Accordions and their growing popularity in classical music




Classical music on an accordion

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Classical music is played on accordions worldwide

Most laypeople will assume that the accordion is a musical instrument designed only to play folk music. This notion is even more prevalent amongst those who don’t play or listen to classical music. Luckily, this myth has been debunked a long time ago.

More and more people are discovering the beauty and universality of this underrated instrument. The accordion’s rich and organ-like sound with a wide range of tonal capabilities and scales enables accordionists to play virtually any piece of classical music on it. Both kinds of accordions, piano, and button ones are equally used in classical music orchestras.

With the advent of sophisticated electronic accordions, playing classical pieces became even easier. Initially, right after the instrument started being mass-produced in the early 1900s, accordions were widely used in operas and arias across Italy and France.

Due to the discoveries of synthesized and electronic music in the ‘60s and ‘70s, accordions experienced stagnant growth in popularity. Then again in the ‘80s and ‘90s, classical composers started taking a closer look at this underrated instrument. A famous French accordionist, Vincent Lhermet called an accordion “a Swiss Army knife of musical instruments.” We couldn’t agree more.

Video courtesy of Matthias Matzke

What accordions are best for playing classical music?

While classical tunes can be played on a piano and chromatic accordions, Bayan accordions are considered the most suitable for classical music performances. Bayan accordions are Russian-made chromatic accordions that are known for their B system also known as the “Moscow system.” There is also a Serbian-style accordion known as “Dugmetara” with the same B chromatic system of buttons. These accordions are the preferred choice amongst the classical music accordionist for the following reasons

  • Reeds are broader, rectangular, and set in groups into a common plate.
  • Reed plates are set in screws rather than wax.
  • Reeds are dry tuned and have no tremolo effect.
  • Bayan accordion produces a different tone from the western chromatic accordions and the bass is deeper and richer.
  • The right-hand button section is set towards the middle of the body.
Alexander Hrustevich plays Bach on a Bayan chromatic button accordion

Accordion as a part of a classical music quartet

Accordions have been part of classical music quartets in Russia for a long time. In the last 20 or so years, western composers of classical music have finally realized the capacities of this underrated instrument and begun incorporating it into various quartets.

Although piano accordions are still widely used in the US and the EU countries, digital chromatic accordions like Roland, Hohner, and Rizatti are becoming very popular amongst accordionists in those regions.

Video courtesy of Sergei Teleshev

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