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Peculiar Viennese concertina


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I've managed to acquire an end-of-19th-century 78 button Concertina made in Vienna by one Adalbert Suchan. I hope you will find it as interesting as I do.

It's quite large - here next to a Wheatstone:

20210111_222322_edit_r.thumb.jpg.f3182b30f6114490294434fd7c06fe8a.jpg

 

As you can see, the system is non standard - buttons go up a semitone upwards and 5 semitones forward.

The left hand is the "Basso" going from  C2 to D5 and the right hand is the "Primo" going from G3 to A6 -  interestingly they have a significant overlap.

I wondered what kind of reeds I will find inside, concertina or accordion. I was defniitely not prepared to find both when I opened it:

 

DSC_0059_edit_r.thumb.jpg.f52dd9a4b752e52a1b6241492bf52217.jpg

The left hand has concertina style single reeds while the right hand has accordion style reeds on what I think are brass plates.

 

A picture of the mechanism:
DSC_0054_edit_r.thumb.jpg.6a1616ddf0c0bf6f44a523aa8deb69b0.jpg

 

The bellows have a few tiny holes in them, but other than that it's in surprisingly good shape!

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2 hours ago, Eshed said:

As you can see, the system is non standard - buttons go up a semitone upwards and 5 semitones forward.

 

So the interval between each of the five rows of buttons is a semitone? (Certainly the pattern of the coloured buttons seems to confirm that.) In that case the concept is basically that of Charles Wheatstone's "Double" concertina of 1844, but re-arranged into five rows instead of four...

 

(For a minute I thought you were meaning that it fingers like a 5-stringed instrument that's tuned in fourths - a fingering concept similar to that of Pierre Charles Leclerc's original French mélophone of 1837.)

 

Quote

The left hand is the "Basso" going from  C2 to D5 and the right hand is the "Primo" going from G3 to A6 -  interestingly they have a significant overlap.

 

Then the range goes down to the bottom note of a cello, and it's meant to be played as a duet concertina.

 

 

 

Edited by Stephen Chambers
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Wow, this is certainly very interesting (and rather odd!). Do you have a closer up shot of the reeds perhaps? I'm quite curious about their construction. It looks like the low reeds on the left end have traditional styled reeds (with a rivet in place of a clamp). Are they in a dovetail slot? 

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Wow, this is quite amazing. I'm a bit surprised that there are only 5 folds on the bellows for an instrument with a range like this, and the fact that it is double-action is impressive. I suppose it makes sense to have concertina reeds for the bass end, as many more bass concertina reeds could be placed in the same amount of space as bulky, rectangular bass accordion reeds, since they can be placed much more freely radially. The "Primo" reeds, on the other hand, can be accordion reeds because the amount of space saved by switching to concertina reeds would probably be much less for higher notes, hence maybe the creator wanted to save costs by using accordion reeds.

 

The button layout is also interesting, as I thought there would have been much more appealing options for a duet (Crane layout, Maccann layout), so seeing a variation on the chromatic Wheatstone duet system is quite curious. Maybe these chromatic system concertinas were more popular than I thought, or maybe it made sense to choose this system to be able to fit in all of those reeds in that tight of a space.

 

Any chance you'd be willing to share a sound sample of the instrument? 

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1 hour ago, charleschar said:

The button layout is also interesting, as I thought there would have been much more appealing options for a duet (Crane layout, Maccann layout), so seeing a variation on the chromatic Wheatstone duet system is quite curious. 

 

It may be too early. Maccann patented his system in 1884 and Butterworth patented what became known as the Crane layout in 1896. (Also I'm not sure they are obviously more appealing, other than to existing players of those systems.)

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It's a odd choice to have five buttons in a row. The Wheatstone 4-button layout repeats after three rows. A 6-button layout would repeat after two rows; but this doesn't repeat. Still, I suppose that's just the same as a Crane and I get on fine with that!

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11 hours ago, alex_holden said:

I Googled the maker's name and this came up:

http://www.eiou.at/wiener/weitere/suchan/suchan.html

The translation says he was a maker of harmonicas, reeds, and melophones.

 

Only the names of the instruments are (potentially) very misleading, and mean different things in different contexts/locations.

 

It's especially confusing to refer to harmonicas without a qualifying word to contextualise what is meant, because, in German, Harmonica/Harmonika can cover the whole family of free reed instruments - there's the Mund Harmonica (mouth harmonica), which is the mouth organ/harmonica; the Hand Harmonika (which speaks for itself) embracing diatonic accordions of different kinds like Wiener Harmonica (Vienna accordion), Deutsche Harmonica (German accordion) etc., as well as developed German concertinas, like the Chemnitzer, Carlsfelder, or Bandonion; and there's the Fuss Harmonica/Physharmonika (foot harmonica), which is the reed organ family.

 

But, in the context of 1850's Vienna, I'd suggest that when Adalbert Suchan began as a harmonica maker in 1859, he was probably making Vienna accordions, and not harmonicas as we understand the name in English.

 

"Melofon"/"Melophon" is also a very loaded term that doesn't mean what you (or the writer of the German text!) would expect it to:

 

When he was writing his 3-part article "Giulio Regondi: Guitarist, Concertinist, or Melophonist?" for Guitar Review, in the early '90s, my friend Douglas Rogers conferred with me on occasion, and especially about whether Regondi had actually played Leclerc's mélophone, or not. The conclusion we reached was that, since Regondi's German tour in 1841 followed hot on the heels of the highly-successful one of the French virtuoso melophonist Louis Dessane, his (until then unknown in Germany) English concertina got described as a "Melofon" so that his potential audience would have some idea of what to expect - and that name stuck, so that English concertinas made in Germany/Austria/Central Europe were generally referred to there as Melofons/Melophons...

 

There's a Concertina, Vienna. English system. Green leather label with gilt letters: 'Adalb[ert], Suchan' in the Horniman Museum. It looks very similar to this 5-row instrument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Stephen Chambers
Edited to add missing word "on"
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On 2/27/2021 at 1:22 AM, Oberon said:

Do you have a closer up shot of the reeds perhaps?

 

On 2/27/2021 at 10:32 AM, charleschar said:

Any chance you'd be willing to share a sound sample of the instrument? 

 

On 2/27/2021 at 11:43 AM, David Barnert said:

Is there much difference in timbre between the concertina reeds on the left and the accordion reeds on the right?

I've put pictures of the reeds and sound samples here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/256qf3x33xyabdb/AAAQ5KrDBDQ-PR95z_ek-_Sqa

"timbre" specifically is playing the same note alternately by the two hands.

 

On 2/27/2021 at 8:51 AM, alex_holden said:

I Googled the maker's name and this came up:

http://www.eiou.at/wiener/weitere/suchan/suchan.html

The translation says he was a maker of harmonicas, reeds, and melophones.

 

This page is not entirely accurate - as Stephen mentioned, the name "Melofon" was used to describe concertinas in Vienna. In addition the dates there are inaccurate as well. They are basing the times on Lehmann's address book of Vienna, whose first edition was released in 1859. As to when he stopped working, I've checked and found Adalbert Suchan in the guide after 1882, and he switches with (presumably) his son Norbert around 1890. Since both names appear on this instrument, I suspect that's around when it was built.

 

On 2/27/2021 at 8:46 AM, alex_holden said:

I wonder if they built any more.

The serial number seems to be 500.8, I have no idea how to read it, though (the one in Horniman Museum is 206.4).

Edited by Eshed
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