Accordion Music and Lore

Read about accordions I myself play a chromatic button accordion and also two-row diatonic.

Accordions in literature, books about accordions

Accordion movies

Music and recordings (Nordic)

Maria Kalaniemi

Maria Kalaniemi is the queen of Finnish accordion, and a major figure in the Nordic folk revival. She was the first accordionist to obtain a doctorate in accordion at the Sibelius Academy, and is reknowned both as a performer and composer. She is also an excellent vocalist. Her work is inspired by both Finnish and Swedish musical traditions. I have had the privilege of being at a few of her concerts -- that picture on the left is me with Maria after a concert in Sweden. You can read about her latest projects, and check out her concert schedule, at her official web site. For the most part, Kalaniemi plays a "free bass" accordion, which is a rather exotic kind of accordion with a full chromatic layout on the bass side rather than the usual Stradella base. This allows her to get very intricate harmonies and counterpoint into her pieces. It is a rather difficult kind of accordion to play.



Helsingin Kaksirivinaiset This is an accordion ensemble of five ladies, led by Maria Kalaniemi. It is one of her early efforts. I don't know if the group was a one-off thing, or if it plays on a continuing basis. I hope for the latter, since they are really good. The title means "Helsinki Two-Row Ladies." The "Two-Row" refers to the kind of accordion they play. Kalaniemi's main instrument is a five-row free base accordion, but this ensemble uses two-row diatonics. Usually these are used for Irish music with a lot of fast fingerwork, but little chromatic or harmonic interest. This album doesn't break new ground in terms of the music played, but it is really a revelation in the use of these two-row beasties. With Irish tuning, the two rows each have a diatonic scale, but with one row offset by a half tone from the other. That means that the full chromatic scale is, in principle, available, though with very odd and inconvenient fingering. Kaksirivinaiset exploit the possibilities to play all sorts of minor-key nordic favorites, but with a great dynamism and ensemble feeling. One of my favorites is Kaksi Taunoa, which I have also heard Norrlåter do up at the Saltoluokta Folkmusikveckan, on a conventional chromatic with stradella (chord) bass, backed up by the usual ensemble.

This is a short album, with only five short tracks adding up to an all too brief 15 minutes of happiness. More of this please, ladies! Here is a Youtube video of the Kaksirivinaiset playing Severi Suhosen Jenkka (and here is the great Esa Pakarinen as Severi himself playing it in the great Reino Helismaa flick Rovaniemen Markinoilla. . Or here, as the same character in a 1967 recording, as the same character.. )


RedAlbumCoverMaria Kalaniemi ("Red Album") An album of some of the early classics from the Finnish queen of the accordion. See Maria herself playing Elin Polkka here.






Maria Kalaniemi, Iho








Maria Kalaniemi, Ahma

Maria Kalaniemi and Accordion Tribe. Assembled by Lars Holmer. The Tribe consists of Holmer, plus Guy Klucevsek, Maria Kalaniemi, Bratko Bibic, Otto Lechner.

Maria Kalaniemi and Sven Albäck, Airbow/Luftstråk/Ilmajuosi

Maria Kalaniemi, Finnish Tango

Maria Kalaniemi, Vilda Rosor

Maria Kalaniemi, Bellow Poetry

Viola Turpeinen

Viola Turpeinen was a Finnish-American accordionist from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Very popular in the 1920's through the 1950's. I have a soft spot for Viola because the first Finnish music I ever bought was an LP of Viola's tunes, acquired as a present back when I was an undergraduate. Watch this space for more on Viola Turpeinen. Listen to her music and imagine yourself at a dance at the local Finn Hall.

Misc. Other Accordionists


Kimmo Pohjoinen, Kielo This is not your father's accordion, not unless your father is Darth Vader. Some of the tracks are more rhythmic than melodic. In fact, much of Pohjoinen's music puts me in mind of joik for accordion. Pohjoinen is a remarkably talented accordionist and composer, playing on what seems to be a free-base accordion like Kalaniemi. The music on this disk is heavily electronically modified, but not so much so that the virtuosity or purity of the accordion notes is lost. I use the word "notes" advisedly, because the entire album is "constructed" with accordion (except for a small track using harmonium). This means that Pohjoinen uses his accordion not just to make sounds in the conventional way, but also as a percussion instrument, riffling the bellows, clicking keys, tapping the body, and also somehow achieving an unfathomable bass-drum effect. These noises are accompanied by Pohjoinens incohate vocal lines, some of which are joik-like chants, some of which are almost jazzy. All this sounds weird, but it's not a joke, and it's much more successful than it sounds in description. The music has to be heard to be believed.