The Bandoneon: the tango instrument


What is the bandoneon?

The bandoneon, shown below, is a type of concertina, played by holding the instrument between both hands and pushing in or pulling out, while pressing the buttons with the fingers. It has an essential role in the tango orchestra (orquesta tipica), and in fact has become almost the symbol of tango. Its beauty is in its power; it provides a somber, sensual sound.


The bandoneon history

The bandoneon was invented about 1846 by Heinrich Band, in Krefeld Germany under the name 'bandonion' - where it was intended to play church music. It is unknown exactly when it arrived in Buenos Aires (estimated at 1870), but it became very popular at about 1890 when it was found to be extremely conducive to the sounds of tango. Its name was changed from the German 'bandonion' to the Spanish 'bandoneon'. 

The exponent of the bandoneon

Ástor Piazzolla, the late Argentinean tango composer and performer, was the leading exponent of the bandoneon in the 20th century. His 1969 'Fugata' showcases the instrument. Below is an example of the Fugata played by Black Tango Pro - with no less than threebandoneons!

The complexity of the bandoneon

The bandoneon is a most complex instrument because most of the buttons produce a DIFFERENT note when played pushing in than when played pulling out. This means that each keyboard has two layouts - one for pushing and one for pulling. Additionally, since the bandoneon is asymmetrical - the right and left hand keyboards are different - it means that four different keyboard layouts must be learned. 

Here is Astor Piazzolla giving an interview on the bandoneon: