The bandoneon is part of the accordion family. But unlike the more widely known 'chromatic' and 'diatonic' accordions, the bandoneon has no chord buttons or chord keys on its left side. A bandoneon's buttons produce individual notes, like the concertina's. The player uses button combinations to make chords. Other features which set the bandoneon apart are its particularly long bellows and almost square sides often with bevelled corners.

The bandoneon was named after its designer Heinrich Band (1821-1860). Band was a music dealer and music teacher in Krefeld, a city in the German state of North Rhineland-Westphalia. In the 1840s he experimented with improvements to the German Konzertina, which included significantly extending its range of tones. He named his design bandonion. The bandoneon soon became a favourite folk instrument all over Germany, but in the course of the last century it made way for the accordion which is easier to play.

In the meantime European seamen and immigrants had taken the bandoneon with them to South America. The instrument found a new home in cafés in the ports of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Montevideo (Uruguay) where the tango originated just before 1900. The bandoneon became the most characteristic instrument of the tango orchestra, the orquesta típica.

This example of the AA make comes from the celebrated factory of Alfred Arnold in Carlsfeld, a village in the Erzgebirge mountains in the German state of Saxony, a few kilometres from the Czech border. Alfred Arnold (1877-1933) founded the factory with his brother Ernst Paul in 1911. Their father Ernst Louis had had an accordion factory since1864 and after his death in 1910, it was headed up by yet another brother, Ernst Hermann. All in all some thirty thousand bandoneons left Alfred Arnold's factory for Argentina and Uruguay. Production ceased in 1948, when the factory was expropriated by the East German government.

Its serial number tells us that this bandoneon was probably made in 1929. On the left side it has 33 buttons of which 31 are duosonic and two unisonic. On the right side there are 28 duosonic and 10 unisonic buttons. 'Duosonic' (or 'bisonoric') means that a single button plays one note as the bellows expand and another when they compress. With unisonic a single button plays the same note whether the bellows are compressed or expanded. This top-of-the-range model, known as the Premier, has the best reeds of the whole AA range.

In the latter years of the life of the bandoneon virtuoso Alfredo Marcucci (Buenos Aires, 1929 - Hasselt, June 12th 2010) this was his favourite instrument and on his death it formed part of his estate. Alfredo was given his first lessons by his uncle Carlos Marcucci in his birthplace Buenos Aires and his talent did not go unnoticed. In the 1950s he toured the world as a bandoneonist in famous Argentinean tango orchestras. After that he spent fifteen years as an arranger and musician with the world-famous, South-American folklore group Los Paraguayos. It was based in Belgium which explains how Alfredo Marcucci came to live in Antwerp. By 1976 he had had enough of spending long periods away from home. He hung up his bandoneon and from then on earned a living as the caretaker of a lighting factory. Several years later, in 1982, the Argentinean singer-guitarist Juan Masondo, who lived in the Leuven area, tracked him down. Masondo was already part of an Argentinean duo with singer-guitarist Dirk Van Esbroeck (1946-2007), who had spent his youth in Argentina. They managed to persuade Alfredo to start playing music again and the Tango al Sur ensemble was born. Over the years the trio became a sextet. Later on Alfredo Marcucci also performed in ensembles like Veritango, which ensured his continued success until shortly before his death.

The family sold this extraordinary artist's favourite bandoneon to the Argentinean state. The latter is presenting it to the mim as a gift on December 10th 2010 to mark the bicentenary of Argentinean independence.

Alfredo Marcucci, copyright Dree Peremans / EPO Books
Alfredo Marcucci, copyright Rainer Scheu
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