The bandoneon is a musical instrument of the family of the concertina which was created in Germany around 1845 as an alternative to the organ for religious services. It is not clear who first invented the bandoneon but it is has been attributed to Carl Zimmermann who sold his manufacture to Ernest Louis Arnold, manufacturer of ELA bandoneons. Ernest Louis Arnold was the father of Alfredo Arnold who later produced the bandoneon “doble A” which are highly praised by tango musicians.

It is not clear exactly when the bandoneon arrived in Argentina. The first documented mention of a bandoneon being played in the Rio de la Plata is from a newspaper article by Jorge Labraña from 1895. According to this article the instrument was brought to Uruguay by a Suiss immigrant in 1863. Other sources indicate that it was imported by an Englishman, Don Tomas, who came to Argentina in 1884. [1]

One of the first musicians to incorporate the bandoneon into tango is Domingo Santa Cruz, a musician who used to perform in the cafes of La Boca and Barracas in the early 1900’s. Other bandoneonistas of the first generation include Genaro Esposito, Vicente Loduca, Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco and Juan Maglio.

The inclusion of the bandoneon into tango bands during the first decade of the 20th century had profound repercussions on the music. Considering that these bands were mostly composed of guitars, flutes and violins, the adition of a bandoneon brought deeper tones and a slower pace of execution. It eventually replaced flutes and became a essential component of the orquesta tipica. [2]

Since the original manufactures in Germany have been closed for over 70 year, bandoneons are now rare and expensive instruments. [3] Artisanal bandoneons have been built lately but the process is long and complex and remains expensive.

The first bandoneon made in Argentina was released in 2000. The bandoneon AZ was built by Argentine luthier Angel Zullo and presented to the public on the day tango was officially declared world heritage by the UNESCO. [4]

It is said that bandoneons were built to last 200 years with proper maintenance.  π


[1] Zucchi, Oscar. El tango, el bandoneón y sus interpretes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1998. Print.

[2] Pesce, Ruben, Oscar del Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La Historia del Tango: La Guardia Vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

[3] “Salvar el bandoneón”. La Nación. Web. June 26, 2009. Online.

[4] “Empezó a sonar el primer bandoneón nacional” La Nación. Web. Oct 3, 2009. Online. 

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