As a collector of quotes, I frequently come across one with which I don’t agree, like “A gentleman is a fellow who can play the accordion but doesn’t.” If that weren’t bad enough, Ambrose Bierce defined the accordion as “An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin.” What’s wrong with the accordion, I ask. Dating back to the early nineteenth century, this noble instrument has long supplied the melody for folk music from a variety of cultures. What’s klazmer or a tarantella or a polka without an accordion?
Accordionists have been the subject of jokes and wisecracks, yet they are handling an extremely complex instrument that is suited to a wide variety of music, from folk to rock to classical. Those who master it can produce rich sound that does not require accompaniment. And, really, is there anything more romantic than having a strolling accordionist stopping by a candlelit table and playing “That’s Amore”?
Those who disrespect the accordion turn their backs on an instrument that can score every mood from depression to elation. Deutsche Grammophon has recently released Richard Galliano – Bach, a collection of music that should put to rest any negative connotations associated with the accordion. Galliano, one of the foremost accordionists of our time, has practiced and performed Bach over the years, but this is the first time he has recorded the composer’s works. Accompanied by a string quintet, Galliano’s interpretations of familiar pieces such as Orchestral Suite no. 3 in D Major and Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord no. 2 in E flat major soar. Every piece performed is a gem unto itself.
Playing the accordion since the age of four and recipient of the Académie du Jazz’s Django Reinhardt Prize (“French Musician of the Year,” 1993), Galliano presents his audience with faithful renderings of the music as Bach wrote it. As in any great orchestral production, the music elevates the listener who is not hearing an accordion, but the works of a master played by a master.