Although Richard Blagrove’s Instruction Book for the Study of the Concertina, comprising Elementary & Progressive Exercises (posted here in its entirety) bears no date of publication (this was customary for Victorian music publications), we can locate its appearance within a relatively narrow window that extended from late June 1863 to 1 April 1864.1 That the volume appeared on or before 1 April 1864 is evidenced by the British Museum stamp date on page 38: “1 AP 64,” which shows that a copy of the book had been deposited (and thus published) by then.2 Just when the window opened cannot be determined quite as precisely. Upon the death of Frederick Beale on 26 June 1863, the firm that had been known as Cramer, Beale & Wood entered a brief period of confusion and restructuring, during which it was briefly known as Cramer, Wood & Co.,3 which name appears at the foot of the title page, along with the address “201, Regent Street.” Thus the Instruction Book had to have been published between the company’s change of name in late June 1863 and 1 April 1864, with a date of issue close to — perhaps just a day or two prior to — 1 April 1864 being the most likely time.
Blagrove’s activities as a teacher
Blagrove taught the concertina on three fronts. First and most intimately, there were his private students, some of whom we can identify with certainty because they are referred to as such on the title page of pieces that he dedicated to them. Three examples will suffice: Fantasia on Airs from Schira’s Opera Niccolò de’ lapi . . . “composed and dedicated to his student Miss Helen Baillie;” Fantasia on Airs from Verdi’s Opera Il trovatore . . . “composed and respectfully dedicated to his pupil Miss Emily Bulteel, (Flete Devon);” and Fantasia on Airs from Flotow’s Martha . . . “composed and dedicated to his pupil Miss H.E. Gardner.”4 I would also argue that he is likely to have taught those for whom he is recorded as having picked up an instrument in the Wheatstone sales ledgers; for example: “R. Blagrove for Mr Gowing” (26 December 1846, ledger C1046, p. 53) and “Mr R Blagrove for Mr Millett” (28 December 1857, ledger C1051, p. 9).5
I will skip over the Instruction Book for a moment and jump ahead to the early 1880s, when Blagrove contributed an article titled “How to Play the Concertina” to the popular, one-penny magazine The Girl’s Own Paper. It is as much an exercise in rosy-picture painting as anything else.
One great charm of the concertina is the power it possesses of sustaining the
sound and also of increasing or diminishing and otherwise modulating the tone,
thereby giving great beauty to the whole performance. It is capable of producing
many beautiful tones, harmonies and effects that are peculiar to it, besides possessing
the quality of performing all music that has been written for flute and oboe, and with
very few exceptions, all violin music, being equally adapted to the most expressive
passages and rapid execution.6
The Instruction Book
We can divide the contents of the Instruction Book into four sections, though these are not designated as such within the volume itself.
• Basics (pp. 1-5): After praising the virtues of the concertina — “The great superiority that the Concertina has over the Piano-Forte” (p. 1)7 — Blagrove explains the layout of the buttons (aided by reproductions of the button boards, which provide reference guides for the student), pointing out that notes found in the spaces of the staff are in the right hand, those on the lines, in the left hand.8 He then instructs the student on “holding the instrument” (p. 3); “management of the bellows,” the discussion of which is rather thin and disappointing (p. 4);9 “fingering” (p. 4 – see below); “touch,” which should be “elastic as well as delicate” (p. 4); and the “tremolo,” which he equates with the vibrato used by singers and string players (p. 5).10
• Exercises I – XXV (pp. 5-15): There follows a series of twenty-five exercises, six of which are based on operatic excerpts that were likely known to many of those who used the Instruction Book. Since Blagrove identifies the excerpts only partially, I have filled out the identifications in Table 1.
Table 1. The six opera-derived exercises; asterisks denote the items that Blagrove identifies in the Instruction Book; I have added the complementary information.
|XIII/9||Macfarren||Robin Hood*||“My own, my guiding star”||Act II, sc. 3|
|XIV/10||Donizetti||L’elisir d’amore*||“Quanto è bella, quanto à cara”*||Act I, sc. 1|
|XX/12||Donizetti||Anna Bolena*||“A voi, supremo giudice”||Act II, sc. 8|
|Note: Blagrove transposes the excerpt down one whole step from A major to G major; moreover, whereas the exercise gives Donizetti’s melody in 3rds, the original version is in 6ths, with the lower note of Blagrove’s 3rd being the upper note in Donizetti’s 6th; Blagrove, then, has inverted the intervals.|
|XXI/13||Rossini||Guillaume Tell*||“Toi que l’oiseau ne suivrait pas”||Act II, sc. 12|
|XXIII/14||Meyerbeer||Les Huguenots*||“Jeunes beautés, sous ce feuillage”||Act II, no. 3|
|XXIV/15||Rossini||Guillaume Tell*||see Note||Act III, sc. 12|
|Note: Blagrove derives the exercise from an orchestral passage that appears in the same chorus upon which he drew for Exercise XXI; it follows directly after the words: “dans nos compagnes/les fils des montagnes/à leurs compagnes/apprendront tes pas”; he transposes the excerpt up one whole step from E-flat major to F major.|
The twenty-five exercises are carefully graded. Table 2 summarizes the gradual accrual of “complications.”
Table 2. The technical content of the twenty-five exercises, showing the gradual increase in technical demands.
|I – VI||C major only, single notes only, 1st and 2nd fingers only|
|VII – VIII||adds 3rd finger|
|IX – XI||intervals of 3rds and 6ths , but still entirely in C major|
|XII||sustained tones with crescendo and diminuendo|
|XIII||adds a passing F sharp within C major|
|XIV||still in C major, but adds further sharps in conjunction with parallel 6ths, a brief passage in octaves|
|XV – XVI||C-major scale in octaves|
|XVII||introduces G major|
|XVIII – XIX||C-major scale in 10ths|
|XX – XXI||calls for 4th finger and for one finger to play two notes simultaneously|
|XXII||introduces F major|
|XXIII||melody with independent accompaniment (that is, not homophonic), passages in 3rds and octaves|
|XXIV||large melodic leaps, alternation between legato and staccato|
|XXV||repeated notes to be played with alternating fingers|
It would be difficult to image a more well-thought-out regimen for the beginner.
• “Daily Exercises” (pp. 16-29): These exercises consist of scales, arpeggios, and more scales. For what Blagrove calls the “most important keys” (all major) — C, G, F, D, B flat, A, E flat, and A flat (in that order — he takes the student through a scale in single notes, arpeggios on both the tonic and dominant chords of each key, and then scales in 3rds, 6ths, octaves, and 10ths, all of which are then topped off by single-note scales and arpeggios in each major key’s relative minor; there is also a brief exercise on repeated notes in each key. In addition, there are single-note scales in the following major keys: B, D flat, F sharp, G flat, G sharp, and C flat(!). Finally, the daily routine ends with a coda of sorts: the introduction of the chromatic scale (about which presently) and an exercise on the “shake,” Blagrove’s term for what we generally refer to as a trill.
• Three transcriptions (pp. 31-37): Blagrove offers transcriptions of three pieces with which he could likely assume familiarity on the part of the student: (1) the well-known aria “M’appari, tutt’ amor” from Friedrich von Flotow’s opera Martha (1847);11 (2) the “Cujus animam” from Gioachino Rossini’s Stabat mater (1841); and (3) the “Quando corpus” from the same work. Welcome though these transcriptions might be, it is hard to imagine that the previous thirty pages has truly provided the student with the technical facility to manage them. To be sure, however, one could likely argue the same in connection with Regondi’s Rudimenti and New Method.12
Finally, Blagrove wraps things up with “Directions for Opening the Concertina,” the main aim of which is to “enable the performer to rectify a note that may from some cause have become dumb . . .” (p. 38).
On the use of the 4th finger
I will devote the remainder of the Introduction to one aspect of Blagrove’s instructions on fingering, that concerning the use of the fourth (little) finger and its possible relationship to the concertina’s early meantone tuning.
Blagrove’s first reference to fingering occurs on page 4:13
1st Finger belongs to the 2nd Row
2nd Finger “ “ “ 3rd Row
3rd Finger “ “ “ 4th Row
The first finger which naturally belongs to the second row
must be moved from the second to the first row when required.
Yet Blagrove is not an early proponent of playing with only three fingers of each hand (which technique became ever more prevalent as the century wore on and can probably be said to be the default once we reach the twentieth century).14 He continues: “The little [fourth] finger should be used whenever it will simplify the fingering. It will be found very important in the 6ths, 8ths and 10ths in the sharp and flat keys” (p. 4). In fact, the fourth finger makes its debut in the Instruction Book as early as a series of exercises that deal precisely with those intervals in the one-sharp key of G major (p. 18), from which point it is used ever more extensively as we move further sharp- and flatward; by the time we reach the transcription of “M’appari tutt’ amor,” it is, at least for Blagrove, indispensable.
Now, while the G-major exercise could be managed without the fourth finger of either hand, there are at least two places in “M’appari” that would be extremely difficult without it: (1) the stretch to cover the simultaneous A’s two octaves apart on the downbeat of measure 30 (p. 31/staff 6/m. 5), and (2) the eighth notes at measures 26 – 27 (p. 31/staff 6/mm. 1-2), which, without the fourth finger, would require one to play two successive notes with the same finger (d’ – f’ in measure 26 and b’ flat – e’ flat in measure 27), something that Blagrove consistently goes out of his way to avoid.15
We might ask: why did concertinists of the period have such frequent recourse to the fourth finger? “M’appari” has already given us two answers: to avoid stretches that would be cumbersome or perhaps even unmanageable and to skirt having to use the same finger on two successive notes. But it offers still another: measure 53 presents us with a four-note chord for which there is no possibility of playing two notes simultaneously with the same finger (p. 31/staff 11/m. 4), so that all four fingers must get involved.
I would, however, like to suggest still another reason, one that has gone almost unremarked in the concertina literature.16 In his instructions for how to play a chromatic scale, Blagrove writes:
The student will notice that the Concertina possesses the peculiarity of having
separate notes for G sharp and A flat; D sharp and E flat; these extra notes
simplify the fingering and he should therefore when D or G sharp are required
play the notes next to D and G natural , and when A or E flat are required play
those next to A and E natural.
Blagrove then offers a chromatic scale that spans the entire compass of the 48-button concertina, from g to c’’’’, the fingering for which follows his prescription precisely. And that Blagrove instructs the student to play D sharp, G sharp, A flat, and E flat with the buttons that are “next to” (that is, “adjacent to” and in the same hand as D, G, A, and E natural) strikes me as evidence for one thing only: Blagrove is thinking in terms of a concertina that still has the instrument’s early meantone tuning, a tuning that divided the octave into fourteen unequal parts in which the A flat and E flat were tuned forty-one cents higher than the G sharp and D sharp, respectively (unlike the situation on an equal-tempered instrument, where the D sharp/E flat and G sharp/A flat are enharmonically equivalent). And I would, then, suggest that the use of the fourth finger may often have been necessary because the player could not substitute an enharmonic equivalent that would have obviated the need for the fourth finger, either on the very note that calls for that finger or within the context of the passage that surrounds it.
We can see this in Blagrove’s transcription of the “Cujus animam” from Rossini’s Stabat mater, where his use of the fourth finger can easily be avoided on two occasions: (1) at measure 48 (p. 33/staff 9/m. 1), we avoid the fourth finger on b by using an enharmonic e’ flat (left hand, 3rd finger) instead of Blagrove’s first finger (right hand) on the notated d’ sharp in the B-major triad; and (2) we do the same at measure 100 (p. 35/staff 3/m. 3), which admits of two possibilities in connection with the widely-spaced A-flat-major chord: (a) substitute an enharmonic d’ sharp (right hand, 1st finger) for the notated e’ flat (left hand, 4th finger), or use the left hand, 3rd finger, on that e’ flat, but substitute a g’’ sharp (right hand, 3rd finger) for Blagrove’s notated a’’ flat (left hand 1st finger).
How deep does this correlation between the use of the fourth finger and the lack of enharmonic equivalents run? I cannot say (any meaningful answer would require examining each and every instance of its use). Nor can I say why Blagrove should still be thinking in terms of a meantone concertina at a time when they were in the process of being supplanted by equal-tempered instruments.17
To sum up: Blagrove’s Instruction Book no doubt served as a good, all-purpose introduction to the English concertina; and that it must have been received as such is evidenced by its having been sufficiently popular to reach a third, revised edition, issued by J.B. Cramer & Co. in 1903.18 If it has a pedagogical flaw, it is, I think, the overly optimistic view that a beginner could, in the course of thirty-seven pages, go from learning where to put his or her thumbs to gaining the technical facility needed to play the transcriptions of Flotow and Rossini with which the volume ends. (As noted above, Blagrove’s is not the only method book to display that kind of optimism.) In all, though, the Instruction Book — together with the Blagrove-annotated material in Miss Isabella Maria Herries’s library — stands as testimony to one of the great nineteenth-century concertinist’s ideas about playing and teaching the instrument.
- The following discussion has benefited from the input of four leading scholars of Victorian music: Christina Bashford, Christine Kyprianides, Leanne Langley, and Nicholas Temperley. Note that Christina Bashford is the author of “Blagrove. English Family of Musicians,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., ed. Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 2001), iii, 670-71; online at http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grovemusic/03199.
Dates provided by the British Library Integrated Catalogue (online at http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org) for nineteenth-century music publications are dates of acquisition by the British Museum; and though these dates generally agree with those of publication, they do not always coincide, as when a publisher occasionally held on to his wares before depositing them at the British Museum. Note that the British Library became independent of the British Museum on 1 July 1993 (subsequent to the British Library Act of 1972), and moved into its own quarters at 96 Euston Road (not far from where Blagrove once lived) in 1997. I have discussed the date of Blagrove’s Instruction Book in an earlier article, “A Richard Blagrove Letter at the Royal Academy of Music,” The Concertina Journal, “Articles,” no. 2 (posted December, 2017).
- The copy in the British Library in which the date stamp appears has the signature h.2362.a.(4); moreover, the title page contains the initials “RMB” (for Richard Manning Blagrove – I believe they are an autograph), these entered just below “Price 10s/6.”
- This information courtesy of Christine Kyprianides
- On the activities of these women in terms of buying concertinas, see Allan W. Atlas, “Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers: the Gendered Concertina in Victorian England, 1835-1870,” Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 39 (2006), 76, 89, 114; online at “Concertina Library: Digital Reference Collection for Concertinas,” http://www.concertina.com/atlas/ladies/index.htm. Note that Emily Bulteel was the great-great-grandmother of the late Princess Diana.
- I would stand behind the argument even if the word “for” were not present. On the ledgers, see Atlas, “Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers,” 39-41, 58-66; Stephen Chambers, “Some Notes on Lachenal Concertina Production and Serial Numbers,” Papers of the International Concertina Association, 1 (2004), 14-16, note 4; online at “Concertina Library,” http://www.concertina.com/chambers/lachenal-production/index.htm. That concertina teachers were not above running about town in order to get instruments for their students (including those who might only have been of the “perspective” variety) is attested by Blagrove’s letter of 28 September 1863 in which he tells an unnamed addressee that he would be “happy to call at Messrs Cramer & Co. to select what you order”; see my article cited at the end of note 1.
- The Girl’s Own Paper, 2 (1880-1881), 488-89. Initially published by the Religious Tract Society (later Lutterworth Press), the magazine first appeared on 3 January 1880 and ran (with both changes in title and mergers with other publications) until 1956; see Terri Doughty, Selections from the Girl’s Own Paper, 1880-1907 (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2004), 7-13; Doughty follows her introduction with fifty-two selections from the Paper that date from 1888 to 1907; in 2006, the Japanese Eureka Press issued a facsimile edition of volumes 1 – 4 (I have not been able to obtain a copy). On the strategies that manufacturers of the English concertina used in order to pitch the instrument specifically to women (young and old), see my forthcoming article, “Ladies and the Concertina in Victorian England: Some Notes on Marketing Strategies,” Culture in Words and Images: Festschrift for Zdravko Blažeković, ed. Antonio Baldessare (Vienna: Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag, 2017), in press.
- Blagrove thus goes even further than W.H. Birch, New Tutor for the Concertina (London: Leoni, Lee & Coxhead, 1851), 2, who misread the crystal ball as follows: “The Concertina . . . will ere long become as necessary to the Concert and Drawing Room, as the Piano Forte.”
- At no point does Blagrove “back up” as far, say, as Alfred Sedgwick, who begins Sedgwick’s Complete System of Instruction for the Concertina (London: Leveque, Edmeades, 1854) by teaching the student how to read musical notation.
- Blagrove’s treatment of bellows technique pales in comparison to that in Giulio Regondi’s two method books: Rudimenti del Concertinista (London: Scates, 1844) and New Method for the Concertina (Dublin/London: Scates/ Wessel, 1857).
- This equation is somewhat surprising. Blagrove, one of the leading viola players of the day — he was principle violist in the Philharmonic Society orchestra and taught the instrument at the Royal Academy of Music — was surely aware of the difference between a string instrument’s vibrato, which causes subtle fluctuations of pitch and enriches the sound, and the rather annoying (my opinion) result obtained on the concertina “by the shaking of the hand” (p. 5). In fact, Regondi, New Method, begins his “Concluding Remarks” with the following admonition: “A continuous quivering of the sound . . . has become prevalent among certain players who perhaps imagine that by imitating in this manner the tremulousness of voice . . . they are playing with feeling. It must be carefully avoided by all who aim at purity of style and truth of expression” (p. 52).
- Oddly, Blagrove did not draw upon this aria, surely the best-known number in the opera, in his Fantasia on Airs from Flotow’s Opera Martha (London: Wheatstone, 1859).
- The Rudimenti concludes with the “Fuga” from J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied violin sonata no. 3, BWV 1005; the New Method ends with a series of four exercises thick with chords and contrapuntal inner voices. In both volumes, Regondi provides detailed instructions for the manipulation of the bellows; Blagrove offers none.
- For players of systems other than the English: each button board of the English concertina has four vertical rows; the two inner rows have the “white notes” of the piano, the two outer rows, the “accidentals.” The first (index) finger ranges over the first and second rows, the second (middle) finger, row three, and the third (ring) finger, row 4 (that furthest from the bellows). The fourth (little) finger is usually planted in the finger rest provided for it (though see below), and, with the thumb (which always remains in the thumb strap), helps to support the instrument.
- Note that George Case’s English Concertina Tutor, published by Boosey & Co. in 1885, does not call for the fourth finger even once.
- At the risk of digressing (not once but twice): the care that Blagrove lavishes on fingering in the Instruction Book in general and in “M’appari” in particular stands in stark contrast to the paucity of fingering that appears in his published compositions. Thus the four short pieces that constitute his Morceau (London: Wheatstone, c. 1850) include only six instances of fingering in the course of 139 measures. (The Morceau represents Blagrove’s only entirely original work.) More customary, however, is the complete lack of fingering, as evidenced by a spot check of five of Blagrove’s large-scale “Fantasias” (all published by Wheatstone and chosen randomly from my stock of such pieces): Fantasia on Airs from Donizetti’s Opera Lucrezia Borgia (1855), Fantasia on Airs from Verdi’s Opera Il trovatore (1856), Fantasia on Airs from Flotow’s Opera Martha (1859), Fantasia on Airs from Schira’s Opera Niccolò de’ lapi (1863), and Fantasia on National Airs (1886).
To further digress, if in a somewhat different — but still fingering-related — direction: among Blagrove’s likely (I would say extremely likely) students was one Miss Isabella Maria Herries (c. 1789 – 1870), sister of the well-known economist and politician John Charles Herries (1778 – 1855). About Miss Herries and the concertina we know the following: (1) her name appears in the Wheatstone sales ledgers on three occasions: 7 October 1845, 18 June 1856, and 27 June 1856 (see Atlas, “Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers,” 123; (2) she had a large stock of music for the instrument (now in the private collection of Mr. Stephen Chambers, whom I thank for having shared copies of the music with me), at least some of which seems to have been annotated by Blagrove himself. And though the music is teeming with added fingering that presumably reflects Blagrove’s teaching, there is not a single instance in which a hand-written entry calls for the use of the fourth finger. I discuss a number of Blagrove’s annotations in Miss Herries’s music in “Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers,” 48-51.
- I mention it, though briefly and only in passing, in my Contemplating the Concertina: An Historically-Informed Tutor for the English Concertina (Amherst: The Button Box, 2003), 76, note 2.
- There was no magic day on which meantone instruments gave way to their equal-tempered successors; the process likely began in the mid-1850s, to judge from some of the music that was then being written for the instrument. No doubt the process moved along gradually, and there is testimony that the two systems overlapped with one another. Writing in 1865 (thus contemporarily with the Instruction Book), William Cawdell is quite explicit about concertinas being available in both meantone and equal-tempered tunings; see his A Short Account of the English Concertina: Its Uses and Capabilities, Facility of Acquirement, and Other Advantages (London: William Cawdell, 1865); online at “Concertina Library,” http://www.concertina.com/cawdell/index.htm; see also, Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 39-47; and “The Victorian Concertina: Some Issues Relating to Performance,” Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 3/2 (2006), 46-54; online at “Concertina Library,” http://www.concertina.com/atlas/victorian-concertina-performance/.
- See Randall C. Merris, “Instruction Manuals for the English, Anglo, and Duet Concertina: An Annotated Bibliography,” The Free-Reed Journal, 4 (2002), 90; online at “Concertina Library,” http://www.concertina.com/merris/bibliography/. I have not been able to obtain a copy of this edition.