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The Bandoneon Historia

The Bandoneon is named after Heinrich Band (April 4,1821-1860).   A music teacher, musician, publisher and merchant of musical instruments.  Heinrich Band lived in Krefeld, Rheinland/Westfalen West Germany, second eldest of 16 siblings of Peter Band.  Peter Band was a vendor of musical instruments and played violin.  Heinrich, continuing the family tradition, established his own musical instrument shop in his home town.  He was staff cellist in an orchestra in his town and around 1840 he had known the concertina - created by Carl Friedrich Uhlig.  The instrument attracted his interest but because of its limited range it had, Band wanted to improve it.   In 1843, he opened up a shop of musical instruments.   Around 1846, he might have devised the bandonion, though it seems he never built them.  

In December 1850, Heinrich Band announced in the Crefelden Zeitung, No 215, 10 Dec 1850  "to friends of the accordion, by way of a new invention, we have once again remarkedly perfected our accordions, and these new instruments, round or octangonal, from 88 to 144 voices, are available in our store"   However, Manuel Roman, author of "Notes of the History of the Bandoneon", in his research, after contacting the Archives of the Town of Krefeld shows "Band was registered in Krefeld as a merchant, not as a manufactuer, and he never hired employees for his store    Band most probably had his instruments made to order, most probably by Carl Friedrich Zimmerman in Carlfeld/Saxony Germany as early as 1854.  

Furthermore, Manual Roman's "Notes of the History of Bandoneon", tells us at the Industrial Exposition in Paris in 1849, a little known individual published a report on Zimmerman's attendance regarding a new musical instrument.   The report says C.F. Zimmerman, born in Carlsfeld, Saxony, had traveled to Paris to unveil to the world an instrument he has just created, modelled on the German concertina, made by fellow saxon C. F. Uhlig.  The basic difference between Zimmerman's instrument, which was neither round or octagonal, and the concertina was not so much the shape as the large number of its voices and the new arrangement of buttons on its keyboard.  This new instrument was known by its region of origin, in order to distinguish it from Uhlig's concertina, being named the Carlsfelder Konzertina.    The "Carlsfelder Conzertina" was the instrument that became known in Krefeld as the Bandoneon, and later was commonly known in Hamburg and Leipzig also as the Bandoneon.   Leipzig University was the home of the publishing industry that published not only literature, but also music books and scores.    The Bandonions were successfully sold by Band.  Some say that as a tribute to Band's successful merchandising of the instrument, the Bandonion name was created with a fusion of his last name and the "accordion".

The Bandoneon is an offshoot of a family of German button and bellows instruments started in the 1820's in Germany.  These instruments were called Harmonicas, however the same instrument was registered in Austria with the name accordion around 1830.  The first accordions played a predefined chord with a single button action, which played the tonic and the dominant by opening and closing the bellows.  The accordian was very easy to play and nice for non-musicians who wanted to enjoy accompanying dancers by just making rhythm with the chords.  Musicians criticized the invention because of the restriction of producing melodies and composing the chords in a different way than the prefixed ones.

C.F Uhlig and C.F. Zimmerman


In 1834, C.F. (Carl Friedrich) (Hermann) Uhlig (1789-1874) of Chemnit, Germany built the first German concertina (a large square instrument), not knowing of a small octagonal Wheatstone English concertina.  Getting his initial idea from the diatonic instrument by Cyrillus Demian, Uhlig created his own design,  a square shaped diatonic instrument with five buttons on each side, producing 20 tones in all.   Uhlig split the notes of the chord, allowing changes in the harmony.  He called this a "Concertina". 

Uhlig later expanded his instrument to play 40, 56 or 78 tones, the buttons divided evenly between both hands.  By 1868, the reeds were doubled, now sounding an octave for each tone.  Eventually, the Chemnitz concertinas were made to play up to 128 or more tones.   While not fully chromatic, as the Wheatstone concertinas, the Chemnitz instruments could still play in several, producing a very full sound suitable for noisy dance halls and weddings.

During the 1840's, Carl Friedrich Zimmerman (1817 -Aug 20,1898) improved the concertina, increasing from 30 to 71 the number of buttons, all with independent sounds.  Zimmerman unveiled his invention to the world at the Industrial Exposition in Paris in 1849.  Each button would now produce a different sound depending on the push and pull of the bellows, creating 142 tone bisonoric.  The keyboard has actually two layouts: one for the opening notes and one for the closing notes.  Since the right and left hand layouts are also different, this adds up to four different keyboard layouts that must be learned in order to play the instrument.

However, there is an advantage that the notes tend to progress from the bass clef on the left hand to above the the treble clef on the right.  To make matters more confusing, there are bandoneons that are monosoric (same note on push and pull).  These variants are more compatible with a chromatic tuning structure.

None of these keyboard layouts is structured to facilitate playing scale passages of notes.  Instead the structure is designed to aid the playing of chords, which makes sense when one considers the origin of the instrument and its intended purpose, to be a portable organ for church services.

Heinrich Band


In the 1850's Heinrich Band, musician and dealer of musical instruments contributed to the sales of the instrument by improving written notation of music notes by adding numbers besides the notes and later over the notes, corresponding with the keys on the instrument.  He published musical tutor aids for the instrument and came out with his own version for the button layouts.

Band did not build his own instruments, having his instruments made most likely by Carl Friedrich Zimmerman in Carlsfeld/Saxony and then selling them successfully.  However, it seems he designed early predecessors of the bandonion with 56 tones with 14 bi-sonorous keys on each side.  Later he designed another with 64 tones and another with 88 tones. 

Heinrich contributed furthermore to the expansion of the instrument with several transcriptions of piano works adapted for the instrument.  He composed waltzes and polkas.  After he died, at the young age of 39, the shop was run by his wife, firstly with a partner and later with her eldest son Alfred.  They published "Scales and Chords in all the Major and Minor tonalities for Bandonion", which was one of the first books of studies released for the instrument.  Also, this may be the first time we see the name "bandonion" in print.   Possibly the name is a composite of the name Band and Accordion. 

The button board layouts by the three "builders" became known as the Rheinische (Band), Chemnitzer (Uhlig) and Carlsfelder (Zimmerman) systems.  Around the turn of the century, there was a move for unification, and eventually two systems were chosen, the 124 Einheitz-Konsertina and the 144-tone Einheitz-Bandonion.   In Argentina however, the Rheinische system was kept, with 142 notes most common, and became known as the Bandoneon.  Push and pull are counted separately, so a 142-tone instrument had 71 buttons.

Another thought for the derivation of the name, Bandonion, is from its possible creators, or, at least, its principal advertiser: Heinrich Band.  And as for the suffix that follows the name there are different opinions although the one that prevails states that a sort of cooperative was formed to raise funds for the construction of the instrument, thus originating the term "band-union", changed to "bandonion" to sound pleasant to the ear.     

Earnest Louis Arnold (ELA) and Alfred Arnold (AA)


By the end of the 19th Century, there were accordions, concertinas and bandonions, exported from Germany to the whole world.

The principal factory that manufactured bandonions, owned by C.F. Zimmerman, was bought in the 1860's by Earnest Louis Arnold.  Zimmerman moved to North America.

German sailors and Italian seasonal workers and emigrants brought the Bandoneon with them to Argentina and Uruguay in the 1870s.  Soon the instrument was adopted by those wishing to incorporate it into the milonga music at that time and it quickly became the symbol of Tango.

Earnest Louis Arnold (ELA) (1828-1910) was the manufacturer of the "ELA" bandoneons, which were exported to Argentina and sold by Alberto Ohermann.   Max Epperlein also was well known in Argentina for introducing the "ELA" during the first years of the century.  Max Epperlein was a Leipzig exporter who, from doing modest business with Argentina, came to fall in love with Buenos Aires and settled there for many years.   Thus arrived at the River Plata an instrument which, in its country of origin, Germany, had been known mostly by the upper classes.   The instrument was expensive.  The German Federation of the Concertina and Bandonion played a fundamental role in the standardization of the manufacture of the instrument.  There were different manufactures of the Bandonion offering models with widely varying numbers of voices.  Because of the recommendations of the Federation, the number of voices was fixed at 144, thus determining the style common in Germany.   However the model with 142 voices, adopted by the tango prior to standardization, continued to be produced by Earnest Louis Arnold, but only for export to Argentina, Uruguay and other Latin American Countries.

Thereafter, the direction of the firm was run by the children until the youngest, Alfred (1878-1933), who with all experience he achieved since the early years, in 1911 founded the firm Alfred Arnold Bandoneon, which manufactured the famous and highly praised "AA" (Double A).  In later advertisements it was announced as follows "The only instrument for a perfect interpretation of Argentina Tango".    The "AA" of 142 voices has 71 buttons of "mother of pearl" and it was adopted by professional tango musicians.  The AA enjoyed great prestige because of its high-quality reeds, its sound mechanics and its strong constitution. 

Since that time most of the bandoneons (ELA) and the ones made by Alfred Arnold (AA) were exported to Argentina with the name BANDONEON.

Arnold also manufactured the "Premier" instruments, of an excellent quality, which were imported by Sharp and Veltren.  Another reknowned trademark was "Germania", constructed by "M Hohner A:G (Mathis Hohner).  These instruments were quite solid and of an excellent finish.  The same company released the brands "Tango", "Cardenal" and also "Concertista" all of them imported by Ohermann.  

The bandoneon had already been in use in the River Plata (Uruguay and Buenos Aires areas) for several years before it actually began to be marketed. It is not known who first brought it.   The first bandonions may have arrived in the baggage of German or Irish or Spanish immigrants during the years of the establishment of Argentina boom in the 1890s or early 1900s and from there passed on from hand to hand into the musical dance halls of the barrios.   

The Bandoneon was never built in Argentina, with most of the bandoneons, the famous Double A "AA" being built by Alfred Arnold (AA) from 1911 until 1949. The brothers, Alfred Arnold (AA) and Paul Arnold, were succeeded by their respective sons.  One of them, Horst Alfred, wrote to a client, Oscar Zucchi,  "Maybe you know that the enterprise is no longer existent, my factory was expropriated and is, since 1949 "people's factory".  The company, located in East Germany, was nationalized.  Now they manufacture pumps for diesel engines.

Paul Arnold's son, Alfred's nephew, managed to flee East Germany and, in the western zone of the then divided country, established his own factory in the city of Obertshausen.  Alfred's former technician, Mr. Muller, was his assistant.  The firm closed soon after he died in 1971.  There have been no new factories for the production of bandoneons.   ........until.. 

Paul Fischer KG Company


At the end of the 1990s, the Paul Fischer KG Company, a musical instrument manufacturer, dating back to 1887, set about reviving the manufacture of bandoneons in conjunction with the Eibenstock municipal authorities.  The Paul Fischer KG Company, together with the Institute for the Manufacture of Musical Instruments of Zwota, developed a 142 tone bandoneon with "Rheinsiche Tonlage" in 2001.

The Bandonion and Concertina Factory Klingenthal is continuing the tradition of the legendary "AA"  instruments and thereby the construction of bandoneons at Carlfeld, as well as producing other types of instruments for the bandoneon market.   The materials and construction used correspond to the legendary "AA" instruments.  Using historic instruments, experiments are being carried out to test the acoustic, material and mechanical parameters in conjunction with the Institute for the Manufacture of Musical Instruments of Zwota.  The manufacturing process have been set up using these parameters and this can be demonstrated by means of measurements.



The bandoneon is considered by many to be the most difficult instrument to learn.  And just that "to learn".  The right hand has 38 buttons and the left has 33 buttons, a total of 71 buttons.  There is no rule or pattern to follow the scales in the bandoneon layout of notes.  The notes are located at random, like the letters on a computer keyboard.  It implies that just in order to learn the location of the notes in the two keyboards it is necessary to remember 142 different positions, 71 buttons with one sound opening and another 71 closing bellows.   The left hand goes chromatically from C3 to A5 and almost three octaves.  The right hand covers another 3 octaves, all the sounds from A4 to B7.  The music scores for the bandoneon are the same as the piano parts, the left hand reads F clef and the right hand reads G clef.

Now I hope you go to a Milonga, a social tango dance, and actually hear a bandoneon played.   There is no sound like the Tipica (Standard) Tango orchestra comprised of three or four violins, a viola, a grand piano, a double bass and the magical bandoneons.    There is nothing like it !!!!!

Philip M Lechtenberg

Wikipedia..the free encyclopeida
From the book:  "The Bandonion ....a Tango History" by Javier Garcia and Arturo Penon, translated by Tim Barnard
From the exert:  "Notes on the History of the Bandonion"  by Manuel Roman
From the book:  "El tango, el bandoneon y sus interpretes" by Oscar Zucchi
David Alsina   "The Bandoneon"    www.davidalsina.com/bandoneon.html