Guido Deiro
Article: "Looks Like A Cash Register And Sounds Worse"

“Looks Like a Cash Register and Sounds Worse”
The Deiro Brothers and the Rise of the Piano Accordion in American Culture 1908-1930

By Peter C. Muir

Guido and Pietro Deiro, photographs from the Guido and Pietro Deiro Archive at the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, dated c. 1913 and 1915 respectively.

The spectacular ascent of the piano accordion in American culture during the first half of the twentieth century is surely one of the most unexpected musical phenomena of the age. In contrast to its close relative, the button accordion, which had been imported into the country since the 1840’s, [1] and had consistently figured in the music-making of various ethnic groups throughout the nation, the piano accordion was practically unknown in America until 1910, over a half century after its first appearance in Austria in the 1850s." [2]

Yet within thirty years all that had changed, and the piano accordion was at the forefront of mainstream American culture. As a Washington newspaper noted in 1929, “the use of the piano-accordion is increasing by leaps and bounds.” It added:

Practically all the orchestras that are. . .on the radio are equipped with one of these instruments. Many of the hotel orchestras in New York City are similarly outfitted, and jazz bands and restaurant orchestras in the capitals of Europe are using one or more piano-key accordions. They are also employed by some steamship orchestras. [3]

Its popularity continued to grow rapidly with the onset of the Depression. In a feature on the instrument, The Etude remarked in 1931:

In a general survey, taken during the past winter, it was proven that, commercially, the piano accordion stands second to none other in popularity. While various standard instruments are either at a standstill in sales or on the downward trend, the piano accordion has been going ahead by leaps and bounds. [4]

Perhaps even more striking than the statement’s substance is its context: The Etude magazine, founded in 1883, was long the conservative voice of the American musical establishment. That the periodical chose to focus on an instrument of such humble origins, with a long association with popular entertainment, was a clear sign of its Eliza Doolittle-like acceptance into respectable musical society. [5] In short, by the beginning of the Depression, the piano accordion was about to come of age. In the words of one recent history of the accordion:

. . .it attained an unmistakable prominence in the mid-1930’s, and its popularity continued to accelerate through the 1950’s and even into the early 1960’s. . . This was the Golden Age of the Accordion. The accordion was KING, and it was just about everybody’s favorite musical instrument. [6]
How had this transformation taken place? How had an instrument so little known at the beginning of the century risen to such heights in less than three decades? Just what was its appeal to the public? Questions such as these are not easy to answer, as they involve a subtle interplay of social forces, historical circumstances, musical factors, and issues of reception. In addition, the early history of the accordion in America is still a seriously under-researched area, and secondary sources only hint at an outline of a rich narrative. Thus I hope that this study of the Deiro brothers–Guido (1886-1950) and Pietro (1888-1954), [7] pioneer piano accordionists in America, and generally regarded as among the most influential in establishing the instrument in this country–will shed some light on these issues. In this I have been fortunate in having been granted full access to the personal memorabilia of both brothers, the first scholar to have been so favored. I am consequently indebted both to Count Guido Roberto Deiro of Las Vegas (Guido’s son) and to Sandra Cattani of New York City (Pietro’s granddaughter) for their generosity in allowing me unlimited access to these unique archives. [8]

Both Guido and Pietro Deiro were born in Salto, near Turin, Italy, the former on 1 September 1886, the latter two years later on 28 August 1888. [9] The family were prominent merchants and landowners–the entire region being known as Deiro–and there was a hereditary title, Conte, dating back to at least the fifteenth century, which was inherited by Guido, and which has since passed to his son. [10] In c.1902, Guido left Italy, apparently because of his unwillingness to work in the family business and to escape an arranged marriage, [11] and played his way up to Metz (then part of Germany, now in France) where he worked initially in the mines, and later, after the arrival of an accordion from Italy, in the Café Shanton, where he played until 1906. He then served for approximately eighteen months in the Italian army, playing various brass instruments, before emigrating to Seattle in 1908. [12] Pietro, meanwhile, had joined his brother in Metz in 1905, working first as a mason and later as a miner. In 1907 he arrived in the U.S., and settled in Cle Elum, Washington, about sixty-five miles southeast of Seattle, where he moved the following year, shortly before his brother’s arrival.

With both brothers newly arrived in America, there is considerable disagreement as to what happened next. The controversy stems from a 1935 article, “Who Was First? The Deiro Brothers Controversy,” [13] and a follow-up a month later entitled “Historical Controversy,” [14] in which it was suggested that both brothers claimed to have been the first to play the piano accordion on stage in America, Pietro in 1907 at the Washington Square Theater, San Francisco, Guido in 1910 at the American Theater, also in San Francisco. This is a complex issue, and only tangential to my narrative. Yet, given the passions it still arouses in the accordion world even today, I believe it worthwhile to review the evidence and see what conclusions can be drawn.

The claims that Pietro made in the “Who Was First?” article–that he was the first to introduce the piano accordion on the American stage in 1907 [15] --were subtly, but importantly, modified in the follow-up article of September 1935, where, in a sworn affidavit, he stated that he was the first to introduce upon the American stage an American-built piano accordion. This concession is highly significant, as it suggests that Pietro tacitly acknowledged that his brother was the first to play the piano accordion on the American stage (as Guido explicitly claimed in the same article [16]), though with the specification that the instrument in question was foreign-built. Furthermore the date was now emended to September 1909, not 1907. [17]

Pietro’s modified claim is entirely consistent with Guido’s lucid account in “The Life Story of Guido Deiro and Pietro Deiro.” In that version, Guido’s debut with the piano accordion seems to have taken place late in 1908 (or possibly early 1909: the narrative does not specify) at the Jackson Saloon in Seattle, where he was employed, apparently for a few months. According to Guido’s account, the instrument he was using was foreign-built. Although Pietro was also performing regularly at the time–at the Idaho saloon, also in Seattle–he was still playing a button accordion, not a piano accordion. Guido’s appearance at the Jackson Saloon was, therefore, the first known use of the piano accordion on the American stage. [18]

In Fall 1909, Pietro, at Guido’s encouragement, acquired his first piano accordion, which was specially made for him by Guerrini of San Francisco. [19] Pietro claims in his affidavit that this was the first piano accordion manufactured in America, and there seems no evidence to refute that claim. According to Guido, it was while visiting San Francisco to take his piano accordion back to Guerrini for redesign, that Pietro teamed up with a singer-guitarist named Porcini, with whom he formed an act called “The Milan Duo,” which was booked for a week at the Washington Square Theatre, a small venue in the city’s Italian district. [20] Guido does not give a precise date for this, but September 1909, as Pietro maintained on his affidavit, would seem to fit in approximately with Guido’s account. Of course, Pietro was by now using his piano accordion in the act, so both Pietro’s and Guido’s accounts agree that Pietro was the first to play an American-built piano accordion on the American stage. [21]

Guido made two other claims. He maintained that he, Guido, was the first to use the instrument specifically in vaudeville, rather than just on the American stage. This would have been in May 1910, when he was booked with Porcini on the Orpheum circuit for three weeks in Utah and California, again under the name “The Milano Duo.” [22] There is nothing in Pietro’s affidavit to contradict this. Furthermore, a letter by Gregory Romanoff supporting Guido’s assertion, published in The Accordion World, states that he (Romanoff) saw the Guido Deiro/Porcini “Milano Duo” in 1910 in the Orpheum Theatre in Spokane, Washington. [23] Guido’s other claim was that he was the first to play a solo piano accordion act, at the American Theatre, San Francisco, on 15 June, 1910. [24] This timing would fit in approximately with the earliest review that I have been able to turn up of Guido’s act, which dates from December that year. [25]

In all, it seems possible to reconcile the apparently conflicting claims of the brothers: Guido was the first to play the piano accordion on the American stage, to present a solo piano-accordion act on the American stage; and to play piano accordion in mainstream vaudeville; Pietro, as his affidavit claimed, was the first to play an American-built piano accordion on the American stage.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding the start of their American careers, both brothers were working full-time in vaudeville by 1912 or so. [26] Already by 1913, Guido had made his way to the top, playing at New York’s Palace Theatre, regarded as the Mecca of American vaudeville. [27] Both brothers were earning high wages. An extant work contract from 1912 shows Guido earning $450 per week, a substantial amount for the day. [28] Anthony Galla-Rini, another important vaudeville accordionist, claimed that Guido’s weekly fee went as high as $600, making him the best-paid solo instrumentalist in all vaudeville. [29]

The substantial salaries they commanded suggest that the Deiros were highly successful in their field. Their success, in fact, continued right up to the Depression. Vaudeville had already began to decline in the 1920’s with the rise of mass-entertainment genres, especially radio and, later in the decade, talking pictures. Despite this, the hundred or so surviving contracts of both Pietro and Guido from the 1920’s show the brothers maintaining a high level of fees throughout the decade. [30] This is particularly impressive when one considers that the novelty value of the piano accordion had long worn off for audiences by this time, and that the brothers were now being booked on their individual merits and as celebrities in their own right (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Deiro Rag, issued in a piano arrangement by Herman E. Schultz in 1913, attests to Guido’s celebrity by this time. He was already a high-profile figure in vaudeville, and his Columbia records–including one of this composition–were selling well (Peter Muir Collection)

Vaudeville runs were usually a week or less, often just two or three days per town. Throughout their vaudeville careers, which lasted from the early teens to the late 1920’s, both brothers were, therefore, continually on the road. As an example, Pietro’s surviving contracts from 1922-1923 show him touring the following states and Canadian provinces: Virginia, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Minnesota, Manitoba, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, Ohio, and New York, all during a period of nine months. [31]

This was clearly a most strenuous life-style, far more so than “legitimate” theatre, where a play or musical comedy often had a run of several months or more, and could thus give at least temporary stability to touring life. However, continuous exposure to large audiences in all parts of the country meant that, along with many of their major contemporaries in vaudeville, the Deiros soon acquired national attention, and eventually fame.

Even more important for their national exposure was the Deiros’ recording careers. In May 1911, Columbia records released what seems to be the first piano accordion record ever made: a ten-inch double-sided disc (Columbia A-984) of Guido playing Eilenberg’s Sharpshooters’ March and Pestalozza’s Ciribiribin. The record was commercially successful, outselling almost everything else in the May catalog, [32] and with Ciribiribin, for example, receiving at least eight different issues. [33] Like many other popular entertainers of the day, the Deiros move into recording grew naturally out of their vaudeville careers. By establishing a national audience through their touring, successful vaudevillians paved the way for the record companies, building up a widespread following which helped to guarantee sales. Indeed, Columbia’s publicity for Guido’s second record–Columbia A-1003, the waltz My Treasure and Variety Polka--made specific reference to his vaudeville background, promoting him as “this astonishing young accordion player [who] has recently become one of the sensations of the big vaudeville circuits in this country.” [34] That Guido’s first record was released less than a year after his debut as a solo act in vaudeville (which, it will be recalled, he stated was in June 1910) is a testament to the impact that he made on the public. Similarly, the hype for Pietro’s first Victor releases (numbers 17486 and 35345) made pointed mention of his “tremendous success in vaudeville.” [35]

The sheer quantity of the Deiros’s records is impressive. The comprehensive discography which I have compiled, and which will appear in issue four of the Free-Reed Journal (2002), lists every known release, and every issue of every release recorded by the brothers. Between 1911 and 1925, Guido released 103 sides with Columbia, four with the independent label Harmony, and two Edison cylinders. Pietro’s career was even more extensive, with 152 sides in all, issued over nearly a quarter of a century. After starting with Columbia in 1913 (presumably through his brother’s success with that company), he was an exclusive Victor artist by 1914 (Victor being Columbia’s major rival in America), a fruitful association that continued till 1935. As an epilogue to his career, he recorded ten sides for Decca in 1937. It is particularly impressive that Pietro continued to record for Victor even during the collapse of the record industry during the early 1930’s. That his records managed to generate sales during Victor’s darkest hour is a major testament to his popularity.

Guido’s records also sold well. The in-house trade magazine The Columbia Record advised in 1912: “…his records are good sellers, and Columbia dealers who are not making the most of them are not making quite as much profit as they otherwise would.” [36] Guido’s success as a recording artist is further confirmed by a surviving contract with Columbia. [37] Dated 31 October, 1919, it is for thirty-two selections to be recorded and released over two years at $600 per selection, a rate of nearly $10,000 per year, a most impressive sum of money for the time.

Many of the brothers’ records were released not only in the mainstream American market, but also in the domestic ethnic market. This is a complex subject, an extended discussion of which is beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say that surviving copies of discs and catalogs show that Deiro records were released into numerous ethnic communities in the United States, including Italian-, Latin-, Dutch-, Polish-, Bohemian-, German-, Portuguese-, and Latvian-American. [38] Thus, through their vaudeville appearances and records, the brothers were by 1920 household names, known to literally millions of Americans throughout the country, not only in the cultural mainstream, but also in many ethnic communities in large cities as well. The question is begged as to the reasons for this widespread success. In assessing this, I will draw extensively on newspaper reviews of their vaudeville appearances, as well as other contemporary sources. Before I do so, however, some background is required.

Although the brothers were the first to use the piano accordion in vaudeville, they most certainly were not the first with an accordion of any type. For example, Madame Suzette Carsell (1875-?), a button accordionist whose family emigrated from Italy c.1883, earned the name the “mother of the accordion.” She was discovered by Tony Pastor, a legendary promoter, and appeared in 1900, aged twenty-five, as “the first lady accordionist on the American stage.” There followed a successful twenty-year career in vaudeville, whereupon she married and settled in Phoenix, where she opened her own accordion school in 1924. [39]

Another example was the Brooklyn-born, diatonic button-accordionist John Kimmel (1866-1942). He too had a successful career in vaudeville around the turn of the century, and also, as the Deiros were to do, recorded extensively. His version of the then popular song Bedelia, made for the Zon-o-phone Company in c.1903, is the first accordion record made in America. His repertoire centered round traditional music such as reels, marches, and jigs, and his apparent inability or unwillingness to tackle newer genres such as ragtime caused his career to lose momentum in the 1910’s. [40]

Far more influential than either of these two figures was the button accordionist Pietro Frosini (1885-1951), who is generally regarded as one of the major personalities of the accordion in America. Born in 1885 in Sicily, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1905, and began a highly successful and long-lasting career in vaudeville. [41] He started recording in 1909–two years before Guido Deiro–and went on to have an extremely diversified recording career with many companies that lasted well into the 1930’s. [42]

Suzette Carsell, Kimmel, and Frosini, then, were some of the more prominent examples of a small, but successful, clique of solo button accordionists who were well established in vaudeville by the time Guido Deiro debuted with his piano accordion on the Orpheum circuit in June 1910 (indeed it was the success of such artists that must have pointed the Deiros in the direction of a vaudeville career).

It is not surprising, then, that, as the Deiros’ unfamiliar instrument was quite different from that of the earlier accordionists, it was singled out for attention by the reviewers, and was clearly part of their appeal, at least initially. In December 1910, for example, a description of Guido’s act in Variety noted the “The man plays what seems to be a little different arrangement than the usual. It has a keyboard similar to that of the piano.” [43] Other articles went into considerable detail to report on the instrument, such as this reverential account in the Pittsburgh Post:

Signor Deiro is playing what he is pleased to call a piano accordeon. It is a device of his own construction, combining not only the tonal qualities of the piano and the accordeon but five distinct instruments, namely, the first violin, the flute, the ’cello, the bass and the piano accompaniment in addition to its accordeon qualities. It looks like a huge, old-fashioned glorified accordeon. With the right hand the musician plays the melody on a miniature piano keyboard and with the left, the second part, a combination of instruments which sings the accompaniment. In the hands of the master it is a wonderful instrument capable of playing the most involved symphonies and at the same time the simplest harmonies. [44]

The new instrument’s reception was not always sympathetic, however:

A fearful instrument that looks like a cash register, and sounds worse, produces gasps of pleasure at the Orpheum this week. It is called a piano accordion and its behavior is shameless. [45]

Likewise, during Guido’s tour of Australia in 1928, reviews again latched on to the instrument as much as the player, making it clear that, even by this late date when the piano accordion was fully accepted in America, it was all but unknown to the Australian public. For example, in an unidentified clipping in the GDA, the anonymous reviewer describes the instrument in such terms as to make it clear that this was his first encounter with it:

Deiro. . .presented a remarkable musical turn with his melo [sic] accordeon. The instrument, which looks like a miniature piano, was strapped across his chest, and Deiro extracted from it melody that had all the resonance of an organ at times. Chiming bells ringing out in a carillon of joy, or dying away in the distance, were simulated perfectly. . . [46]

Clearly, however, the Deiros’ act was far more than just another novelty musical item of the sort that littered vaudeville at the time, [47] and this was widely acknowledged in the reviews which, from the outset, paid great heed to aspects of their performance other than the novelty value. An important feature was their charisma and a great ability to play to the audience. Reviews of Guido, for example, refer to the charm he cast in his performances:

Deiro plays with a telling grace and charms with the humor he evolves in his facial expressions, and he is easily one of the most popular musicians seen here this season. [48]

More specific was a report in the San Antonio Light:

Temperamental, talented, he loses himself in his own melodies, becomes oblivious of his audience, one sees him apparently straining his hearing in an effort to hear the answering echo to his wonderful music, then with a laugh he comes back to earth. . . He’s a remarkable man, this Italian, and a real entertainer. [49]

The most vivid account I have seen about Guido, however, comes not from a newspaper, but from a 1954 letter preserved in the papers of Jim Walsh at the Library of Congress. Walsh was a pioneer researcher who wrote the only discographical study to date of the Deiro brothers, published in Hobbies magazine in 1954, and it was this article which had inspired the letter of reminiscence. [50] The correspondent, one Lowell Henderson, recalls being taken by his mother to see Guido perform in Pennsylvania c.1919 (the Hendersons knew of Guido’s playing through his Edison cylinder of the Italian Army March, which was played “over and over” at the family home), and Henderson’s description makes it clear just how skillfully Guido worked an audience:

Guido was quite short, but made up in stern commanding aspect what he lacked in height. Number after number he played on his great white accordion with never anything but a stern, almost ferocious countenance. The young country schoolteachers, especially the women, had never seen such rigidity of expression, and taking it as a challenge, tried as a group to make him smile. Toward the end of the concert they were winking and even waving hands, genteelly of course, in an effort to break down that face of stone. They succeeded, and as the final notes of the last number died away Guido made a big smile and the young and pretty school teachers squealed with delight. [51]

Pietro’s magnetism was, if anything, even more potent:

Pietro seems to cast a spell over his audiences with his uncanny mastery of his instrument breathless quiet reigning during his rendition of. . .the program. . . [52]

Another account refers to how Pietro “charmed his audiences until they sat spellbound. . .” [53] Elsewhere we read of “the happy smile, and that little stationary jig he does when he plays.” [54]

Carmen Carrozza, a protégé of Pietro’s in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and who saw him perform many times, commented:

He was very tall. You’d know when he came into a room: [he had] a big presence. It was the same on stage. He would come in with that bright smile, a very attractive-looking smile, and he would capture an audience. Just to start off he would do that [55] (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. “He would come in with that bright smile. . .and he would capture an audience.” Publicity photograph of Pietro Deiro taken c.1918 while on tour in Savannah, Georgia (Pietro Deiro Archive).

An essential part of the Deiros’ appeal with audiences was their choice of repertoire, for both brothers made a point of mixing light classics--flamboyant overtures in particular–with popular songs of the day. Many reviews cite this, often giving it as a reason for their success. For example, one critic suggested that “the manner in which [Pietro] quickly changed from the best strains of Italian opera to rag-time songs of the soldier boys, K’K’K’Katy and Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning made him a hit. . .” [56]

In a similar vein, another reviewer discussed the same issue in greater detail relating to Guido’s performance:

With inevitable verve he plays selections that make a universal appeal, and puts his equally inimitable personality into each piece. Whether playing Hawaiian airs or classical music, he gives an individualistic but thoroughly correct interpretation. One of his most notable feats is to shift suddenly from a soulful, pathetic theme to a carefree, frivolous, saucy one, thus causing a swift but not unpleasant change in the emotions of his hearers. A wonderful effect was produced at Wednesday night’s performance when he broke off in one of the most pathetic passages of “Madam Butterfly” and launched precipitately into the catchy chorus of “Pretty Baby.” [57]

This ability to meld the high with the low was a hallmark of their acts. It seems to have originated with Guido, who was, after all, the first of the brothers to work in vaudeville. It was also influential. In a 1940 interview, Pietro Frosini acknowledged how his own act changed when he realized what Guido was doing:

It was [Guido] bringing down the house with such tunes as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” that prompted Frosini to change his programs from a strict classical repertoire with such classical numbers as “Poet and Peasant” [58] “Misserere”[sic], from “Il Trovatore” [59] to an opening overture followed by a medley of Irish jigs and songs, and continuing with such popular numbers as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “Fiddle Up”, “Everybody’s Doing It”, etc. [60]

How come this mixture of genres was so successful? For one thing, such incongruity was entirely in accord with the philosophy (if that is not too pretentious a term) of vaudeville, where the emphasis was entertainment through diversity. As Wilmeth has expressed it, vaudeville “became a kind of American microcosm, integrating many separate parts into a whole.” [61] Second, and more importantly, although both brothers used classical items in their programs, these were all well known, popular numbers, taken mainly from familiar operas and operettas. Their act therefore had sophistication (reinforced by the Deiros’ immaculate appearance, about which many reviewers commented ) without posing a serious intellectual challenge, as a full-blown classical program would have done. It was, in other words, both entertaining and thoroughly respectable, a combination at the heart of mainstream vaudeville, which, by the 1910’s, had generally eschewed its seedy origins, and aimed to provide clean family entertainment for all.

One consequence of this is that the achievement of the Deiros went beyond just the mere popularization of the instrument: they also gave it both respectability and class. As one critic wrote of Guido in 1917:

What a change Deiro has wrought! He has made the accordeon one of the most musical of all instruments, one who can play it well is accepted as an artist, and there is no better evidence of discriminating taste than appreciation of music such as Deiro’s. [62]

Some reviewers expressed a similar view of Pietro. For example: “Pietro Deiro. . .through his masterful playing has raised the once little thought of piano-accordion to the dignified plane of the grand piano and cello. . . [63]

In fact, Pietro’s promotional material in the 1920’s quite deliberately reflected this image of respectability:

What Paderewski is to the piano, Spalding to the violin, and Hans Kronol to the cello, Pietro is to the piano accordeon. This man takes this instrument, which recently has attained a dignified standing among musicians, and gives it a human voice, a voice that is alive with joy, and dragged down to the depths of sorrow. [64]

Thus the appeal of the Deiros was a combination of interconnected factors: the novelty of their instrument; their stage presence; the wide range of their repertoire; their general immaculate presentation; and, of course, their technical command of the instrument, which, though not usually spoken about directly, was part of the general “classiness” of their act, and a feature to which their surviving records bear witness. [65]

With the success of their vaudeville act and their recordings, it was to be expected that the Deiros would not be able to monopolize the piano accordion market for long, since the entertainment industry tends to capitalize quickly on lucrative innovations. It is, then, surprising that serious competition to the brothers did not emerge until the 1920’s, a testament to just how pioneering their work really was. In terms of recordings, for example, there are almost no other American piano accordion discs made before 1920: the only ones cited by Jim Walsh in his survey of early records of accordion music is a disc made in 1918 for Victor records by Phil Baker (who was to become a major attraction in vaudeville in the 1920’s) [66] accompanying the violinist Ben Bernie, and a certain “Le Vaux,” who recorded some records of popular music for the minor Aeolian-Vocalion label around 1919. [67]

This is not to say that the piano accordion did not make an impact on the general culture in the teens. Two events clearly show that it did. One was the creation of the San Francisco Accordion Club in 1916, the first such organization of its type in the United States. [68] Its thirty-nine members ranged from top professionals (including the two Deiros, the Boudini brothers, and Pietro Frosini) to those otherwise unknown, and it is clear from surviving photographs that piano accordions heavily outnumbered the button variety, [69] no mean achievement considering that the instrument had been unknown just a few years before. The club organized both concerts and the famous accordion picnics, which became the focal event of the accordion community in the 1920’s and thereafter. In short, the San Francisco Accordion Club marks the beginning of the institutionalization of the accordion in America (see Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Guido Deiro with unidentified fellow piano accordionists on a parade c.1919, an event most probably associated with the San Francisco Accordion Club (Guido Deiro Archive)

The second event that marks the integration of the piano accordion into mainstream culture was the rise of the accordion publishing industry. To be sure, there was nothing new about publishing compositions by accordionists (as has already been seen in Fig. 1): the earliest example I have been able to find is Frosini’s Care Free March, published by A. Caldrone in piano arrangement in 1905, the year Frosini arrived in America (there is a photograph on the cover of the composer at age seventeen). [70] Yet such items remained a rarity till the late teens, however. A landmark was the publication of the Archivi Method for the Accordion (1917), apparently the first piano-accordion method produced in America. Archivi was an active member of the San Francisco Accordion Club, to whom the book is dedicated. [71]

Of greater long-term consequence was Pietro’s association with Octave Pagani, a music publisher based in Greenwich Village in New York City. [72] Pagani, himself an Italian immigrant, had published a considerable number of Italian-related material in piano arrangements, such as Becucci’s Tesoro mio (which, incidentally, Guido had recorded for Columbia and Edison in 1911). [73] In 1916, he published three of Pietro’s compositions: San Francisco Souvenir¸ Trieste Overture, and Bel giorni; and in 1919, he published Pietro’s Complete Method for the Piano Accordion, which became the standard “method” for the aspiring piano accordionist, with over sixty thousand copies sold nationwide by 1936. [74] Pagani’s business continued to grow throughout the 1920’s, as did Pietro’s association with him, as he provided dozens of arrangements as well as original compositions for publication. By 1930, Pagani had established himself as the largest publisher of accordion sheet music in the United States, with an undated catalogue in my collection from c.1935 boasting well over three hundred piano accordion items. [75]

These developments–the rise of piano accordion institutions such as the San Francisco Accordion Club and accordion publishing–combined with the Deiros’s activities on record and in vaudeville, meant that by 1920 or so the piano accordion had already gained a substantial foothold in mainstream society.

During the 1920’s, the instrument gained popularity at an ever-increasing rate. And though a detailed consideration of the various factors that contributed to this is beyond the scope of this paper (indeed the topic begs for its own separate study), I will discuss some of them briefly.

First, by the middle of the decade, there had emerged a considerable number of reputable piano accordionists touring the vaudeville circuit and making recordings. [76]

Second, the appearance of radio further boosted the popularity and acceptance of the instrument. [77] The arrival of talking pictures–the other innovation of mass-entertainment to appear in the 1920’s–though too late to have had much impact on promoting the piano accordion before the Depression, did have considerable impact during the 1930’s. An important exception in the pre-Depression period is a twelve-minute film “Guido Deiro, The World’s Foremost Piano-Accordionist,” released in 1929 by the Vitaphone Corporation: this would appear to be the first sound movie to feature accordion. [78]

Third, the inclusion of the piano accordion in mainstream dance and jazz bands was a vital step in making the instrument familiar to the general public. [79] This seems to have become fashionable around 1920. Thus a group called The Palace Trio, with Mario Perry on piano accordion—together with alto saxophone and piano--recorded prolifically during the period 1919-21, with a repertoire exclusively devoted to hit songs of the day. [80] The rise of the piano accordion in this setting is remarkably similar to that of the saxophone, which, like the accordion, lay in comparative obscurity until it started to become popular as a novelty instrument in vaudeville in the 1910’s. From there, it moved into dance bands, at around exactly the same time as the accordion, c.1920. [81] As such, it became a mainstream instrument, and, like the saxophone, entered a golden age of popularity in the 1930’s (see Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. By 1920, the piano accordion was starting to become a regular feature of jazz and dance bands. Mario Perry--born to Italian parents on June 19, 1900--performed as one of the violinists in the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, but he also frequently doubled on accordion, as seen in this undated photograph. In addition, he played in the "Palace Trio" and made several records for various companies such as Victor, Brunswick, Pathé and others. Perry died in a car accident in 1929. [82]

While I do not claim that my discussion of the various factors that led to the rise of the piano accordion in the 1910’s and 1920’s is at all comprehensive, I hope that it gives at least a flavor of some of the major developments. The question at issue is how important the Deiros were in this whole process.

I would suggest that the evidence that I have presented here shows that their role in the assimilation of the piano accordion into American culture was central: they were, after all, its unchallenged voice in the 1910’s, and their stature in vaudeville and presence on recordings was little diminished through the 1920’s. There is certainly no-one else in period who can compete with their collective achievement.

The fate of the Deiros after the 1920’s, while incidental to my narrative, at the same time makes for a poignant coda to it. Whereas before the Depression, the brothers’ careers were in many ways parallel (in terms of prominence in vaudeville and on record), after the Depression they diverged sharply.

Pietro strongly consolidated his position in American culture during the 1930’s in diverse ways: by developing his own publishing firm, Pietro Deiro Publications; [83] by appearing as a regular columnist for general music publications like Etude and Metronome; by featuring prominently in the main accordion journals of the 1930’s and 1940’s, The Accordion World and Accordion News; by establishing a chain of accordion schools on the East Coast (with headquarters in Greenwich Village, New York); and by running his own radio show. Essential to this was his classicizing of the accordion. We have already seen how during the 1920’s Pietro’s publicity compared him to classical virtuosi of other instruments such as Paderewski. [84] This image was intensively cultivated by Pietro in his writings, which frequently stressed the potential of the instrument for classical music, [85] as well as his other professional activities in the 1930’s and 1940’s particularly his own compositions for piano accordion such as his three concertos and the set of Six Concert Etudes. Perhaps Pietro’s ultimate venture in this regard was his set of Atonal Studies, [86] which, as the name suggests, was indeed a far cry from the ragtime, popular, and light classical fare with which he had acquired his initial fame in the 1910’s.

In short, during the 1930’s, riding on the crest of the wave of the instrument’s popularity, Pietro effectively became the premier accordionist in America, a sort of legendary father-figure whose status was embodied by his nickname “The Daddy of the Accordion,” which he carefully cultivated from early in the decade.

Guido’s fate was far less fortunate. [87] He returned from a tour of England early in 1930, [88] to find he had lost heavily in the Wall Street crash. Even worse, the collapse of Vaudeville and the recording industry during the Depression deprived him of his two main sources of income. He was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to make the transition from theatre to concert hall, as other vaudeville accordionists had done, most notably his brother; nor did he succeed in establishing a presence on radio. Instead, he ran a small chain of schools on the West Coast, producing Guido Deiro’s Royal Method for Piano Accordion [89] as part of this pedagogical drive, the equivalent of Pietro’s Complete Method published by Pagani seventeen years earlier. [90] In addition he continued to perform, though less often as the years went by, and his failing career, boosted only by walk-on parts in some Hollywood films of the 1930’s, was compounded by problems in his personal life (he was married four times, one of his wives being Mae West, whom he divorced in 1920[91]). His health failed in the 1940’s, and he died alone and almost penniless in 1950 after a six-month stay at the Loma Linda Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in San Bernardino, California. [92]

Guido’s precipitous decline after 1930, mirrored by his brother’s simultaneous ascendancy in the accordion world, has had an unfortunate effect on his posthumous reputation, with Guido remaining by far the lesser known of the two. In terms of the history of the accordion in America after 1930, this is fair enough. If, however, our focus is on the initial popularization of the instrument before the Depression, Guido’s role, particularly in the early years, was at least as important as his brother’s, as I have attempted to show here: indeed, in many ways, he was the pioneer of the two, on record, in motion pictures, and in vaudeville. What had started inconspicuously with Guido’s performance at the Jackson Saloon in Seattle in 1908 slowly gathered momentum for the next two decades, until by the time of the Depression it had become an unstoppable force. It was thus that the “Golden Age of the Accordion” finally arrived.

End Notes

1 Jared Snyder, “Leadbelly and is Windjammer: Examining the African American Button Accordion Tradition,” American Music 12 (1994): 150.

2 Though the invention of the piano accordion is sometimes credited to the Parisian manufacturer M. Busson in 1855, Matthaeus Bauer had already exhibited his “Clavierharmonika” at a Vienese trade fair in 1854; see Helmi Strahl Harrington “Accordion,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., ed. Stanley Sadie and John Tyrell (London: Macmillan, 2001), I, 61.

In addition, the accordion was first patented by Cyrill Demian and his sons in Vienna in 1829, but earlier instruments existed, such as the historic accordion built by Friedrich LÖHNER (1737-1816) of Nürnberg, Germany. (See

3 “Haskell’s Answers,” Washington DC Star, 13 November, 1929.

4 “The Interesting Piano Accordion: An Interview with Pietro Deiro, secured by El Vera Collins,” The Etude, 49 (August 1931), 550.

5 In fact, this was not the first time that The Etude had dealt with the instrument. The article had been preceded by two others the year before, “The Centenary of the Accordion,” by Joseph Russell (The Etude, 48 [January 1930], 18), and “The Story of the Accordion,” by Frederic A. Tedesco (The Etude, 48 [December, 1930], 860, 905). Tedesco had confidentially predicted that “In years to come the piano-accordion will probably become a household instrument, just as the violin and the piano now are. In that period of the Utopian accordion it will be no unusual sight to see or hear this instrument in every home, just as the radio or pianola” (p.905). To understand the full significance of this series of articles (and there were many others to follow through the 1930’s), we should note that The Etude had a long tradition of doing its best to downplay or ignore new developments, particularly those in popular music, until their importance made it impossible not to take the subject seriously. For example, it was a full seven years after the appearance of jazz on the mainstream American scene (an event usually dated to the release of the first recordings by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917), that the magazine chose to devote serious attention to what it termed “The Jazz Problem” (August and September, 1924).

6 Ronald Flynn, Edwin Davison, and Edward Chavez, The Golden Age of the Accordion (Schertz, TX: Flynn Publications, 1990), xviii.

7 Throughout their careers, Pietro Deiro was known simply as “Pietro,” Guido Deiro as “Deiro.” I shall, however, refer to them by their first names to avoid confusion.

8 Throughout this paper, I refer to the Pietro Deiro Archives as PDA, and to the Guido Deiro Archives as GDA. I should add that, as the archives are not catalogued at the present time, my references cannot be more specific.

9 There are various general biographical sources for the Deiros, none of them definitive. In drawing up this account of their early lives and careers, I have extracted from the following secondary sources: Flynn, Dason, and Chavez, The Golden Age of the Accordion, 7-8 and 16-18; Toni Charuhas, The Accordion (New York: Accordion Music Publishing, 1955), 50-54; and François Billard and Didier Roussin, Histoires de l’Accordéon (Castelnau-le-Nez: Climats, 1991), 200-1. Most of the detail here, however, is taken from primary sources, including contemporary newspaper accounts, in particular two articles: Pietro Deiro “Telling on Guido Deiro,” The Metronome, November 1933, 38-39, 55; and “The Life Story of Guido and Pietro Deiro,” an unattributed transcript of a published article, probably from the mid-1930’s, in GDA. The latter is a particularly detailed and cogent account of Guido’s life and the early professional career of both brothers. In addition, I have drawn where appropriate upon taped upon discussions with Guido’s son, Count Deiro, whose father spoke extensively to him in his last years about his early career, and whom I interviewed in Las Vegas on 11 January 2001.

10 Interview with Count Deiro, 11 January 2001. His father, it seems, rarely used the title in his lifetime, especially in his professional activities. The only exception I have found is an article in the Columbus Ledger (19 March 1914), about Deiro’s relationship with Mae West: “If memory serves, Miss West introduced Deiro, who was visiting here that week, as her fiancé, ‘Count Guido,’ Guido being his first name. It is refreshing to find that “he ain’t no such animal’. ”

11 Interview with Count Deiro, 11 January 2001.

12 In an unattributed article in a scrapbook in GDA, there is a cutting from an unnamed newspaper from Des Moines, Iowa, probably c.1915, entitled “Guido Deiro Celebrated Piano Accordionist,” which gives a specific reason for his trip to the U.S.: “On gaining his majority, Deiro became associated with a firm which manufactured musical instruments, chief among which were piano accordeons. In the employ of this concern he traveled well over Europe–so well that he learned to speak the French and German languages-demonstrating and selling his wares to such an advantage that he was sent to Seattle, Wash., two years ago to attend the Alaskan expedition.” While this account is certainly plausible, it seems suspicious that Guido never mentioned it in the two authoritative articles dealing with his life from the 1930’s, “Telling on Guido Deiro,” and “The Life Story of Guido Deiro and Pietro Deiro” (see note 9).

13 Accordion News, August, 1935, 4-7.

14 Accordion News, September 1935, 14-15.

15 “Who Was First?” 4.

16 “Historical Controversy,” 15. He does not specify the American stage, but that is implied by context.

17 “Historical Controversy,” 14. It is not hard to work out a reason for Pietro’s modifications. His initial claims (that he was the first to play piano accordion on the American stage) as they appear in the “Who was First?” article provoked a storm of protest (two well-known figures in the accordion world, Santo Santucci and Andy Rizzo, had, in the same article, openly attacked Pietro’s assertions). As a result, he modified his claims, and changed the 1907 date, which had possibly been originally exaggerated for its publicity value.

18 This is in apparent contradiction to the “Who was First?” article, where it is stated that Guido was first in the American Theatre, not the Jackson Saloon. The claim was not made by Guido himself, however, but by Santo Santucci (p.4). In the follow-up article, “Historical Controversy,” where there is a direct statement by Guido, he does not name the venue (p.15). Thus, in terms of Guido’s actual statements, as opposed to the words of his supporters, there is no contradiction in the notion that the debut took place in the Jackson Saloon.

19 “The Life Story,” 4-5.

20 “The Life Story,” 5.

21 “The Life Story,” 6. This argument is presumably based on the fact the Washington Square Theatre in which Pietro played was technically not a vaudeville theatre as it was independent, not part of a circuit. While this has validity, it could also be maintained that the Washington Square Theatre was a vaudeville according to a looser definition of the term, one that would embrace independent variety theatres, including ethnic ones (the theatre was in the Italian quarter). A detailed discussion of this point is beyond the scope of this paper. As far as I am aware, Pietro did not dispute Guido’s claim to be the first in vaudeville, which means that he, like Guido, accepted the term in its more restricted sense, which would exclude the Washington Square Theatre.

22 “The Life Story,” 6. The Orpheum was one of the largest vaudeville circuits of the day.

23 “Historical Controversy,” 15.

24 “The Life Story,” 6 (and see also, “Who Was First?” 5, where Andy Rizzo reported a formal dinner speech by Guido in which the same claim was made). We should remember that Pietro’s two other acts had both been duos, not solos: first with Porcini and then with Guido.

25 “Deiro. Accordeonist,” Variety, 10 December 1910.

26 I do not have clear information about just when Pietro started in vaudeville. Pietro’s recording career commenced in January 1913 (Row Row Row, which was released on Columbia A-1323: see the Deiros’s Discography in Free-Reed Journal, 4 [2002]), and he was probably established in vaudeville for at least some months before that. Thus, his vaudeville career must have started during the summer of 1912, or before then, quite possibly in 1911.

27 He played there the week beginning April 21st. See, for example, “At the Palace New York Week of April 21,” New York Star, 19 April 1913. Beneath a large photograph of him, Guido is described as “The First Piano Accordionist to Play the New York Palace.”

28 Booked on the Beth Levey vaudeville circuit, the contract was between Guido and the Hippodrome Theatre of San Jose, California, for one week commencing 10 September 1912. It is preserved at the back of one of the two scrapbooks in GDA.

29 Ove Hahn, Anthony Galla-Rini: On his Life and the Accordion (Stockholm: Nils Fläcke Musik, 1986), 40-41. Top singers and comedians sometimes earned considerably more than this, however. Thus, Lillian Russell, was making as much as $3000 a week at roughly the same date; see Don B. Wilmeth, Variety Entertainment and Outdoor Amusements, (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982), 132.

30 With both brothers, the rate was $400-450 per week, or sometimes less in the case of Pietro. The contracts are in GDA and PDA. Only three of Guido’s contracts survive, all from 1921-1922, this in contrast with ninety-eight of Pietro’s, from the period August 1922-April 1928.

31 Between 28 August 1922 (Lyric Theatre, Richmond, Virginia) and 7 May 1923 (Keith’s Theatre, Syracuse, New York). Contracts in PDA.

31 Columbia Domestic Record Catalog, July 1911, 7.

33 See the discography in Free Reed Journal 4.

34 Columbia Domestic Record Catalog, July 1911, 7.

35 Victor Domestic Records, January 1914.

36 “Deiro–the Accordion Star,” The Columbia Record 10/8 (1912): 11.

37 In GDA.

38 For further exploration of this subject, see Peter C. Muir, “The Italian and Other Ethnic Issues of the Deiro Brothers, 1911-1933,” unpublished paper read at the conference “The Accordion as an Icon of Italian American Culture,” Third Annual Symposium of the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, 23 March 2001.

39 “More of Yesteryears,” The Accordion World, August 1940, 8.

40 See “John J. Kimmel,” in The Encyclopedia of Popular American Recording Pioneers (Granite Bay: Victrola and 78 Journal Press, 1999); also, Billard and Roussin, Histoires de l’Accordéon, 199.

41 For biographical sketch, see Billard and Roussin, Histoires de l’Accordéon, 199-200.

42 Frosini’s recording career is covered by Jim Walsh, “Wizard of the Accordion: Pietro Frosini,” Hobbies, October, 1954, 24-5, 28, 37 and November, 1954, 26-28.

43 “Deiro. Accordionist,” Variety, 10 December 1910.

44 “Plays Unique Instrument,” Pittsburgh Post, 11 May 1911. I should add that the spurious claim to have designed the accordion was made by both brothers in their early vaudeville career, part of the “puff” that accompanied their act.

45 “Piano-Accordeon Does Execution,” Minneapolis Journal, 16 December 1912. However, the reviewer explicitly states that, in condemning both the instrument and the performer himself, he was in a minority: “Applause follows each atrocity. [Guido] Deiro is a great success.”

46 The clipping, headed “The Regent Theatre–An Attractive Program,” is in one of the two scrapbooks in GDA.

47 For a discussion of novelty musical acts in vaudeville, see Joe Laurie, Jr.,Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace (New York: Henry Holt, 1953), 63-74.

48 “Piano-Accordionist at B.F. Keith’s,” Louisville Times, 25 January 1912.

49 “At the Majestic,” San Antonio Light, 8 September 1914.

50 Walsh, “Wizards of the Piano-Accordion Guido and Pietro Deiro,” Hobbies, August, 1954, 26-28; & September 1954, 26-28, 30, 33, 35.

51 Jim Walsh Papers, Library of Congress, Recordings Division.

52 Unidentified newspaper clipping from Jackson, Florida, newspaper c.1920 in PDA.

53 Unidentified newspaper clipping from Elmira, New York, newspaper c. 1920 in PDA.

54 “Pietro Heads Vaudeville Bill at the Lyric Well Worth Witnessing,” The Birmingham News, 11 November 1916.

55 Interview with the author, 6 March 1999.

56 “Pietro Charms Big Audiences with his Wonderful Accordion,” clipping from unidentified Connecticut newspaper, c.1919, in PDA. The two songs mentioned were both First World War hits.

57 “Deiro Tops Majestic Bill,” San Antonio Light, 8 March 1917. Pretty Baby, by Tony Jackson, Egbert van Alstyne, and Gus Kahn had come out the previous year.

58 Poet and Peasant Overture by Suppé.

59 Il Miserere from Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

60 These items were popular ragtime songs of the 1910’s. “Building Yesterday into Today,” The Accordion World, May 1940, 6.

61 Wilmeth, Variety Entertainment and Outdoor Amusements, 232. As an example of this, a bill on which Guido appeared in Baltimore in January 1911 also included a dog act called Master Gabriel & Co.; another animal act, Anita Diaz’s monkeys; Cunningham and Marion, acrobats and comedians; a certain Mr. and Mrs. Allison in the playlet Minnie from Minnesota; a novelty act, Hal Merritt who simultaneously drew pictures and told jokes; and Crouch & Welsh, acrobats (“Deiro, a Musician and Master Gabriel the Features,” Baltimore Courier, 24 January 1911).

62 “Deiro Tops Majestic Bill,” San Antonio Light, 8 March 1917.

63 “The Week at Keith’s: John Steel and Pietro,” unidentified cutting from Syracuse, New York, newspaper, 1922, in PDA.

64 “Pietro,” B.F. Keith’s Theatre News, Washington D.C., 5 December, 1921, 5.

65 The technical prowess was taken for granted andwas sometimes a source of rivalry between the two. For example, I found the following article in Variety (19 January 1917), entitled “Deiro’s Going to Sue”: “Deiro, the accordeonist, has instructed his attorney to commence a suitasking $25,000 damages against the Victor Talking Machine Co., for the publication of a letter, printed in an advertisement placed in Variety by his brother, Pietro, in which the Victor people said they had engaged Pierot [sic] to make records for them when they compared his test records with those made by Deiro, claiming the Deiro records were not accurate. Deiro claims to have sufficient proof to offset this statement and will seek damages in the ground his reputation has been impaired.” As far as I am aware, the threatened court action never materialized.

66 “Phil Baker,” in Anthony Slide, The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994).

67 Walsh, “Wizards of the Piano-Accordion Guido and Pietro Deiro,” Hobbies, September 1954, 28, 30. There was, however, a growing presence of button accordionists on records in the later teens. Pietro Frosini, for example, had been active throughout the decade, and towards its end he was joined by the Marconi Brothers (Victor, Valentino, and Ernesto, who, incidentally, recorded one track with Pietro for Victor in 1916), Phil and Dan Boudini, and other lesser performers.

68 Billard and Roussin, Histoires de l’Accordéon, 204-5.

69 See, for example, Flynn, Davison, and Chavez, The Golden Age of the Accordion, xxii.

70 The only copy I know of is in the Library of Congress, Music Division (M28F 147776).

71 Flynn, Davison, and Chavez, The Golden Age of the Accordion, 5.

72 For a biography, see “Octave Pagani,” The Accordion World, November, 1936, 8.

73 Columbia 1003-A and Edison 743; see Deiro discography in Free-Reed Journal 4.

74 “Octave Pagani,” 8.

75 Guido did not fare so well with Pagani. The same catalogue lists only two works by him, the tango Lido (7443) and I Moschettieri (7444).

76 Some of the more prominent piano accordionists of the 1920’s are Phil Baker, Anthony Galla-Rini (who, while already playing the piano-accordion on stage in the 1910’s, neither worked as a solo act nor recorded till the 1920’s), Charles Magnante, and Mario Perry (the accordionist in the Paul Whiteman band who recorded solo sides for Victor in the late 1920’s; Perry was killed in a car-crash in 1929).

77 The impact of radio on the piano accordion in the 1920’s is a woefully underresearched topic. It is clear there was much activity in this regard, but it has never been systematically documented.

78 Vitaphone 2968, which languished in obscurity for many years, is, at the time of writing, undergoing restoration. It will, when reissued, give a unique insight into Guido as a performer. We can only regret that Pietro left no such visual legacy.

79 The development is outlined in Billard and Roussin, Histoires de l’Accordéon, 318-19.

80 For a list of their recordings, see Brian Rust, The American Dance Band Discography 1917-1942, 2 Vols. New York: Arlington House, 1975, 1356-59.

81 For instance, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the quintet that is generally regarded as having made the first jazz recording (in 1917), included a saxophone in all its recordings from 1920 until it broke up in 1923

82 Accordionist Mario Perry as soloist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra (undated photo from The Whiteman Archives, Stetson Hall, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 01267). Perry was actually one of the violinists in the orchestra, but he frequently doubled on accordion. Out of 36 sound recording entries in the Library of Congress catalog, he is credited as playing violin AND accordion in 25 entries. He played violin only in the other 11 recordings.

83 The company was run after Pietro’s death by his son Pietro Deiro Jr. (1915-1999); the catalog is currently owned and run by Ernest Deffner.

84 See p.????? above.

85 An example of such writing: “The most ardent lover of classical music can express himself through the medium of the accordion. . . The classical selections which have been adapted for the accordion do not suffer through being rearranged. . . Indeed they are often enhanced” (“The Interesting Piano-Accordion,” The Etude, 49 [August 1931], 550).

86 Atonal Studies: Compositions in Atonality and the Modern Form. New York: Accordion Music Publishing Company, 1949. The studies were written with Alfred d’Auberge, a classical violinist, who had been associated with Deiro from the early 1930’s and had even recorded with him for Victor in 1934. While Pietro’s contributions are not fully atonal in the Schoenbergian sense, they nevertheless show a sophisticated, and quite personal, absorption of certain traits of musical modernism such as bimodality (Grecism) and clusters (Tone-Clusters). This approach was untypical for Pietro, whose concert (and lighter) works are in generally in a muc more conventional style.

87 Except where I have indicated otherwise, the information about Guido’s life after 1930 have been provided by his son, Count Deiro, in my interview with him (11 January 2001), and through subsequent personal communications. In general, much information about his later career is documented in GDA.

88 The dates are to be deduced from visa stamps in Guido’s passport in GDA: he apparently arrived in England on 5 September 1929; on 5 December, the visa was extended to 28 Februrary 1930.

89 New York: Mills Music, 1936.

90 See above, p.?????

91 The divorce certificate is in GDA. Interestingly, West’s marriage to Guido has never been recognized in her biographies. See, for example, George Eells and Stanley Musgrove, Mae West: A Biography (New York: William Morrow, 1982), 53-55, which, basing their version of events on West’s unreliable memoires Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1959), acknowledges Guido as a lover, but not a husband.

92 Guido’s will, preserved in GDA, was written a few months months before his death on hospital notepaper. It leaves his assets–two accordions, memorabilia, and just $400 (the equilvalent of less than a week’s wage when his vaudevile career was at its height)--to his son.

This article was reprinted from The Free-Reed Journal, Volume 3 (2001) published by Pendragon Press for The Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments (CSFRI), a member of The Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation of The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, with the permission of Editor Allan W. Atlas and Author Peter C. Muir. For more information about The Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments, visit its website at

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