A glimpse into history or Histories of Things. What the first accordion looked like and who invented it

A glimpse into history or Histories of Things. What the first accordion looked like and who invented it
The road traversed by the accordion in 200 years — from a parlour musical instrument to national popularity. Here we will look into Alfred Mirek’s version of the invention.

There are several versions of how the accordion was invented. Some people believe it was invented by masters in Britain or Germany. The founder of the Russian Accordion Museum, Alfred Mirek (1922-2009) believed it was invented by Frantisek Kirsnik. Mirek managed to restore the drawings of the original instrument. One of the restored instruments is displayed in the museum he founded

Article written by and Mosgostour agency.

Experimenting organist

During his life, Frantisek Kirsnik travelled all over Europe. He lived in Denmark, Germany and other countries and always improved his skills. In the 1770s he settled in St Petersburg and took a job as an organist in the Lutheran church of St Anna. Kirsnik had a workshop where he experimented with new ways to produce sound.

In 1783 he presented his instrument to the privileged circles of St Petersburg. To play his accordion, the musician pressed bellows inside the instrument with one hand and keys with the other. The sound was extracted with a metallic tongue that fluctuated in the air flow. As distinct from its successors, Kirsnik’s accordion was played on a table; musicians played it like a piano.

The first listeners were impressed by its compact size and pure, intense sound. Kirsnik’s invention quickly gained favour with musicians who played keyboard instruments. It had one indisputable benefit: there was no need to tune it as distinct from a clavichord or a clavecin.

From Russia to Europe and back

German organist Georg Joseph Vogler liked the new instrument very much and promoted it in Europe. Within a few years, several accordions were designed on the basis of Kirsnik’s original. It took some time to transform the accordion and make it popular not only in European salons but also in bazaars and streets

The first hand-made accordion was produced in Germany in 1822. It reached Russia in 1830. Walking in a Nizhny Novgorod fair, Tula gun maker Ivan Sizov bought an accordion. Back home in Tula, he disassembled the instrument, meticulously studied how it worked, and made a precise copy that was in no way inferior to the original. His cause was continued by his townsman Timofei Vorontsov who improved the construction of the instrument and opened the first accordion factory in Russia. Over the next 100 years, the accordion became very popular — Saratov, Livny, and Nizhny Novgorod, to name a few, had their own accordion designs.

Photo: Yuliya Ivanko

Accordion at the front

In the late summer of 1941 12,000 accordions were sent to the front lines, and another 60,000 were sent in the autumn. This favourite instrument helped soldiers maintain their martial spirit and reminded them of a remote home and peaceful life.

When our soldier took the accordion,
It was clear he knew his stuff,
As he ran his nimble fingers
Down the studs to start things;

Eyes half closed, he played a haunting
Melody, sad and forlorn,
From somewhere around the country
Near Smolensk, where he was born;

And the ancient squeezebox, lonely
For its master dead and gone,
Warmed things up along the highway
Somewhere near the front-line;

From their lorries, white with hoarfrost,
Soldiers poured, as to a fire.
Who was playing whose accordion
They could neither know nor care…

This is an excerpt from the poem “Vasily Tyorkin” written by poet and prose writer Alexander Tvardovsky in 1942-1945. It was awarded the Stalin Prize and became popular with Soviet soldiers. Its main character is an ordinary soldier, a joker and a happy guy who does not worry too much about anything. He became a comrade and brother for millions. There is an episode in the poem where Tyorkin plays accordion but the instrument’s sound is an underlying element in every strophe. Stories from the life of this amiable fellow are written in a four-step trochee that is typical for couplets sung in villages to the accompaniment of accordion.

In memory of this episode, Tyorkin is almost always depicted with an accordion in his hands. One of the figurines by Sofya Velikhova from the Lomonosov Leningrad China Plant is known by its popular name, Accordion Player.

Orest Vereisky. Illustration with Tvardovsky’s poem “Vasily Tyorkin.” 1943–1946

Life with an accordion

The founder of the Russian Accordion Museum Alfred Mirek devoted his life to this musical instrument. He started learning to play it on his own in the spring of 1945. Soon he began to accompany plays in a Borisoglebsk theatre where he was an accompanist. In 1950, he graduated from the accordion department of the Moscow Musical Pedagogical School, and in 1967 -  courses in bayan and accordion at the Moscow Institute of Culture where he simultaneously studied and taught bayan and accordion In 1983, Mirek defended his doctor’s thesis “The History of Accordion and Bayan Culture in Russia from 1800 to 1941” in the Leningrad Institute of Theatre, Music, and Cinematography.

For a long time, Alfred Mirek collected different models of accordions, which make it possible to see the evolution of this instrument. In 1997, he presented it to the city on Moscow’s 850th anniversary. Two years later, Mirek’s Russian Accordion Museum was opened. Its founder died in 2009.