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Finto-Piano

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KLR

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In the book The Golden Age of the Accordion there are excerpts here and there from old accordion company catalogs; an interesting feature of items available in the 1920s are accordions which have a piano keyboard plus a row of buttons below the keys, usually two but sometimes three. Somewhere else Id read that the piano keys were strictly for appearances sake, i.e., dummies, but that doesnt appear to be correct as Ill illustrate. The idea seemed to be to give the visual impression of a the then in vogue piano layout, while allowing the player to persist with using the CBA setup they were familiar with, or preferred, or that their instructor used, etc.

Three players of these curious instruments are profiled in the book: Pietro Frosini, Leon Sash, and Alice Hall. Frosini was the earliest of these:

03_frosini2.jpg

Pic from this page: Pietro Frosini - Accordionist (1885-1951), which offers this detail about his instrument, including the proper term for it:

Always a player of the Chromatic Button key accordion, with a special bass system devised by himself, from the 1930s onward he used a Finto-Piano Accordion, which was really just a three row button key instrument, made to look like a piano accordion.

Finto means fake, false, etc. The Golden Age book has an excerpt of a more detailed profile of him, with a chart of his free bass setup, which was wholly unique. The Finnish Wikipedia page of Frosini has this chart of his layout:

600px-PietroFrosiniAccordionBassSystem.png

A later player of fintos was jazz virtuoso Leon Sash:


Another was Alice Hall:

hqdefault.jpg

Hall used the finto at the insistence of her accordionist father.

There are examples on YouTube of all threes playing:

Pietro Frosini Rhapsody No3 in A Minor 1941
Leon Sash / Jazz Accordion / Pennies from Heaven
Alice Hall, Pennies from Heaven, 78 rpm record (1949?)

Alice only made one 78 so its serendipitous that she recorded the same tune as Sash, and we can compare their playing. Sash sounds like an even better accordionist but Halls sides are really wild fun, with her scatting in tandem with her box playing.

Looking for pics of Frosini I came across clips of a modern player who is a disciple of him, right down to choice of instrument: Alf Hågedal - Robins At Sunrise (Pietro Frosini), Skei 2011. He plays a...3 row finto, I guess well call it. Both white and black keys on the piano section can be seen moving in tandem with buttons, so they clearly are functional in nature and not just installed to look modern, 90 years after these accordions were originally marketed. I must watch more of Alf to see if his box uses the Frosini bass system.

Someone is even selling a finto on eBay: Giulietti Accordion Finto Piano Four Row C System Tone Chamber Hand Made | eBay

$3.3k and its yours.
 

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Hi Really interesting & informative, thanks for posting.
The subject has been discussed here before - and most of us are aware that these are indeed button accordions made to look like a piano system. Originally, as far back as the 1920s/30s with the popularity of Guido Deiro(& his brother, Pietro) in the US, the public were entranced with his (and others) skills on the PA - to the extent that bar/theatre managers/owners would only book PA players, and not risk a button box player. So the button players/ accordion manufacturers found a way to appear to be playing PA whilst actually still using a button system.
 
Alice Hall made many recordings - some can be found on you tube. These piano looking keyboards were mostly 3 row "C" chromatic's and in the 30's to 60's were preferred in the US over buttons.
 
Well, this one blogger said Alice Hall only made one 78, and my book says a cassette in the 80s, I think. Nothing on Amazon or eBay. 3 cuts on YouTube. I might pick up a Sash LP, that guy was a real barn burner. George Shearing said he gave up the accordion after hearing him! Shearing was a helluva piano player if you dont know. The one or two cuts of him on accordion arent anything to sneeze at, either. Like Sash he was blind. Shearing was quite the wry wit. A reporter once asked him if hed been blind all his life. Not yet. ;)

Will try and find those previous posts on the finto, thanks for the heads up.
 
Woa, what a colour scheme. And if the finto setup is a bit odd, that Frosini freebass layout is... hard to imagine. I can see the scales snaking their way through it but the double rows?
 
Thanks for posting this fascinating information. I particularly enjoyed this recording of Silver Moon Waltz which I keep resurrecting on my must learn practise list. One day it might come good.

Pete
 
Romopiano, from a Finnish page on
accordion systems.

Wow, thats the first time Id seen a close-up of a finto-piano keyboard that used all the piano keys. The extra white-coloured black keys are quite something. Id heard of those, but never seen them. I think Leon Sash had one of those, but mostly just used the three button rows.

The Finnish site is amazing. Thats about the widest selection of different kinds of accords that Ive seen online. Very nice. Its has some English, but with Google translate and clicking around theres some amazing things. Thanks you for posting it!

Finnish Free Reed page about different treble keyboards.
 
I recently procured an older finto accordion, I would love to know if it is worth it to fix her up? She plays well, but there are a couple problems with her all seem as they can be either replaced or fixed. She seems to be amplified for i have taken her apart and there was a microphone system inside. and a plugin in the back of the treble keyboard. The silver grill seems to be obstructing the keyboard as the grill seems to be bent out of shape. Is worth the money to fix her up?
 

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These old style chromatic accordions were really pretty neat looking, and certainly would be a great find. If you have an opportunity to get a copy of the book, "The Golden Age of The Accordion", you'll find it fascinating with loads of old photos and history. Alice Hall was a very friendly and outgoing person, with whom I corresponded by mail back in the early 90s when I was learning accordion. She was head of the "Friends of The Accordion" group and was a great lady who loved the accordion.
 
Flynn in the Golden Age of the Accordion relates that near the end of Frosini's life somebody stole his custom accordion. He's quoted, “Who can play this thing besides me?”
 
KLR’s post reminded me that Pietro Frosini was the accordion virtuoso I was thinking of when I posted (above) that an early 20th century accordion player/composer/ arranger was featured on the front page of his commercially published musical arrangements with one of these unusual instruments <EMOJI seq="1f642">?</EMOJI>
I now recall that, when asking my music teacher about the odd appearance of the instrument, she just shrugged it off as a species of CBA (she was a PA exponent herself)
 
Matt Butcher said:
Woa, what a colour scheme.  And if the finto setup is a bit odd, that Frosini freebass layout is... hard to imagine.  I can see the scales snaking their way through it but the double rows?

The Frosini Bass layout was weird, and it wasn't very effective, either. On the few cuts where he plays unaccompanied (i.e. Jolly Caballero) it's very weak. My teacher, Charles Nunzio, who was his student, said that Frosini's bass machine was shallow.
Frosini greatly discouraged even his own students from playing CBA. Madelena Belfiore, his student, wanted him to teach her to play chromatic but he refused.
 
You can see and hear a Finto accordion being played on YouTube if you google up:

“Alf Hågedal Pietro’s Return (Pietro Deiro) Skei 2011”
 
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