The accordion is one of the most versatile instruments to write for, appearing most prevalently in South American music, but also cropping up in jazz and more traditional forms of classical music. We have rounded up a varied selection of pieces in which the accordion is at its very best.
The virtuoso accordionist Richard Galliano was born in Cannes, France in 1950 and began playing the instrument at the age of four. He went on to study the accordion, as well as the trombone, at the Nice Conservatory. He's recorded more than 50 albums. His Opale Concerto is highly virtuosic and full of rhythmic vitality and jazz influences.
Astor Piazzolla was an Argentine composer and bandoneon player who revolutionised tango music in the 1950s. He fused his eclectic influences, which included jazz and classical music, with traditional Argentine music. This created a style which would later develop into Nuevo Tango. His concerto for bandoneon, Aconcagua was composed in 1979 and is another rhythmic firecracker with a slow, solemn second movement.
Václav Trojan’s Fairy Tales
Czech composer Václav Trojan is best known for his film scores, specifically for the music accompanying the puppet animations of film director Jiri Trnka. This youthful subject matter is also present in the charming Fairy Tales concerto. Each movement is wonderfully evocative, conjuring up the images described in the various movements’ titles such as the sleepy princess, the evil dragon and the magic box. The accordion brings its own distinctive colour to the orchestral palette.
The accordion can also be used to great effect in more dissonant music. The ambient Oort Cloud by Danish composer Jexper Holmen is a challenging work for performers and listeners alike. Indeed, Holmen’s programme notes for the work is unapologetic about its complexity. The sounds produced by the two accordions and soprano saxophone are played by speakers placed around the audience resulting in a sound which is, in Holmen’s words, ‘overwhelming and resounding, yet close and distinct.’ Holmen’s work has been described as exhibiting punk and rock influences. Although, to our knowledge, he has yet to sport a mohawk of any kind!
The expressive range of the accordion is demonstrated to full effect in Sofia Gubaidulina’s De Profundis. Gubaidulina was born in Chistopol in Russia and studied at both the Kazan and Moscow conservatories. The influence of her faith on her music is obvious and religious themes are extremely prevalent in her compositional output. The accordion is almost completely unrecognisable at the start of De Profundis as it plays in its lowest register; it is a work of startling expressivity.
Svend Aaquist is a Danish composer and conductor whose main influences include Cage and Penderecki. He has had a rich and varied career working with many different ensembles including the Royal Danish Orchestra and the German chamber orchestra Ensemble Modern, conducting an extremely wide range of repertoire. His piece Saga Night opens with a repeating rhythmic pulse and continues in a haunting manner.