Despite its over century-old history, the Bandoneόn was able to establish itself only recently in the musical ‘cultivated’ world, ranking among the noble classical instruments. The increasing presence of the bandoneόn in theatres, auditoriums and great concert halls has been contributing to broaden the interest of cultural organizations and of the audience towards this specific musical instrument.
Designed in Germany in the mid-1800s by Heinrich Band, the bandoneόn was conceived for the purpose of obtaining a portable instrument whose sound would recall that of small organs, designed to perform sacred music and accompany chants during religious processions.
Towards the end of the 19th century, following the migratory waves from Europe to South America, the bandoneόn landed to Argentina. Owing to its limited size and ease of transport, it would soon be used to perform local popular music. Shortly, it became the main instrument of Argentinean Tango orchestras, up to its fullest development, which has been associating it to the Argentinean tradition so impressively.
The roots of such a spread are certainly to be found in France. Since the 1920s, indeed, Paris was defined as the ‘European Buenos Aires’, to the extent that tango had almost become more popular there than in Argentina. Just because of French milonguero currents, an increasingly high number of musicians was sought to play music to accompany tango. On the one hand, that gave impetus to French musicians to undertake the study of bandoneόn, on the wave of a trend that was leading the way; on the other hand, it encouraged lots of Argentinean bandoneonists to abandon South America heading for Paris, the new promised land of tango.
World War II drastically marked the fate of the bandoneόn: being located in Hitler’s Germany, all of the factories got heavily damaged by the conflict, up to their progressive decline, leading to the final shutdown of the instrument mass production.
Soon after the war, music trends began to change, being influenced by new genres and north-American music. This is how Tango disappeared, leaving the bandoneόn to fall into the deepest oblivion.
It was thanks to the figure of Astor Piazzolla, the Tango reformer, that the chronology of a revolution could be traced back. Between last century’s 1970-80s, a new ground was prepared to let Tango revive, paving the way for a new apogee. Indeed, Piazzolla had the merit to bestow a new dignity to tango, transforming it from simple ‘dance’ music to real ‘concert’ music.
Certainly, Piazzolla’s Tango Nuevo stands out as a perfect combination of past, present and future. On the one side, it preserves its innate popular matrix, capable to make this music genre accessible to the widest audience, no matter if well-read or profane; on the other hand, it detaches from traditional tango, to even incorporate some innovating elements featuring jazz and avant-garde music, entailing an overall ‘ennoblement’ of the genre, gradually introducing it to the chamber music world.
Since its rebirth, the bandoneόn has been increasingly attracting a number of contemporary composers who decided to devote part of their activity to this instrument. Among the most important ones are Martin Matalón, One Van de Gaal, Gustavo Beytelmann Per Arne Glorvigen, Marcelo Nisinman, Pedro Palacio, Claudio Constantini, Carlos RoqueAlsina, Fernando Fiszbein, Bernard Cavanna, Luis Bacalov, Tomàs Gubitsch, Daniel Binelli, Rodolfo Daluisio, René Marino Rivero, Héctor Ulises Passarella, etc.
As a follow-up, the famous contemporary bandoneonist and Maestro Juan José Mosalini set up the first bandoneón course in Europe in 1999, at the Conservatoire de Gennevilliers (France).
The revival of the bandoneόn ratified its crucial evolution, which led to find out the most varied range of expression and sound opportunities that this instrument can offer. Thanks to a structured experimentation process, it now makes part of the most varied ensembles, accompanying the most diverse music genres.
Today, the tango genre represents a starting cultural background for the new avant-garde languages (but not limited to them) offered by the present music world.
Therefore, the bandoneόn has definitely cut the umbilical cord that has been keeping it exclusively linked to the Argentinean tradition for so long. No longer just tango, then, but also classical music, jazz and contemporary music.
In addition, bandoneonists themselves are now focused on composing their own original pieces, to be performed with their own ensembles, based on classical composition forms, yet heading for the future, thanks to experimentation and the elaboration of innovating music concepts.
This is how such a versatile and eclectic instrument has fully entered the contemporary music world, opening up new sound scenarios where tango, sometimes, is nothing more than an aftertaste.
Finally, the bandoneόn, today reconsidered as a portable organ, thanks to its unexpected polyphonic potentials, is also being used in Baroque music performances as in repertoires that are more relevant to harpsichord, which can be conveniently transposed on the button keyboards of the instrument.
Italy can boast a conspicuous number of musicians, even of classical extraction, who have undertaken the study of the bandoneόn and are now devoted to a regular concert activity, also abroad.