From ‘Band Union’ to bandoneón?

2009 July 28
(19.05.07-11.02) - Bandoneon (3) by Rüdis Fotos, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License by  Rüdis Fotos

What is the origin of the word bandoneón? Two competing theories exist. They both agree that the instrument is somehow named after the assumed inventor, Heinrich Band.

  1. The name ‘Band Union’ was used by Heinrich Band and partners, and it got mispronounced and reinterpreted in  Argentina as bandoneón.
  2. The name was invented by Band or others based on the naming of other instruments such as the accordion, Band + ion was transformed into bandonion, which in turn became bandoneón in Argentina.

In the discussion following Ms Hedgehog’s good introduction to the bandoneón, the validity of theory one was questioned, but the German Wikipedia didn’t really occur to me as an authoritative source on the subject.

Alas, time for a little research. Would it be possible to find early sources referring to this  ‘Band Union’ or Heinrich Band and the naming of his instrument?

With respect to the last matter, I found this, dating back to 1895:

Bando’nion A kind of Concertina with square ends (keyboards), inv. by  C.F. Uhlig of Chemniz, about 1830, and since then much improved and enlarged. It takes it name from Heinrich Band of Crefeld, a dealer in the instr. — Comp. art. Harmonicum.

A dictionary of musical terms by Theodore Baker 10th edition, 1895

An even earlier source of the same is mentioned by Ramon Pelinski in Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamericana that the name of the instrument was “Bandonion”.

And that is actually also available online:

Auf veranlassung von Band sowie einiger Spieler wurden nun auch Instrumente mit 88 Tönen gebaut, an denen Band einige Töne unterstimmte und ein Schild mit dem Namen Bandonion anbrachte. Unter diesem Namen wurde das Instrument mehr und mehr bekannt, so dass man jetzt alle Concertinas mit 88 bis 260 Tönen Bandonion nennt.

As there is some evidence that Band himself named the instrument bandonion, that strenghtens theory 2 considerably. So where did the Band Union theory come from, and why is it so widespread?

A search on suggests an answer. It appears this theory is mentioned in several works on the history of tango. Unfortunately, Google books only gives a snippet view of these books, but in some snippets the historian Zucchi is mentioned, and in others the dictionary Enciclopedia universal ilustrada europeo-americana.

Zucchi himself seems to be open for both possibilities, and cites another scholar, Manuel Román, that found a advertisment by Band from 1850 saying:

To accordion lovers: about a new invention, once again we have notably improved our accordions, and these newly made, of round or octagonal shape with 88 or 104 tones are available in our shop

He also writes that Román does not believe that Band himself created the bandoneón, rather that it was Carl Zim(m)erman, concluding from said advertisment that Band was neither the inventor of the intstrument, nor the name, although somewhat contradictory he also dismisses the Band Union theory based on there being no records of this company in Krefeld.

Alberto Camaño cites another newspaper notice dates the first mention of the bandonion to 1856 (I don’t know the original source of this:

“Band Accordion Konzertinen”, por algunos llamado “Bandonion”.

This information seems to be confirmed by the this website, giving a Joh. Schmitz, Krefeld as the source. If that is correct, it shows that the name was established before the instrument arrived in Argentina some time around 1863-1884.

Which leaves us with the Spanish encyclopedia as the primary suspect for the Band Union theory.

To summarize the findings:

  • The bandoneón was based on the concertina, invented by Uhlig of Chemniz around 1830.
  • The concertina was refined into the bandoneón, probably by Zimmermann, not Band.
  • Heinrich Band was an instrument trader, and the instrument is named after him.
  • The name bandonion was established in Germany, and the name bandoneón is the Spanish version of this, not Band Union.

Loose ends

Some loose ends remain, though, I appreciate help in resolving any of these:

  • If you have access to Enciclopedia universal ilustrada europeo-americana, look up bandoneón and check what it says, and for possible Band Union references.
  • If you have access to e.g Acuerdos acercaa del idioma (1947, p. 144) or Boletín de la Academia Argentina de de Letras (1978, p. 303) — search for “Heinrich Band” and “bandoneon” to find more. — verify that the Spanish Encyclopedia mentioned above is cited as the source for the Band Union story.
  • Der Bandonionverein Carlsfeld mentions Band Union in their Beginn der Musikinstrumentenproduktion in Carlsfeld “Vermutlich hat der Musikalienhändler Heinrich Band aus Krefeld diesen Instrumenten den Namen Bandonion -aus Accord ion = Band Union -gegeben).” Which I can’t really make much sense of. Anyone?
  • If you are in NYC, you migh want to check out the Accordionmuseum On their website, they say they have: “Band Union: Third model of the first prototype before they were called Bandoneon. Hand made in Germany in the year 1890” I was thinking maybe it said Band Union on some early instruments, maybe, but that is mere speculation from my part.
  • Check if the source material for the advertisment of 1850 and/or the newspaper notice of 1856 is available in e.g. Zucchi’s book (El tango, el bandoneón y sus intérpretes) or in Román’s article cited there.
9 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 July 28

    Ooooo! This is good. Link coming up.

  2. 2009 July 28

    Great post Simba! I’m definitely linking to this!

  3. 2009 July 29

    Simba, you are wonderfully nerdy! 🙂

    “Vermutlich hat der Musikalienhändler Heinrich Band aus Krefeld diesen Instrumenten den Namen Bandonion -aus Accord ion = Band Union -gegeben).” Which I can’t really make much sense of. Anyone?

    Nope, the sentence doesn’t make any sense that I can see, and I’m a native speaker. Could be the author is weakly suggesting some kind of word play by Band, who might have used “Band Union” as his company name before and now cleverly modified this along the lines of “Akkordion” to come up with “Bandonion”. Seems a bit vague.

  4. 2009 July 29

    Thanks for all this serious scholarship! It really is an instrument of legend. I remember Astor Piazzolla showing how challenging it is to play a simple scale on the bandoneon because the notes aren’t in any order. It’s like a piano with the notes jumbled; C isn’t between B and D, it’s at the other end of the keyboard. Worse, the two sides, the left and right hands, are jumbled in different ways, which again changes as the instrument is pulled or pushed. ‘So it’s very diabolic, and the person who is interested in learning this instrument must be a little out of his mind’ said Piazzolla. (In ‘Tango Maestro’, broadcast by the BBC a few years ago, now available on DVD as ‘Astor Piazzolla: In Portrait’; an excellent documentary, a lot of interviews, music and archive material.)

  5. 2009 July 29

    Thank you all! And thanks for linking.

    @Andreas: Thank you… I guess? (I think I prefer the term geek 😉 That is basically what I got out of that too, they suddenly pull the Band Union name out of thin air, so not easy to understand what they really mean.

    @TC: Yes, that seems to be all bandoneonists’ favorite trick; showing how difficult their instrument is to handle.. Ms H wrote that it makes it easier to do chords, but one would think playing baroque music would be challenging.

  6. 2009 July 30

    @Simba: I apologize profusely, geek it shall be.
    And the geek shall inherit the earth.

  7. 2009 August 18

    Excelente que escriban sobre el bandoneón
    saludos desde Argentina

  8. 2009 August 18

    @GUille: Muchas gracias por su comentario!

  9. 2012 March 6
    Tis permalink

    Something funny struck me (already a few times), looking for bandos on Ebay etc.
    Many of them, especially the early and non-AA ones, have the air valve covers in the shape of the word Band-onion.
    In the middle is a lyra, which by its shape van easily read as a U. More than once I have come across ads for ‘Banduonion’ ….
    Not sure when these covers first came up; but i have seen them on quite early ones.

    Or is such an explanation to profane?

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