Many people don't know that there was a time when the bandoneón was very popular in Europe, especially in Germany. We speak of a period from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Part of the success of the bandoneón in its own "homeland" was due to a mirror effect of tango's great popularity in Argentina (and Europe as well), but the bandoneón was also considered as a genuinely German "popular" instrument in a similar way to the accordion in Italy. It was a golden age for the bandoneón, with musical and cultural exchanges between the Old and the New Continent (as we'll see). On that shining European bandoneón scenery there was a light that shone in a brighter way: that of Walther Porschmann, the forgotten bandoneón virtuoso.
The German bandoneón virtuoso
Think about the great bandoneón virtuosos of the past:
the great Roberto di Filippo immediately comes to your mind,
as well as Alejandro Barletta, Leopoldo Federico, Astor Piazzolla and several others. All great
All from Argentina.
Not many European virtuosos from the past are mentioned. The most obvious thought would be this: there were none. Instead, apparently there was one, and it seems that it was also very important and well known at the time. Little is known about him, and the little information you can find is almost all in German. For example, I have never been able to find a picture of him.
What is known about Walther Porschmann
In this article, I've published all the information I was able to find.
Probably other information is closed in some archive of old magazines in Germany.
In this sense, I would like to invite all those who have information to share: it will be published in this article to enrich and deepen Porschmann's work and memory.
Porschmann and the bandoneón 144
Walther Porschmann played bandoneón 144, also called Einheitsbandonion,
a bandoneón version created in 1924 to unify all tens
of keyboards then present. Bandoneón 144 is currently played in some
parts of Germany. It is also the bandoneon that I play: whoever reads this blog should have understood
by now that I play the same type of bandoneón, and in fact it is thanks to this
that I discovered Walther Porschmann.
It is said that Porschmann was not only a virtuoso of 144, but that he also contributed significantly to the design of this new (and in many ways more reasonable) keyboard layout. But his contribution to the world of bandoneón is not limited to 144: let's see why.
Porschmann's contribution to tango
It seems that Porschmann contributed to giving to the bandoneón that sound that makes it so unmistakable and of fundamental importance to tango. I quote and translate from this article:
During a business trip to Buenos Aires in 1925, a well-known German teacher and bandoneón player of the time, Walter Pörschmann from Leipzig, traveling representative of Alfred Arnold, told to the company that there were already thousands of bandoneonists in the Argentine capital. Since before the First World War the bandoneons were imported from Germany. They were much appreciated and soon spread to the interior of Argentina and subsequently in neighboring countries.
Accordions were initially introduced, but then these were totally replaced by the bandoneón, and Pörschmann suggested Alfred Arnold not to tune them with the sweet accordion and concertina timbre, but with the drier, raucous and unmistakable concert tone which characterizes the fueye (as it was nicknamed in the Río de la Plata).
Speaking of that direct experience with Argentine tango Porschmann said:
Ein Tango ohne Bandonion ist hier überhaupt undenkbar. Man muss einmal diese argentinischen Spieler gehört haben und dann begreift man, was Tango spielen bedeutet. Denn beim Tango sind alle Instrumente zur Unterstützung des Bandonion da.
TRANSLATION: A tango without bandonion here is unthinkable. You must hear these Argentine bandoneonists at least once and then you will understand what tango is. Because in tango all the other instruments are there to support the bandonion.
For the record: Porschmann used the term bandonion, which is the name by which the instrument was (and is) known in Germany, while the most common bandoneón we all use was given to it in the Rio de la Plata context.
This is the translation from German to English of Porschmann's biography according to
Walter Pörschmann (Leipzig, 16-03-1903; † 31-07-1959 Beerfelden, Odenwald) was a German bandoneonist and composer during the 1920s till the 1950s.
At the age of nine Walter Pörschmann received his first bandoneón lessons from his father, the bandoneón teacher and music dealer Otto Pörschmann († 1931), and he also studied piano and music theory. At the age of 16 he did his first public appearance as a soloist.
Pörschmann made a career as a composer and arranger, as well as a virtuoso of the bandoneón. In 1924, at the age of 21, he was involved in designing the standard 144-tone bandoneón. In 1925 he toured Argentina with the tango band of Juan Llossas. Later he toured in Germany and in many other European countries as a member of major orchestras. In 1927 he opened a music shop in Berlin and was successful in various dance orchestras, particularly with tango and polka.
In 1931 he took over his parents' musical business in Leipzig.
From 1933 onwards, Pörschmann returned to Berlin and worked as a bandoneón teacher at the
During the Third Reich he also devoted himself more and more to the accordion. In 1939 Pörschmann
was sent to the front to keep the morale of the troops high. After the end of the war
he continued his career, first in Leipzig then in Frankfurt. As from 1957, he regularly appeared
on the Hessian Radio TV program.
Walter Pörschmann died at the age of 56 during a tour.
His compositions and arrangements, including teaching and study works, still have their admirers today, who indisputably praise him as the greatest German bandoneonist. However, Walter Pörschmann is no longer present in the public consciousness.
It is difficult to accurately delineate the figure of Porschmann based on the few available sources,
however it is evident that he saw in
bandoneón the possibility of a solo instrument par excellence
and in this sense I think he was ahead of the times.
I again invite all those who have material on Walther Porschmann to share it: photos, anecdotes, documents, recordings. In this way, we'll ensure that the greatest German bandoneonist of the past doesn't remain forgotten.
- Te llamaremos bandoneón, Mundo Clasico
- Heimat des Bandoneons: Die Geschichte von Heinrich Band und seinem Instrument, Youtube
- Walther Porschmann's biography, Wikipedia
- Werke von und uber Walther Porschmann, online archive
March 23rd, 2021
Mr. Heeju Oh suggests a book that contains the biography of Walther Porschmann. The title is Brennpunkte III - Aufsätze, Gespräche, Meinungen und Sachinformationen zum Themenbereich Akkordeon. It's in German and can be purchased here.
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