The first Italian accordion

The accordion and the Metodo per armonica a mantice by Giuseppe Greggiati

At the Fondo musicale “G. Greggiati” in Ostiglia near Mantova, Italy, a textbook for the accordion was found, dated from before 1850. In 2008 the person in charge of the Fondo, dr. Elisa Superbi, asked me to inspect the text so that I could study it together my pupil Ilaria Nardi, who is already an accordion teacher at the primary school “Cavicchi” in Pieve di Cento near Bologna. Our study consisted of the revision and rewriting of the music contained in the Metodo and is published by the Ars Spoletium publishing company. The book, entitled 1839: la fisarmonica di Giuseppe Greggiati, contains a presentation of the whole metodo and a historical study of its contents as well.

The Metodo per armonica a mantice was written in 1842 and is the first evidence of an accordion school in Italy. It was written by a priest, Giuseppe Greggiati, who lived in Mantova between 1793 and 1866. Greggiati loved music and collected many instruments and musical scores, and dedicated many years of his life to the accordion. He enriched his Viennese accordion with many improvements and in this way the first Italian accordion was born. In his metodo Greggiati gives us precious information about the accordion of his time. His detailed description of his instrument allowed me and the skilled craftsman Adriano Clementi, who works at the Pigini accordion factory, to build a replica of Greggiati’s accordion.

In the Metodo there are thirty three lessons to develop playing technique. These represent a monument to the accordion of that time because they contain more than a thousand exercises and at the end of the Metodo, there are fifty musical pieces as well. These represent the beginning of the Italian concert accordion repertoire, the models of which are the piano study of that time (i. e. the Clementi’s collection Gradus ad Parnassum), the Italian opera (especially Rossini’s and Bellini’s), as well as the entertainment music of that period (i. e. the Viennese waltz by Lanner and Johann Strauss Senior). If we compare Greggiati’s Metodo with other accordion methods of that time, it show him to be unique: Greggiati’s Metodo lays the bases of the modern concert accordion.

The Metodo will be published in four parts. The first, published in November, 2012, includes a little study on the Metodo (Greggiati’s biography, a summary of the Metodo’s contents, the historical contextualization of his repertoire) and almost all the musical pieces contained in the Metodo, revised for the modern accordion. The second part will present the whole original beginning of the Metodo, where Greggiati explains important historical news. The third part will contain all the tirthy three technical lessons and the fourth part, the original writing of the musical pieces. Thus, the last two parts will begin a new philological dimension in the world of the accordion.

Today, the Trieste “G. Tartini” Conservatory is dedicating a new course to Greggiati’s accordion. I’m dedicating my degree thesis to Greggiati’s Metodo as well: I supported it at the Trieste Humanities & Philosophy University for my Bachelor in Arts in February, 2013.

The copy of the instrument and the book 1839: la fisarmonica di Giuseppe Greggiati was presented at the “Gnessin Academy” (Moscow, Russia), at the Conservatorio “G. Tartini” (Trieste, Italy), at the Pedagogical department of the Pula’s University (Croatia), at the Musical University in Graz (Austria), at the Academy of Arts in Bratislava (Slovakia), at the Italian Conservatori “G. Rossini” (Pesaro) and “L. Cherubini” (Firenze), at the Musical Academy in Lubiana (Slovenia), at the “Comunale” Theatre in Ferrara (Italy) and at the Trossingen Musikhochschule (Germany). Further presentations are being organised.

The book was reviewed by one of the most important Italian musicologists, Quirino Principe, who praised it using terms like “very interesting”, “rationally argued”, and “well sustained by critical reflections on music and musical instruments as well as well documented and balanced judgements on Greggiati’s music and didactics”.