Guido Deiro's Polca Variata |
An Historical and Musical Analysis, Part 1
by Henry Doktorski
The first half of this article/analysis was originally published in The Free-Reed Journal, Vol. IV (Spring 2002),
a publication of The Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).
Part One: Historical Analysis
Guido Deiro's (1886-1950) solo accordion vaudeville career began on June 15th, 1910, when he opened at San Francisco's American Theatre, billed as Deiro, American Premier Piano Accordionist. (See End Note 1)
Although many turn-of-the-century Americans were undoubtedly familiar with the simple one or two-row diatonic button accordeons which could be purchased from the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, few people had ever seen a piano accordion; much less a piano accordion as magnificent as Deiro's. His instrument had a right-hand manual which spanned three and one-half octaves (41 keys); it had an octave-doubler shift as well as a tremolo shift. (See End Note 2) His left-hand manual contained 96, 108 or 132 bass and chord buttons, depending on which model he played at the time.
Deiro's rise to stardom was phenomenal; he quickly became a vaudeville headliner and commanded top dollar for his performances (up to $600 per week). Contemporary critics praised his instrument, his technique, his musicianship and his showmanship. "The great hit of the bill was Deiro, who plays upon an instrument known as the piano accordeon, a strange musical instrument which he originated. The instrument is really a mammoth accordeon, with a keyboard like a piano. Its volume is immense, swelling to the proportions of a grand church organ; its melody is delightful. Deiro played all sorts of music, classical and popular. The sweet notes of the instrument are most agreeable to the ear. The player's command of the keyboard and stops is really wonderful. His playing of the piano accordeon won him tumultuous applause after each number. Along with being a skilled player on the peculiar instrument, Deiro also has a strong personality which helps him out much. His encores were numerous and most enthusiastic." (See End Note 3)
Considering Deiro's remarkable talent, it was only natural that, along with performing and recording, he would also begin writing original compositions for the piano accordion. Between 1911 and 1913 Deiro had composed eight original pieces and recorded them for the Columbia Record Company, but none had been published in arrangements for accordion. (See End Note 4)
It is not unreasonable to assume that Deiro had made attempts to get his music published. In 1913 Jerome H. Remick and Company published his Deiro Rag in a piano arrangement by Herman E. Schultz, (See End Note 5) but apparently Deiro could not find a publisher who was willing to invest in publishing music for the accordion -- a risky venture for a novelty (albeit increasingly popular) instrument. Finally in 1916, Deiro at last found a publisher: Biaggio Quattrociocche (1882-1955), a thirty-four year old Italian-American immigrant who in 1907 began teaching piano, violin, cornet and piano-accordion at the Iorio Accordion Factory in New York City. In 1916 Quattrociocche founded the first music publishing company in the United States which specialized in music for the accordion: B. Quattrociocche -- Publisher of Steubenville, Ohio, and Guido Deiro became one of the first composers in Quattrociocche's catalog. (See End Note 6)
Biaggio Quattrochiocche (ca. early 1940s)
Photo courtesy of Mort Herold
The first piece by Guido Deiro which was specifically published as a composition for the accordion was Polca Variata. (Five years earlier in 1911 Deiro had recorded it for Columbia as Variety Polka.) During Quattrociocche's first year in business he published thirty-six compositions; Guido Deiro's Polca Variata was listed in his catalog as number three. Quattrociocche eventually published at least twenty-eight pieces by Deiro during the next 35 years. (See End Note 7) Quattrociocche wrote, "Guido Deiro had such a wonderful genius for composition. We had arranged that he would play whatever came to his mind, and I would write it down to create new compositions." (See End Note 8)
Polca Variata was published in sheet music format which measured approximately 9 inches in width and 12 inches in height. The Cover page of the copy at the Deiro Archive -- printed with purple-colored ink -- was ornate (as were all early Quattrociocche editions) and included illustrations of a lyre, two valve-less trumpets, two attractive nymphs scantily clad in delicate see-through scarves, and a scroll inscribed with the words: "B. Quattrociocche - Publisher - Steubenville Ohio." Guido's publicity photo prominently appeared on the cover (framed by the two nymphs), and was signed with the following Italian inscription penned in his own handwriting: "Al Mio Amico B. Quattrociocche, Come pegno Si Amicizio, Guido Deiro" In English: "To my friend B. Quattrociocche, As always, your dear friend, Guido Deiro" (See End Note 9)
The music for the left-hand manual was notated in treble clef, because at that time, most accordionists simply could not read the bass clef.(See End Note 10) In Polca Variata the chord buttons were written as single notes (as in modern American editions) with the numerals 1, 2 and 3 printed above to indicate major, minor and seventh chords. The title of Deiro's first published composition by Quattrociocche was spelled Polca Variata on the cover and Polka Variata on the first inside page.
Polca Variata consists of three major sections (First Theme, Second Theme and Trio) plus an Introduction and a Bridge (transitional section).
Introduction (4 measures), mm. 1-4. Key of G.Page 2
First Theme (16 measures repeated), mm. 5-21. Key of G.
Second Theme (8 measures repeated), mm. 22-29. Key of C (subdominant).Page 3
Bridge (15 measures), mm. 30-44. Begins in the Key of Am (supertonic), moves to the Key of G (tonic) and ends with a G Major chord (V of IV) which leads back to the Second Theme.
Return to the Second Theme (8 measures repeated)
Trio (Third Theme) (32 measures repeated), mm. 45-76. Key of F (Subdominant of the Subdominant)
End note 1: Guido Deiro explained how he and his brother Pietro became professional accordionists in an undated and apparently unpublished article titled The Life Story of Guido Deiro and Pietro Deiro
End note 2: From reading Deiro's own description of the instrument which he played in 1909, I can state with confidence that his early accordions had at least three sets of reeds in the treble: 1. a set of 8-foot reeds sounding actual pitch (today called the clarinet register), 2. a set of 16-foot reeds sounding one octave below actual pitch (today called the bassoon register) which was engaged, along with the 8-foot reeds, by the octave-doubler shift referred to above, and 3. a second set of 8-foot reeds tuned slightly sharp which was engaged, along with the first set of 8-foot reeds, by the tremolo shift, which caused a shimmering tremolo effect (in today's terminology known as the violin register). Three sets of reeds is the minimum amount required to create the grand organ-like volume which dazzled contemporary reviewers.
End note 3: Composite review excerpted from: Buffalo Courier - April 16, 1912, Tribune-Republican - April 29, 1913, and The Scranton Times - April 29, 1913
End note 4: Between 1911 and 1913 Deiro recorded the following eight original compositions: In 1911: Variety Polka (Polca Variata) and Dolores Waltz; In 1912: Oracion Y Marcha Militar, Egipto Fantasia, Tango Tosino, Deiro Rag and My Florence Waltz; In 1913: Deirina Polka-Mazurka.
End note 5: The cover of the Jerome H. Remick and Company piano version of Deiro Rag can be seen in the article by Peter Muir titled "Looks Like a Cash Register and Sounds Worse: The Deiro Brothers and the Rise of the Piano Accordion in American Culture 1908-1930" on page [name page] of this journal.
End note 6: Guido Deiro was the second composer to have his music published by B. Quattrociocche. The first composer published in Quattrociocche's catalog was Quattrociocche himself, whose Fior di Siepe March and Silver Lake Waltz were listed as numbers one and two respectively.
End note 7: Deiro's friendship with Quattrociocche continued to the end of Deiro's life; Quattrociocche was one of the pallbearers at Deiro's funeral.
End note 8: B. Quattrociocche, from a letter to John Barsuglia dated April 29, 1955, cited by Ronald Flynn, Edwin Davison and Edward Chavez in "The Golden Age of the Accordion" 3rd edition (Shertz Texas: Flynn Publications, 1992), p. 29.
End note 9: B. Quattrociocche's catalog was apparently marketed specifically to the Italian-American accordion-playing community, as it consisted mostly of music by composers from Italian descent, such as P. Frosini, A. Pestalozza, M. Borghesi, B. Giardini, F. Rispoli, B. B. Beltramo, J. Mosti, A. Cagnazzo, F. Iorio, to name a few. In addition, the early editions were bilingual and included subscription information in Italian and English. "La Sonata Mensile per Armonica. Abbonamento: Annuao $1.50, Semestrale .85" also appeared as: "The Monthly Sonata for the Accordion. Subscription: One Year $1.50, Six Months .85."
End note 10: The first accordion music published in the United States in which the left hand was notated in bass clef was probably The Accordion Method Book by Anthony Galla-Rini, which appeared in 1931. In Europe, accordion music with bass clef notation was introduced much earlier.
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