The Complete Preceptor
for the Accordeon


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The Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon
by Elias Howe, Jr.

Review by Henry Doktorski

In 1843, Oliver Ditson of 115 Washington Street in Boston Massachusetts, and C. C. Clapp and Company of 67 Court Street in New York City published a 40 page book with the lengthy title:


The author was Elias Howe, Jr. (1820 - 1895) and the book sold for fifty cents. A second edition was published in 1850, and a third in 1851. There may have been earlier or later editions as well.

I discovered this copy (1850 edition) in the reference shelves of the Music and Art Department of the Carnegie Public Library in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. According the OCLC catalog, there are only eight other copies of this book at participating OCLC libraries in the United States. *

The book at the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library is in remarkable condition, considering the fact that it is one and a half centuries old. The book has been rebound by the library; the original paper cover has been pasted on a sturdy green heavy hard cover, but the inside pages still have the original cotton thread binding them together in sheaves.

Upon close examination, I discovered that one of the previous owners of the book practiced cursive penmanship on the cover, repeating the words of the title in curvy longhand under the original printed text. The inside pages were spared of this depravity. I don't believe that the owner of this book really practiced the tunes; the pages are unwrinkled and unsoiled.

The book contains

  • A diagram of the scale for the diatonic single-action accordion with a 20 note range with an explanation of the letter and numerical symbols accompanying the staff notation (see Page 2)
  • 86 songs written in traditional staff notation for single-line melody in treble clef, as well as a series of numbers and letters which allow those who do not read music to play the pieces. **
  • The scale for the semi-toned or perfect accordion [also single-action]. This was a nearly-perfectly chromatic instrument with a 37 note range. Also included is an illustration of the semi-toned instrument (see Page 33)
  • A contents page which appears at the very end of the book (see Page 40)

The book is a fascinating relic of an earlier era; Howe's book was published in 1843, only fourteen years after the invention of the accordion by the Austrian piano and organ maker Cyrill Demian (1772-1847), who patented the instrument in Vienna on May 23rd, 1829.

The illustration of the semi-toned accordion is detailed and clearly shows the placement of the keys, pallets, valves, bellows and ornamental filigree. It is significant to note that the instrument Howe wrote for had no left-hand buttons or keys. Only the right hand played the notes.

The choice of tunes gives us an indication of the styles of music which the public expected to hear on the accordion. There were the expected European ethnic songs: British, Irish, Russian, German, Hungarian, Danish, Prussian, Swiss, etc. as well as some folk fiddle tunes such as Old Zip Coon. One tune which aroused my curiosity was Mozart's Waltz, but after closer inspection, I decided it must have been written not by the famous 18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but by the 19th century folk musician Allan Mozart.

I recognized many of the tunes, if not the titles. Augusta's Favorite is our modern day Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Sweet Home is our modern Home Sweet Home. Absence is known by today's Suzuki violin students by the name of Go Tell Aunt Rhody. A few songs have familiar titles, Auld Lang Syne, Irish Washerwoman, and [Oh Dear] What Can the Matter Be.

Certainly this Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon is a priceless treasure from the annals of free-reed history.

* The OCLC catalog lists the following libraries as having copies of Elias Howe Jr.'s The Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon:

1843 edition:
Boston Public Library, Boston Massachusetts
Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Bowling Green Ohio
University of South Dakota, Vermillion South Dakota
Center for Popular Music, MTSU, Murfreesboro Tennessee

1850 edition:
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC
Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo New York

1851 edition:
Harvard University, Loeb Music Library, Cambridge Massachusetts

Tim Rued informed me that a copy of the 1843 edition is also at the Healdsburg Public Library in Healdsburg, California.

** Howe wrote, "The letters D and P placed over the notes, show when they should be Drawn and Pressed -- as D for Draw, P for Press. The figures placed under the notes, show which key to raise, the numbers counting from the top of the instrument. The player should be in a sitting position, with the foot raised upon an ottoman or stool, with the instrument resting perpendicularly on the left knee, with the inside of the thumb of your right hand, take hold of the brass bar at the back of the instrument, and let the fingers come directly over the keys; with the thumb and three first fingers of your left hand, take hold the white wood on the bottom of the instrument, and the fourth finger upon the valve key. The beginner should commence very slow, and not jerk the bellows. But a few hours are required to learn to play, by closely observing the above rules."

To view the pages of Howe's book, click on the following links:
Front Cover
Page 2: Scale for the Accordeon
Page 3: Waltz No. 1, Augusta's Favorite, Sweet Home, Blue Eyed Mary
Page 4: Burns' Farewell to Ayrshire, Boyne Water, Bonny Boat
Page 5: Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself, La Belle Catherine, Off She Goes
Page 6: The Hay Makers, Life Let Us Cherish, The White Cockade
Page 7: Oft in the Stilly Night, Winding Way
Page 8: Bonny Doon, Auld Lang Syne, Be Gone Dull Care
Page 9: Flora's Birthday, Rustic Reel, Kinlock
Page 10: Irish Air, Fisher's Hornpipe
Page 11: Oh Lassie Art Thou Sleeping Yet, Eveleen's Bower, Kitty of Coleraine
Page 12: Old Zip Coon, College Hornpipe
Page 13: The Mellow Horn
Page 14: The Last Link is Broken, The Rose of Allandale, The Coquette
Page 15: Swiss Guard's March, Duke of Kent's March, Russian March
Page 16: Java March, Buonaparte Crossing the Rhine, Governor Jones' March
Page 17: Kind of Prussia's March, Morella's Lesson
Page 18: The Soldier's Return, Dog and Gun, What Can the Matter Be
Page 19: The Bridal Fete, Coal Black Horse, The Tempest
Page 20: Duke of Hungary's Waltz, Polly Hopkins' Waltz
Page 21: Brunswick Waltz, Cinderella Waltz, Harvest Home Waltz
Page 22: Copenhagen Waltz, Mozart's Waltz
Page 23: Union Waltz or Buy A Broom, Swiss Waltz, German Waltz
Page 24: Oh No! We Never Mention Her, Love's Ritornella, Serenade
Page 25: Steamboat Quick Step, Quick Step in Tekeli, Quick Step
Page 26: The Bright Rosy Morning, Washing Day, What Fairy-Like Music
Page 27: The Wrecker's Daughter Quick Step
Page 28: Master Humphrey's Set of Cotillons
Page 29: Cotillons continued
Page 30: Malbrouk, Money Musk, Allen's Reel
Page 31: The Minstrel's Return From the War, Wood Cutters
Page 32: The Bard's Legacy, Will You Come to the Bower, Absence
Page 33: Scale for the Semitoned or Perfect Accordion (with illustration)
Page 34: Miss Lucy-Long, Charley Over the Water, Hob or Knob (Or the Campbells Are Coming)
Page 35: Rory O'More, The Celebrated Opera Reel
Page 36: Wood Up Quick Step
Page 37: Elsler's Cracovienne, Such a Getting Up Stairs
Page 38: St. Patrick's Day In the Morning, Irish Washerwoman
Page 39: Old Dan Tucker, Soldier's Joy
Page 40: Contents

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