September 2013

THE CONCERTINA’S DARWINIAN LIFE IN IRELAND

The concertina was invented in 1829 (the same year the accordion was patented) by the Englishman, Sir Charles Wheatstone. It was improved by the Germans and further improved, in turn, by the English. The full name of the instrument played in Irish Traditional Music today is the Anglo-German concertina. The German inventor, Carl Uhlig, was from Saxony – so it could have been named the Anglo-Saxon concertina. But in any case, Anglo-German is usually shortened to the Anglo Concertina.

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The Concertina

It’s a very Victorian instrument (though invented nine years before her ladyship ascended the throne). Its very name – concertina – sounds like a Victorian neologism. Concertinas also have the pre-electronic mechanical miniturization beloved by Victorian tinkerers with lots of parts stuffed into a small space – good goods in small parcels. And they were relatively inexpensive.

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Encontro de concertinas em Montalegre 2011

Of course, it was may have been Clare’s isolation that allowed for the preservation of the concertina’s role in ITM there. Linguistic and cultural archaisms frequently survive in peripheral and/or remote areas – witness the survival to this very day of Elizabethan English on the isolated Smith and Tangier islands in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.

No instrument is at the same time so portable, powerful, cheap and easily manipulated as the concertina.

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Carroll Concertinas

A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument, like the various accordions and the harmonica. It has a bellows, and buttons typically on both ends of it. When pressed, the buttons travel in the same direction as the bellows, unlike accordion buttons, which travel perpendicularly to the bellows.

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The Adoption of the Concertina into Irish Traditional Music

From the earliest days of country-house dancing in west Clare, it is perhaps the concertina that can claim to be at its musical heart … Although the fiddle and flute can claim honoured places in west Clare’s musical history, the modest German concertinas were the people’s favourite concertinas to buy for the best part of a hundred years.  (Taylor: 209)

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