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By Daniel Melander

History of the Chemnitzer Concertina

In 1834 a German, Carl Friedrich Uhlig  (1798 - 1874) from the town of Chemnitz, Germany constructed the first German concertina (konzertina).   Uhlig had become familiar with the first accordion invented (1829) by Cyrill Demian, on a trip to Vienna Austria, and not liking the design, produced an instrument of his own.  

Uhlig's concertina was square in shape and had 5 buttons on each side.  Each button produced two different tones depending on the direction of the bellows, for a total of 20 tones.  By 1840, Uhlig had increased the number of tones on his concertina to 56 tones (26 buttons), and eventually produced concertinas with 60, 64, and 76 tones.  This configuration stayed almost unchanged to 1900.

20 tone Konzertina (from about 1854)

In the collection of Stephen Chambers.  Photo courtesy of Stephen Chambers.

Two other alternate key layouts to the Chemnitzer were also developed in the 1840's in Germany.  Carl Zimmerman from Karlsfeld Germany developed the Karlsfelder Konzertina, which has a key layout similar to the Chemnitzer.  Henrich Band, of Kerfeld Germany, developed a layout which became the Bandonion (or Bandoneon in Argentina).  The Bandonion is best known for it's association with Tango music, especially in Argentina.  The Bandonion had mild success in the U.S. and is out shadowed by the popularity of the Chemnitzer concertina.

Soon there were a handful of manufactures making the German Concertina in Chemnitz including Friedrich Lange, the son-in-law of Carl Uhlig, Wunderlich, and Arnold.  Beginning in the 1880's, promoters of the Chemnitzer Concertina in the U.S. relied on these manufactures.  In the U.S. in 1917, Otto Schlict began manufacturing concertinas for  Patek's Music Store in Chicago, under the name Patek; the Vitak-Elsnic Music Company, as Pearl Queen, and Kosatkas House of Music in Berwyn, Illinois, with the name "Peerless.  

After the Schlict factory closed down in the early 1950's, Christy Hengel of New Ulm Minnesota purchased what was left of the old Schlict factory in 1953, and began producing the Hengel in 1955.  In 1995, Jerry Minar took over the manufacture of the Hengel Concertina.  

In 1967 Anton Wolf left farming and purchased concertina stock and equipment from Rudy Patek and began manufacture of the Wolfe Concertina in Stephens Point Wisconsin. Rudy Patek had retained materials from his years of association with Otto Schlict and had then retired to nearby Weyauwega Wisconsin.  Later, Wolfe was associated with Jerry Minar, who later dropped the Wolfe Concertina when he had the opportunity to manufacture the Hengel.  See the manufactures section for more complete information on U.S. builders of the Chemnitzer Concertina.

Spread of the Chemnitzer Concertina

In the early history of the of the Chemnitzer Concertina, Poles and Czechs, working in the German mines, became familiar with the instrument, and brought the it back to their home countries.  Eventually Pole, Czech, and German immigrants brought the instrument to the United States.  The Chemnitzer concertina is still played in the Chemnitz region of Germany, and thrives today in the United States where it's very popular with Polka bands from the East Coast to the Midwest.  Originally beginning with 10 buttons, through the years more buttons and reeds were added, and Star once produced a box with 140 tones. Today's modern Chemnitzer Concertina has 52 buttons and can produce 104 tones.   Most modern boxes are quadruples; four reeds for each tone.  Doubles and triples are also common.  Chemnitzer Concertinas are available in every key, but "C" and "Bb" are the most poplar.

 

A special thanks to Jim Leary, Harry Geuns, Stephen Chambers, and Steve Litwin for information on the history of the Chemnitzer Concertina.

Visit Steve Litwin's site for an excellent article on the history of the Chemnitzer Concertina.

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All contents Copyright Daniel Melander