Because it’s very brazen that you’ve been such an unknown accordionist.

Paris, 1836. This city and this year were key for the accordion to spread like wildfire throughout Europe. I invite you on a journey through time to discover why.

The atmosphere in Paris in 1836

Since absolutism lost credibility, Paris was a party of revolutions. Closest to this date was the 1830s crisis, a revolt by the middle and working classes against King Charles X. They solved the problem by crowning Louis-Philippe I. Eugène Delacroix depicted the revolt in the painting ‘Freedom leading the people’, which I’m sure rings a bell when I tell you that there is a half lady with her naked torso waving a French flag. If not, look at it here.

The Parisian people were very hopeful and nicknamed Louis “the king of the French”. His government made it easy for the bourgeoisie to become the ruling class, industrialization began in earnest and the working class was born. What Louis-Philippe didn’t know was that he was going to be the last king of France. Another revolution 18 years later would take him off the throne for good.

Apart from fighting, there was also glamour. After 30 years of construction, the famous Arch of Triumph of Paris was finally inaugurated in 1986. Napoleon Bonaparte had worked hard to build it, because he promised his soldiers on returning from the battle of Austerlitz “You will return home under triumphal arches”.

You can visit this arch (inside there is a museum) in the Charles de Gaulle square, although Napoleon wanted to have it erected in the Place de la Bastille (which was logical, that’s where his soldiers entered Paris). That would have been unthinkable if a project designed for that square 50 years earlier had succeeded: an elephant of more than 50 meters expelling a jet of water through its trunk.

The accordion patent and the race to improve it

Seven years earlier, in the also glamorous Vienna, Cyrill Demian patented his accordion. He called it that because it had five keys, and each one played a chord. From this moment on, the accordion became popular in the halls of the European bourgeoisie.

France was one of the first countries to take it seriously (you’ve seen before that bourgeoisie had more and more power). Here is a summary of what happened in Paris, to give you an idea of how quickly the instrument evolved:

  • In 1831 Pichenot opened a workshop and wrote the first accordion method. In 1834, Louis “the king of the French” himself bought one from him.
  • In 1831 Isoard Mathieu replaced the chords produced by each button of the original instrument with two independent sounds (that’s why it’s called diatonic): one when opening, and the other when closing the bellows. As two diatonic scales were already sounding, more people from neighboring countries became interested in it. It is said that the accordion was beginning to become the people’s instrument.
  • In 1831 (yes, all the same year) Reisner set up another workshop and wrote a method for playing two octaves without semitones.
  • In 1834 Demian had to give up the rights to his invention, because it had been much improved.
  • From then on, in 1834 Foulon built a model of two chromatic octaves, the chromatic accordion. A. Reisner continued to improve his constructions and edit new methods. In 1841 more than a dozen accordion methods had been published, only in Paris.

A woman accordionist

We have just arrived at the year 1836, when the first original work for accordion was composed, (and the first preserved one): the ‘Thème varié très brillant’ by Louise Reisner. Yes, you’ve deduced correctly, she was A. Reisner’s daughter, and in fact played the accordions he made. A family business. What’s more, she composed it herself and premiered it at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.

“She combined concerts with teaching at home, teaching her father’s method. It was even on her cover. Thus, she helped spread her father’s teachings and nourished his success. “

LumaSuite blog- Louise Reisner in the accordion method of her father A. Reisner.

Louise’s style was romantic virtuosity, very fashionable in the Paris of her time. Well-known music magazines such as ‘Le Menestrel’ and ‘La France Musicale’ reported his successes in concert halls.

She combined the concerts with being a home-teacher, teaching her father’s method. She was even on his front page (you can see it in black and white). Thus, he helped spread her father’s teachings and fueled his success. So much so, that he was considered ‘the first accordion teacher’.

Professional or amateur?

Reading the little bibliography about her (scandalous that there is no page in Wikipedia), I was very confused by the fact that she was defined as ‘amateur accordionist’ in some places, ‘virtuosa’ in others and ‘the first accordion virtuosa’ in others…

My personal conclusion is that at that time the instrument was still to be defined, it was a bit like the accordion’s Neolithic. So it’s fair that those who were building it were reinventing it and improving it, and at the same time writing down how it could be played.

Reisner Senior entitled his work ‘Méthode Reisner pour apprendre sans Maitre à jouer l’Accordéon’. That is, to learn without a master. He intended that in an amateur and autonomous way anyone could learn to play it.

It fits in.

The instrument of the people.

What it sounds like

Hey, the composition sounds great. The best video I’ve found for you to listen to is this. There are also images of the score and the look of the first diatonic accordions in history.