The accordion is an underexploited resource in western classical music. Like a number of "marginal" instruments it needed a champion before composers began to take it seriously: Andrés Segovia and the guitar is an obvious parallel. Although the concertina, first patented in 1829, could call on a repertoire of classical compositions from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, thanks chiefly to the efforts of Giulio Regondi (1822-72), it was not until the early twentieth century and the invention of the free-bass accordion "which much expanded the tonal and harmonic resources of the instrument" that the stimulus for a modern concert repertoire was perceived. The musician who picked up that challenge was the Dane Mogens Ellegaard (1935-95), who began to play the accordion when he was eight. In an interview in 1990 he looked back on the conditions with which he initially had to contend:
When I started, there was absolutely no accordion culture.
Unless you define accordion culture as "oom-pah-pah", or the Cuckoo Waltz that sort of thing. The free-bass accordion didn't exist! it was entirely unknown when I was a child. At that time the accordion world was living in splendid isolation. No contact at all with the outside musical world. Concerts for us consisted of Frosini, Deiro1 repertoire or folkloristic music. The possibilities of getting a formal, quality education [on accordion] were nil. The accordion was not accepted at any of the higher music institutions.... The possibilities for a soloist, for the best players, would be variety "night club" work, Saturday night shows.... This is what I was doing when I was very young.
In 1953, while still a student, Ellegaard acquired one of the first free-bass accordions in Denmark and within four years the light-music composer Vilfred Kjaer had written a concerto for him: a work of light character, but anyway a beginning. At that concert, also by coincidence, Ole Schmidt [1928-2010] was sitting in the audience. He didn't like Kjaer's composition, but liked the instrument, and told me this bluntly afterwards. So I challenged him to write something better. In 1958 he wrote Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro, Op. 20, for accordion and orchestra, which was the first really serious work for accordion written by a good composer. The search for a modern repertoire for the accordion was now underway, and over the next four decades Ellegaard's commissions built it up from scratch, with his students in turn commissioning further works. Of course, accordionists have also worked backwards, transcribing earlier keyboard works for their instrument which gives Baroque music in particular a new lease of life. This CD mines both the old and new veins in the modern accordion repertoire.