Wheatstone, pp. 14-20). Here Wheatstone divides the whole tone into both major and minor semitones, and then divides the former into a minor semitone and diesis, the result being the so-called "enharmonic" scale (which attracted the attention of more than a few sixteenth-century Italian humanists who were endeavoring to recreate the musical theory of ancient Greece).
And Wheatstone's choice of enharmonic buttons -- E flat/D sharp and A flat/G sharp, with the first note of each pair sounding higher than the second (yes, this strikes us as counterintuitive at first, but be that as it may) -- served a purely practical purpose: it moved the so-called "wolf [that is, out of tune] fifth" to C sharp and A flat(! ! !), and thus permitted the concertina a fairly in-tune modulatory range from E major (on the sharp side) to E-flat major (on the flat side), with keys on either side of which sounding out of tune. James, then, has things exactly backwards. Meantone tuning did not lead to free modulation; rather it restricted it.
A few more comments about this matter are in order, though they do not address anything that James posted:
1. Wheatstone paid something of a price for his antiquated (outside England) tuning system. He drew the scorn of no less a musician than Hector Berlioz, who came to know the English concertina owing to his having served as a judge of musical instruments at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Berlioz wrote about Wheatstone's tunings: "se conformant ainsi à la doctrine des acousticiens, doctrine entièrement contraire à la practique des musiciens" (they conform to the doctrine of the acousiticans, a doctrine entirely at odds with the practice of musicians), and this from a musician who, in general, found the sound of the concertina quite pleasing, especially in combination with that of the harp.
2. Somewhere in the exchange about this matter, someone noted that even in the early production of the concertina it was equal temperament -- not meantone tuning -- that must have been the standard, this on the grounds that he or she had seen many early instruments that were in fact equal tempered. I must disagree! What evidence there is (and it is too complicated to spell out here, but see my The English Concertina, chap. 4) would seem to indicate that equal temperament did not become the standard on the English concertina until around 1860. Indeed, in his Short Account of the English Concertina of 1865 (the first "history" of the instrument), William Caldwell notes that English concertinas can be had in both tunings, while as late as 1885, the important acoustician Alexander John Ellis (known today mainly for his translation into English of the terminal study on acoustics by Helmholz and himself a concertinist) could write that the instrument was "still usually tuned in the older meantone temperament" (in his translation of Helmholz, On the Sensation of Tone. Finally, John Charles Ward, spurred to defend the concertina against its critics, could, as late as 1891, write that "amongst inferior makers the unequal temperament and other defects still flourish, to the detriment of the instrument's good name." Indeed, it's fascinating to find the German composer Richard Strauss still referring to the meantone tuning of the English concertina in his twentieth-century translation and revision of Berlioz's famous treatise on orchestration. (Obviously, Strauss was rather out of touch with the instrument, and we may question his familiarity with it.)
3. How, then, did the meantone concertina fare when matched with a piano, whether an English piano with a like meantone tuning, or a Continental piano with equal temperament? It is difficult to say. First, we should recall that when Giulio Regondi toured the Continent on two occasions in the 1840s, critics remarked about the meantone tuning (without using the term), but never once complained that the concertina and piano were out of tune. And even when matched with a meantone-tuned English piano, the latter still only had one key for the A flat/ G sharp and one key for the E flat/D sharp. Did one of the concertina's buttons for each pair match that single key, or was the latter somewhere in between the two buttons. In any event, the ear quickly adjusts to the differences.
(A tiny footnote to the above: one of the responses noted that pianos did not have "split" keys (which would have permitted them to accomodate themselves to the E flat/D sharp and A flat/G sharp dichotomies of the concertina). In general, the respondent is quite right. We might note, though, that during the sixteenth century, the theorist Italian music theorist and composer Nicola Vicentino, in an attempt, once again, to resurrect the musical practices of ancient Greece, experimented with precisely such an instrument.)
4. Were there in fact early concertinas with equal temperament. Perhaps, for as Stephen Chambers once reminded me, there are early instruments without the "choice" between E flat/D sharp and A flat/G sharp. One might begin answering the question by examining closely the early concertinas with fewer than 48 keys and see which buttons are missing.
III. TACTILE DIFFERENTIATION
Now, I don't mean to sound aloof or preacher-like. But we simply should stop worrying about such things as making the various buttons different colors or distinguishing between them through tactile or any other means. In the end, one learns to play the English concertina -- or, for that matter, any other concertina or any other instrument -- in one way and one way only: BY PRACTICING!!!
IV. THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF FREE-REED INSTRUMENTS
James would like to know why, as Director of the CSFRI, I have not made its collection of Victorian music (and tutors) for the English concertina available for the asking on the internet. Simply put, it has to do with lack of both funds and manpower.
Briefly, the CSFRI received no funding from the CUNY Graduate Center (nor should it--let's face it, grateful though I am for the Graduate Center's sponsorship, I realize full well that CSFRI is not -- and cannot be -- a high-priority item). Rather it lives on the "small" profits that it makes from its annual concert/symposium, with these then being used to sponsor that for the following year. At times, however, there are no profits, not even small ones, as when we lost our shirt in Spring 2003 with our "Free Reeds of Asia" event. Indeed, such a loss straps us even more tightly for the following year (but see below).
Moreover, I am at a complete loss to understand just what James means when he says that CSFRI is "hiding" its collection. As our website points out, we will, upon request (and if there is no copyright infringement), be perfectly happy to make copies of what we have.
A word about copyright infringement: although the music and tutors in question are obviously in public domain, some -- and only some -- of the collection was acquired from the British Library. Now, when one orders a microfilm from the British Library (or virtually any other major library), one signs an agreement not to reproduce the material in question.
Thus to repeat -- and qualify -- something that I just said: we will be happy to reproduce those items in our collection for which there is no active copyright and for which there is no standing agreement not to reproduce.
To be sure, this means that we cannot reproduce everything. Yet one of the things that was mentioned in the course of the postings was the Regondi tutor (in fact there are two Regondi tutors). Since neither of these was acquired from the British Library, we would be happy to make xerox copies upon request (and in fact, we have done so for a number of people in the past).
In the end, I do share James's wish for a world in which, sitting here in my study, i could go click, click, click, and call up, at will, the manuscript and printed treasures of the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, the Library of Congress. In the meantime, I either order things through the more customary channels, pay the price, or do without. Such, I'm afraid, is life!
With a thank you to James for his curiosity, provocative assertions, and gentlemanly manner!!!
Edited by allan atlas, 28 August 2003 - 01:04 PM.