The anomaly of the "Italian Case"
(International Accordion Society's Bulletin N° 5 , October 1994)
Eugenia Marini

I was very touched by the warm appreciation of my work expressed by Mogens Ellegaard in the I.A.S. News Bulletin; I must admit however that the work and effort I put into organizing and realizing the Conference on the Standardization of the Accordion (Castelfidardo 1992/1994) were really not enough to gain the forgiveness of my loyal friend the accordion for a neglect which has lasted 15 years; during these years, like the majority of other Italian accordion players I have dedicated myself to another instrument (cello). This unforgivable neglect has however undoubtedly been repaid by an extremely rich artistic experience which has allowed me to better understand the problems in the accordion world while permitting me to meet people in a musical environment from which I would probably have been excluded with an instrument which was almost totally ostracized from the "cultural" world.
The fact that I abdicated in the past in favour of another instrument, did however weigh on my conscience and was very probably one of the very reasons which motivated my efforts to help bringing to life an instrument (that in recent years I have once again embraced) from the stagnation in which it had fallen in Italy in the last decades and to give my total co-operation to help international serious movements in favour of accordion culture.

I especially appreciated his wishing me a long and happy life considering that in some way this could be an antidote against the cordial and not so cordial maledictions I have received from the Italian accordion world in the last two years or so (because of my work on standardization); in Italy people cross their fingers to ward off bad luck, and this is something that many people in certain circles are doing when my name comes: those who have some experience of Italy, generally find superstitious folklore of this kind to be rather amusing.

But let us get back to our "anomalous" Italian case! The Congress on the Standardization of the Accordion came at a time in Italy when, thanks to a more open mentality in certain musical circles and the work of some organizations, the image of the instrument was acquiring major credibility; the accordion finally had a recognized chair in State Music Academies (though not as a principal subject) and there were signs of new apertures and acknowledgement for the instrument.

Unfortunately, even though perspectives were auspicious, the cultural hinterland was not sufficiently consolidated, nor did a musical literature in line with contemporary music exist; moreover there was also a lack of international known and farsighted musicians with large musical horizons who wanted to raise the Italian accordion to European levels. The main objective in the last ten years has been to have the accordion accepted in Music Conservatories al all costs, but on the altar of this goal, the many problems which existed were sacrificed and even cancelled, with a determined intent to obscure any obstacles that might slow down the race to obtain certain musical academy chairs.

Boasting a broader mentality, existing Associations tended to favour particularise, clouded by an ideological vision and a strong sense of nationalism, even if some very worthy schools were in the meantime producing very talented young musicians who managed to compete very successfully against foreign competitors. The success obtained in competitions was however very often considered to be the peak of a career and very rarely led to what would be the natural conclusion of a professional and artistic career; the reason for this was that this success was almost always suffocating tied to Associations with a wall-building mentality and exploited in order to fulfil their purpose, or tied to private schools who jealously guarded their teaching monopoly and keyboard systems, or tied to cultural circles who wished to see their cultural philosophy prevail, considering this to be unique and unbettered; this quite obviously not only made it impossible to analyse certain problems (which tended to be concealed) but also to develop the musical and artistic experience of the young musicians.

The chromatic instrument was beginning to become very popular, especially in those schools who were keen to participate in international competitions and it was therefore necessary to use an instrument which could compare with those used in other countries and able to perform most used competition-literature; moreover, many talented young people, after winning competitions, were starting to prefer foreign teachers and classes and to measure themselves against the best literature produced for the accordion.

In Italy literature for the accordion had followed two main trends:

schools of amateur or artisan extraction tended to favour musical literature written in Italy during the 60's (our only florid period), whose interpretations was somewhat stereotyped in those recordings and performances available as a point of reference; this literature was augmented with the more fiery virtuoso Russian literature, which had become fashionable;
2) those circles which felt they were more "refined" and detached from the competition world, were, and still are, tied to a concept of transcription as the principle means of accordionist expression, considering the accordion as the direct and unmistakable successor of classical keyboard instruments, and tended to be open to contemporary music for the accordion but with a national-élite mentality: the bottom line here was that the literature produced by their circles of friends represented the best in the world, whereas foreign literature was considered to be of very poor quality, saving only that one that was in their opinion influenced by the Italian school of thought.

It was in this atmosphere, on one hand of blind acceptance of fashionable trends and on the other, of presumption and unwillingness to relinquish personal dogmatism, that the International Congress on the Standardization of the Accordion of Castelfidardo was born; an event which not only gave significant impetus to the image of an international instrument and to the possibility of making the instrument better known, but also proved to be a sudden and undesired comparison of the Italian accordion with European and international standards. The danger of increased popularity and use of the chromatic instrument and of a certain emerging pedagogic choice, had been perceived above all in those sector which associated themselves to "cultured music" (the predominance of the piano-accordion, during the Congress, had never been questioned when used as a popular/folk/amateur instrument), while the virtual abolition of the Galla-rini quint system abroad was particularly dismaying for those schools who had made of this system an ideology.

The unexpected success of the Congress on the Standardization and especially the emerging of an international view about standardization, undoubtedly proved to be a cold shower for many Italian accordion schools who had been convinced that the Congress was doomed to be a total failure, especially after the previous unsuccessful attempts to introduce the concept of standardization "from Italy towards the rest of the world". These people had not realized that the idea of standardizing the Italian conception (so atypical with respect to the international reality) of the instrument would be seen merely as intellectual snobbism and this idea was destined to go no further than the Alps; nor moreover could it interest producers, above all those who wished to expand their production to foreign markets and who were concerned about the possible risk of loosing markets after the demolition of barriers and walls.

Suddenly, after getting the wind of this imminent danger, the lethargy of the past 30 years was broken by a flurry of unexpected activity with displays of Jacobean indignation in the name of roughshod Italian values (upheld by the fact that the Expert Panel did not include Italians) and accusations of cultural colonisation in the name of a presumed Italian cultural predominance. Purely by reaction, customised programmes for the piano and quint system accordion were prepared sustained in Music Academies, while musical compositions and studies of the '30's were dusted and brought to light, added to studies characterised by a marked development of techniques for the right hand and suitable mostly for piano system, being today purely of historical interest and without any didactic validity. The most important classics written for the accordion between 1970 and 1990 were purposely avoided in the ministerial programmes of the Conservatories, because quite obviously they were difficult to perform on a piano quint system instrument; in the meantime a sudden revaluation of our 60's literature has been made with a re-writing for quint system left keyboard of many pieces .

While other countries which, like Italy, did not have a great tradition in free bass accordion, in realizing how precarious their situation was and how important it was to have a good start in academic studies, began to delegate teaching in the most important and prestigious institutes to foreign experts (Austria, see art. Dr. Schutz, I.A.S. bulletin Nr 3), Italy formed a tight cohalization against European school and experience. For those who know something about the Italian power sharing system, the fact that this could happen certainly does not come as a surprise.

The first five Music Conservatories teaching chairs were appointed to instrument players who favoured the piano accordion, while four of these (those ones appointed after our Conference) favoured the quint Galla-rini system; this means that those who wish to study the chromatic accordion do not have a valid point of reference in Italian official schools, regardless of the artistic validity of the teachers; pupils enrolling for these courses are often firmly invited to purchase a piano quint system accordion, or to change the system used previously. A number of strong commercial interests which should be no means be underestimated, complete the picture.

Fortunately not only some prestigious international competition are held in Italy, but also many seminars with famous teachers; there is finally also an exchange of experiences with other European realities; over and above all this some very famous Italian composers (Bettinelli, Chailly, Rendine and others) are now approaching the accordion, be it with some caution and reservation; although this enormous gap of 30 years of stagnation will be hard to fill, everything seems to indicate that despite its very peculiarity, Italy will in the future become a part of the best that countries with a more solid tradition in the accordion field produce.

Provided, of course, that our more unrestrained cultural circles don't manage to ... evangelise the rest of the world. Recently we have for example seen compositions with clusters on the black keys, pieces for prepared piano accordion and other fanciful things of this kind: the arguments put forward to undermine the results of the Congress on the Standardization and to debase the members of the International Expert Panel are in some way quite suggestive; let me give an example of just a few:

- the chromatic accordion goes against history (Battiston/Scappini)
- the piano accordion permits a transcendence of the different tones, while the uniformity of the position on the chromatic keyboard undermines the peripheral intelligence of the hands. (Di Gesualdo)
- in view of the fact that accordion originates directly from classical keyboard instruments, it must preserve the literature and layout of the keys of these instruments. (Di Gesualdo)
- the quint system originates from the organ short octave and from the tuning of string instruments. (Di Gesualdo/ Eolo Assoc.)
- the chromatic accordion is the result of a cultural colonization on the part of foreign countries with poor cultural tradition (Eolo Assoc.)

All this and much more!

What should be a peaceful coexistence for both used systems (especially considering that the conclusions of the Conference did not impose the use of one system or the other to anyone, but only registered chromatic system as more suitable for classical accordion), whereby the future and a natural evolution of things to come decide in favour of one or the other instrument, what should be a strict co-operation in order to offer Italian contribution to the building of an international instrument, has been replaced in Italy (at least in the Music Academies) by an attempt to impose an ideology that is neither supported by the majority of users nor characterized by an objective cultural tradition.

Fortunately however, this beating of drums in the press and in the class rooms of our Academies against European culture, has been taken up only by some second violins. The majority of the orchestra, the more advanced and farsighted Italian accordion world is looking towards Europe together with most of the manufacturers of the instrument who have clearly demonstrated that they believe in an international instrument as drawn by the Conference. The third edition of the Congress will be held in 1995 with or without me, with or without the consent of our Gallarini quint system supporters.

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