In Catania, Sicily, in
1885, Pietro Guifride was born. An apparently inquisitive boy, he took to
music at an early age, playing on his father's diatonic button accordion.
At the age of seven, his father bought him a larger, chromatic accordion, on
which he was able to play the popular, operatic tunes of the day. Catania
was also the birthplace of one of opera's great composers, Vincenso Bellini,
whose work, little Pietro Guifride was quoted as having mastered at an early
I think I can safely say that Frosini's love of orchestral music stemmed
from his learning of other, more "acceptable" musical instruments, the
clarinet, cornet and other wind instruments. An understanding of wind
instruments helped him to master good bellows technique and phrasing that,
by now, we take for granted. He served in Malta, as a member of the British
Naval Band, playing first cornet. It was when he was serving in Malta, that
he was approached by a talent scout for the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit. It
was at this time that the stage name of "Frosini" was chosen, which would
become his worldwide trademark.
Frosini relocated to United States.
He worked towards producing an American manufactured instrument of high
quality, developing a good tone quality. Encouraged, by Guido Diero, he
decided not to change to piano accordion, but to keep the three-row button
accordion, with a false piano keyboard.
He was candid about giving advice, but he was not shy. When asked, in the
January 1935 Louis Siquier publication, Accordion News, who he thought, of
all the accordion players, to have the best expression, he said "I know of
only three and I am all three". It seems he was, like his music,
straightforward and to the point. Frosini married one of the dancers from
one of the vaudeville shows and continued his concert career, although ill
health prevented him from keeping such a busy schedule in later years. He
was proud of the fact that he had never missed an engagement in his life.
Accolades followed Frosini wherever he went and Charles Magnante was quoted
as professing him the greatest button accordionist in the world.
Composition and Style
Frosini was renowned
for his compositional techniques, including his mastery of the bellows
shake. He first saw a bellows 'shake style' at age 9, performed by Salvatore
Porto, a fine accordionist, whose father Rosario, was an accordion
manufacturer in Catania. Rosario actually built the first accordion
purchased for Frosini. (The Golden Age of the Accordion-1992. Edward Chavez,
Ronald Flynn, Edwin Davidson). Many of his compositions include passages of
bellows shake, which are usually the climaxes of each piece.
However, if you strip away the layers of technical brocade, melody was of
paramount importance and, in his regular question and answer columns in
1934/5 editions of the Louis Siquier publication, Accordion News, he
stresses the importance of balancing a melody line with a short and light
bass line. He spends a great deal of time in the following edition of the
magazine, explaining that right hand chords should not interfere with the
general dynamic flow of the music. A melodic line should not suddenly
increase in volume, if there is suddenly a chord in the right hand. Frosini
advised that, should this be the case, the right hand chord should be
omitted all together. Again his inspiration comes from Bellini.
The left hand should act as a rhythmic structure for the piece, but it
should never be too intrusive. A long held bass note should never override
the right hand melody. One of the most fundamental keys to playing Frosini
well, lies in one of his answers. When asked how to play fast semi-quaver
passages, he replied that slow practice was the key.
Correct fingering was essential and slow and sure repetition would ensure a
steady performance. He stressed the importance of "playing within one's own
ability", and that the slower passages were just as important, (this idea
fostered, one would assume, unconsciously, if not consciously, by Bellini,
who was renowned for his beautiful melodic lines). "You should not try to
play Hanon, if you can't play "Home Sweet Home".
There is not one composition of Frosini's, that doesn't contain a beautiful
melody of some kind. Hidden somewhere in a cluster of semiquavers, will be a
beautiful melody, which must be heard. Likewise, each phrase has a distinct
direction, whether crescendo or diminuendo.
Add to this the character; each piece has its own individual style, which is
usually indicated in the title of the piece. Silver Moon, Serenata
Primaverile, Olive Blossoms and Fragrant Flowers conjure up ideas of spring,
or romance. They are lovely waltzes. Likewise Bubbles, Accordion Jitters,
Cordinella, Flashing Fingers and Hot Fingers have a strong sense of rhythm
and pulse. They have a strong left-hand foundation, over which the sparkling
right hand passages must flow effortlessly and with computer evenness.
Bel Fiore is a tarantella; Gauchos on Parade, Jolly Caballero, The Gay
Picador and The Brave Matador are all paso dobles. Bel Viso, (or "Pretty
Face") is just that - a fresh and simple, bright piece in structure. Spic
'n' Span, likewise. Of the more "serious" music, the three rhapsodies stand
as works of symphonic proportions. They have dramatic introductions, which
lead on to quieter, yet harmonically intense sections, building to a climax.
The Russian and Italian Fantasies, Carnival of Venice, The Alpine Shepherd,
Britannia and Dark Eyes are examples of a virtuoso style of collating
various folk tunes and, by interspersing cadenzas and adding interesting
variations, become great concert showpieces. The drama of these pieces,
coupled with beautiful, simple melodies, ensures their success with the
general public. This is the genius of Frosini.
Frosini's Symphonic March is one of my favourites, because it is such a
brilliant example of where the music can take you. It is symphonically rich,
with brassy chords and the delicate intricacies of string or woodwind
playing in the softer passages. More than anything, I enjoy the piece
because the dynamics seem to flow so naturally and the piece, which has no
patriotic nationality, is uncommonly rousing. Remarkably, no registration
changes are required. Indeed, Frosini's choice of registration was limited
on the early accordions on which he played, therefore he let the music
express itself, rather than relying on elaborate tonal changes.
However, I believe the key to Frosini's long lasting and widespread success
is that his music has such a wide appeal to audiences both young and old.
Some may well, (and correctly so), argue that his music is dated, but it is
still satisfying to listen to and to play. Any student, young or old, if
they have the technical proficiency to play Frosini music, can only enjoy
the satisfaction of pulling off the runs and other technical difficulties.
The music is fun to play. But the greatest problem we face today is to make
this music accessible to the public. I have chosen MIDI as my form of
communicating with the wider public and even now, I cringe at the idea of
playing Frosini on MIDI as sacrilegious and scandalous.
Therefore, I use MIDI to enhance the music and add something to which the
people of today can relate. And they enjoy it; I am proud to be bringing the
music of Pietro Frosini to the general public each week, as I busk in
The music is merely a happy sound, not a piece of music that is dated - the
general public doesn't know that. They just like what they hear. Careful
addition of electronic sounds ensures the music has the right orchestration.
And played with the same drive and rhythm, with which I would play any new
pop song, the music, with its lovely melodies, appeals to the older
generation, for whom it was written, as well as being born again for younger
This should be our aim with all of the accordion music we attempt. However,
with Frosini, we are given a wonderful medium through which to promote our
beloved instrument. His aim was that students should have fun playing the
accordion. He pioneered the concept of an accordion orchestra and the
correct way to play. When asked by a reader in the December 1934 Accordion
News if the bass box should be removed from the instrument, if it was not to
be used in orchestral playing, he simply replied "No." Here again, balance
It was always Frosini's aim to have the accordion accepted into the normal
musical curriculum. In an article for the London, Modern Accordion
Publishers publication Accordion Review, May 1955, the turmoil
surrounding Frosini's refusal to accept a scholarship to the Royal
Conservatoire of Music in Milan, on the grounds they would not accept
accordion. Against his parents' wishes, he ran away from home and fatefully
joined the British Navy. His foresight has not quite been realised
throughout the world, although one can study accordion at some university in
most major cities. Frosini's music fights the will to be academic with that
of popularising the instrument and he leaned towards the latter. We are much
indebted to his crusade.
In the United States there were three accordionist-composers who more
than any other dominated the first half of the twentieth century; they were
Pietro Frosini, Pietro Deiro and Anthony Galla-Rini. The first American
classical accordion pieces were not written by professional composers, but
by accordion vaudeville performers who wanted something more substantial to
"The Italian-born Pietro Frosini (1885-1951) studied piano, cornet,
harmony, counterpoint and composition at the Municipal Conservatory of Fine
Arts in Catani Sicily and the Milan Conservatory of Music. He emigrated to
the United States in 1905, made his accordion debut at Fresno California,
and became a vaudeville star who in 1911 gave a command performance before
King George V of England. Frosini wrote approximately 200 original pieces
for accordion; most were light and entertaining but some were more serious,
like his virtuosic Variations on Carnival of Venice (1938) and
Three Rhapsodies (1939). (quote from The Classical Squeezebox)
Although Pietro Frosini's influence began in the United States, his fame
rapidly spread throughout Europe; in fact there are more Frosini lovers in
Sweden than in the United States, as the city of Stockholm is home to not
one, but two societies dedicated to Frosini: the Frosini-Deiro Foreningen
directed by Bernt Bostrom and Frosinisallskapet directed by Lars Ek.
This book Pietro Frosini was published by Frosinisallskapet.
Don't be intimidated that the book is written in Swedish, as much of it
can be understood even by an English reader. For example, look at the first
sentence in the first chapter, titled Dragspelets trollkarl
(Accordion Wizard): "Pietro L. Giuffrida foddes den 9 augusti 1885 i
provinsen Mascalucia pa Sicilien," which means in English: "Pietro L.
Giuffrida was born on August 9th, 1885 in the Mascalucia province in
Sicily." Of course, not all of the book is as easy to understand as this
example, but I hope you get the idea.
The first chapter tells about Frosini's early life in Italy, his studies
at the Conservatory of Milan (the cornet was his favorite instrument and
Rossini his favorite composer), his fortuitous discovery by a vaudeville
talent scout in Fresno, California and his subsequent rise to stardom as an
accordionist. Also in the first chapter we read about his first published
musical composition: The Chalice (1908) for voice and piano with
lyrics by Edgar Selden, and his first commercial recording in 1909 (Edison
Wax Cylinder 103): Wedding of the Winds.
The remaining chapters describe his career, including his association
with John Reuther and other students. Included are comprehensive lists of
his original compositions, arrangements, and recordings, as well as
translations (in Swedish) of many of the articles Frosini wrote for the
Accordion World magazine published in New York City in the 1930s and
1940s. The photographs (from 1906 until 1951) are a very important part of
the book; for the most part they are clear and contributed greatly to my
appreciation of this accordion pioneer. I believe Pietro Frosini,
Dragspelets Trollkarl will be a treasure for all scholars of the
accordion, as well as for fans of the "golden age" of the instrument.