The History of the Bandoneon

The origin of the bandoneon can be traced to the mid-19th century Germany where instrument inventor and dealer Heinrich Band (1821–1860) created the first version of this instrument. He professionally played concertina (known in Germany as Konzertina) but was frustrated with the limitations of this instrument. This pushed him to create a more advanced version that could be integrated into the new wave of German folk, popular and religious music. Around 10 years after his death, many German settlers immigrated to the New World, bringing their home traditions and musical instruments with them. This enabled bandoneon to get a firm hold in South America, where many German immigrants settled in the port cities such as Buenos Aires and Montevideo. There, bandoneon becomes one of the cornerstones of the newly developed musical and dancing genre of Tango, which was an evolution of the numerous musical influences in the Argentina and Uruguay, most notably folk music style of the milonga.

The bandoneon is a type of concertina that has originated in Germany but is also very popular in other countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Lithuania. Bandoneons are bellows-driven free reed instruments. The use of bandoneon in 20th century Argentine was successfully promoted by bandleader Aníbal Troilo during his band’s 1939-1944 career. The bandoneon player in this band was not Troilo, but a talented Astor Piazzolla who is today remembered as one of the key figures that managed to transform tango music into its new style that was called nuevo tango.

Tango Bandoneon

The most common type of bandoneon that is used in tango music uses a 71 button format which is diatonic (meaning that one button plays 2 different notes depending if the bellows are contracted or expanded). Tango bandoneon keyboard is based on the standardized layout known as “Rheinische Lage“ introduced by German instrument makers in the 19th century, but with the added presence of six additional buttons that are used almost exclusively by the tango musicians. This enhanced layout bears a close resemblance as those found in German or Anglo concertina instrument. The range of tango bandoneon, it covers just under five octaves from the C two octaves below middle C, thus enabling tango musicians to easily play all tango melodies.