The following examples show some
characteristic sounds and techniques of the
bandoneon and are meant to serve as a help to those composers and arrangers
who desire to write for this versatile instrument, which, unfortunately, has
little original literature, perhaps because of the little knowledge that
exists concerning its immense musical richness.
A fragment of the variación of RESPONSO by Aníbal Troilo
The presentation of the theme in a rhythmic figuration, generally in
sixteenth notes, which appears in the final section of many instrumental
tangos is called variación.
The present example is a fragment of
the variación. of the tango RESPONSO by Aníbal Troilo
In the example
one can hear the timbre of the right keyboard
bandoneon almost in its entire register since the variación.
reaches to the upper limit of the right hand opening and a fourth above the
The recording of this example was made incorporating an effect of
because the dry sound,
especially in the very high tones does not
come off as natural.
Bandoneón, from the SUITE TROILEANA by Astor Piazolla
The SUITE TROILEANA of Astor Piazolla (figure 2) begins with a
cadenza (written without bar lines in the original) for left hand
Besides the particular sound characteristic of the left keyboard of the
bandoneon, in this example one can appreciate two interesting
properties of the instrument: on one hand the capacity to produce
chords consisting of widely separated notes.
The last chord, for example, is
composed of three notes in the upper limit of the high register sounding
simultaneously with a note almost in the lower limit of the left hand. On
the other hand, one can also note the vibrato effect which is
achieved by vibrating the bellows of the instrument.
A fragment of an invention for three voices of J. S. Bach has been used for
this example (figure 3
The goal is to demonstrate the possibility that the
bandoneon has of using distinct timbres
and types of key strokes
simultaneously. To this end the example is divided in five partes and the
score is written on three staves, each one corresponding to a voice.
- In the first part one hears the left hand in the middle and low registers
corresponding to the keyboard. The touch is detached,
a key stroke
between legato and non legato. The sound is brilliant and
a bit metallic. It corresponds to the first staff of the score.
- In the second part one hears the left hand in its medium high register, with
a very velvety sound, and the touch is (note that the bandoneon, like an
organ or an accordion, can unite continuous sounds, something that a piano
for example, cannot do.) It corresponds to the second staff of the score.
- The third part corresponds to the third voice of the score. This part placed
in the medium low register of the left hand keyboard with a non
legato touch similar to the one used by bowed instruments. The sonority is
similar to that of a cello playing in basso continuo
- Two low voices playing simultaneously by the left hand are shown in the
fourth part. To be able to maintain the upper voice legato one
should take advantage, at various places, of changing the finger already
pressed on a key, in accordance with the indications in the score, in order
to free up fingers destined for the other voice. This resource (technique)
is also used very frequently in playing the organ. Even if the recording is
made in this manner to exemplify the aforesaid, en the score is added
another fingering possibility, beginning with the bellows closing instead of
opening, which makes the execution notably easier. One of the big advantages
bisonoric bandoneons have (with different chord voicings depending on
whether one is closing or opening the bellows) is the possibility of
choosing the fingerings most comfortable to the player.
- Finally, in the fifth part one plays the three voices simultaneously.
Fragment of a three part invention of J. S. Bach
Fragment of OJOS NEGROS by Vincente Greco in an arrangement by
This example (figure 4)
is a fragment of an excellent arrangement for
unaccompanied bandoneon made by Rodolfo Medeos on the tango OJOS NEGROS by
The example is divided in three parts. (acoustic example)
- In the first voice one hears the left hand, which begins in the low
register of the keyboard, with a legato touch. In bars 5,6, and 7 a
rhythmic base is generated from the point where the wide chords are pushed
frin the end of the previous bar. The arrastre or push is
a bandoneonistic device used
frequently in tango which consists of attacking the chords approximately an
eight note before the beginning of the measure, accenting the chords by
means of the bellows in the beginning beat of the measure and finishing the
rhythm with a softer repetition on the second eighth note of the first beat.
In the way, a syncopated rhythm is produced, very
characteristic of the
tango, which generally is concluded with a quarter note on the third beat.
In bars 9, 10, and 11 are shown open (widely distributed) chords but with a
legato touch, which contour a sustained harmony very full, despite
being comprised of only three notes.
In bars 13, 14 and 15 a percussive effect is produced using harmonic
intervals of seconds alternating in syncopation between the medium and low
registers of the left hand.
- The second part of the example shows the expressive possibilities of the
right hand by means of the utilization of different touches. One uses
different gradations of air on legato notes in order to give
expression to the phrase (a possibility also in that vocal music or string
instruments also exhibits) and different types of accents,
stacattos, two note slurs, and ornamental appoggiaturas.
- The third part of the example is a combination of bath hands.
Note: As you would be able to appreciate in the examples of tango, the
notation does not correspond exactly with the execution. This occurs because
one of the key elements in the interpretation of tango is what is called
which is a particular way of speaking the melodies, perhaps
linked possibly to the inflections of daily speech. It is a very wide theme
which merits a separate detailed study.
The first impression that the keyboards of the bandoneon
create is that of
. With other instruments the notes are arranged in an evidently
logical sense (for example, the sequence of content and black keys on the
piano is absolutely transparent). With the bandoneon this order is
mysterious. The notes seem not to be where one would expect them to be. To
top it all off, in bisonoric bandoneons, a single key can produce different
notes depending upon whether on is opening or closing the bellows. Nor is
there an evident logic in this, since the sound can vary by a tone, a
semitone, a fifth or not vary at all, depending on the key in question. To
complete the travails of the aspiring bandoneonist, the keyboards stay out
of the view of the player, (something that has caused severe neck pains to
more than one person in trying to observe the fingers on the keyboard). Even
if the keyboards could be seen easily, one would only see a succession of
rows of keys monotonously the same, with the sole difference of some numbers
- also mysterious - near the buttons, numbers worn away by time in the
majority of instruments actually in use.
Such complexity- aside from discouraging a number of students - has given
rise to opinions of all kinds. It is quite common to hear, (even from the
lips of oustanding bandoneonists !) that the arrangement of the keyboard of
the bandoneon is the work of some crazy. Nothing is further from the
truth. The keys of the bandoneon allow all the notes to be within the reach
of the hand of the instrumentalist, a fact that makes it possible to play in
all of the major or minor keys more or less with the same degree of
difficulty. Actually, except for the question of familiarity, playing a C
major scale presents the same degree of difficulty as executing a scale in
And almost just as surely anything that can not be done with the
opening keyboard can be done with the closing one.
This proximity of the notes permits,
aside from the distribution of very
open chords that we have already studied, the possibility of playing
melodies with very widely spread intervals at a good speed, something that
would be impossible on other instruments. As proof of this, try playing the
third measure of (example 5) on the piano.
Can it be done?
Certainly taking up the bandoneon initially is not simple. Instruments like
piano or guitar allow a more rapid initial gratification. But we should
consider that, with the objective of constructing an instrument that could
be played in all keys, that would have touches like a guitar, that could
join sounds continuously like an organ, that would have a range (register)
equal to that of a harpsichord, would have the possibility of varying
intensities of sustained sounds like a violin, that would have different
distinct attacks like brass instruments and that would have a sonorous
volume similar to that of a piano - among other things - and above all that
would be portable and easily transportable, what the designers and builders
of the bandoneon have accomplished is almost miraculous and amply justifies
the effort which the study of the instrument entails.
Example 5 is a fragment of the tango EL MARNE, by Eduardo Arolas
(... theses tangos of Arolas and of Greco
that I have seen danced on the
sidewalk said Borges in his peom El Tango), arranged as a bandoneon solo
by Leoploldo Federico and Felix Lipesker. In my opinion it is is one of the
best solos for bandoeon that has ever been written. The resources of the
bandoneon are taken advantage of to the maximum, above all in the
bandoneon's use as a tango instrument. The sound quality is attacked,
an effect which is only possible using the opening bellows, which takes
advantage of the weight of the instrument for producing accents and syncopes
characteristic of the style. For the same reason, it is necessary to create
(closing the bellows rapidly by means of the escape valve
in order to return to the bellows-opening attack) like the one you hear
clearly in measure 7, breaths that are, without exaggeration, part of
According to the publishing house Julio Korn, the original is written in 4/8
time. I thought that writing it in 4/4 would make more easily readable
without changing its interpretation.
Excerpt of the tango EL MARNE by Eduardo Arolas,
arranged for bandoneón solo by Federico-Lipesker
This page has been created due to questions presented by composers
willing to write for the bandoneon. Prof. Ricardo Fiorio has expressed
his disposition to contiue this collection of examples as those
interested express their doubts. Therefore it is required to
colaborate each one by expressing the questions directly to