History of the Accordion Musette

The musette accordion ? Everyone knows...or thinks they do?

We will not present again this wonderful musical instrument that is theAccordion. You will find several hundred different accordion models on this site, but what does"Musette" mean?



The Musette is the name that the ancients gave to the Cabrette.

Here is an extract from the excellent book"Histoires de l'Accordéon" by François Billard and Didier Roussin on this subject:

"The word "musette" dates back to the 13th century. It designates a rather sophisticated type of bagpipe, comprising a cloth bag [or goatskin] filled with air, operated by the musician's left arm and extended by one or more pipes pierced with a few holes which act as a drone and whose sound is produced by fluttering reeds... The principle of its operation can be found in our countryside, in particular in the Limousin region, in the bagpipes.

[...] In the 19th century, Cabrettes were made from the skins of young goats (cabris). It was this Cabrette that became the instrument of the first musette balls."

The Auvergnats of Paris then added a bellows operated by the right arm to feed the goatskin bag placed under the left arm.


Le Bal Musette

At the very beginning of the 19th century, the Auvergne community in Paris constituted an important wave of immigration to the capital, particularly in the 11th arrondissement. There were what were then called"family balls" which were later called"musette balls" because they danced to the sound of the "Musette" or "Cabrette" which could also be played alongside the hurdy-gurdy or the violin.

Shortly before 1900, Italian immigrants arrived in their turn in large numbers. They brought with them their favourite instrument: The Accordion. Thus the Accordion began to be heard in the "bals musette". A certain rivalry continued for some time between the "Musette" and the Accordion, between the Auvergnats and the Italians. The meeting ofAntoine Bouscatel "the King of the Cabrette" and Charles Péguri, virtuoso accordionist and accordion maker symbolised the reconciliation of the two instruments. The marriage of Bouscatel's daughter to Charles sealed the rapprochement of the two communities.

The diatonic accordion first accompanied the cabrette. The Auvergnats then took up the Accordion and the Italians adopted the Auvergnat repertoire.

From the 1930s onwards, the Accordion had made great technical progress. The chromatic had succeeded the diatonic. The chromatic accordion allowed the harmonization of traditional music. It could now play solo. The Cabrette gradually disappeared from the bal musette.


Le Son Musette

The sound of the Accordion, which today is called "musette", uses 3 voices generating a strong tremolo. Each voice corresponds to a blade for each note. A reference voice is tuned "just" according to a chosen pitch. The two other voices are tuned either higher for the "top" voice or lower for the "bottom" voice. The chosen frequency difference can vary from +/-5 hertz to +/-9 hertz with the reference voice, i.e. a difference between the top voice and the bottom voice that can go from 10 to 18 hertz on the middle A. A difference of 1 hertz creates a vibrato generating 1 beat per second, etc. This tuning system of the Brio gives a big powerful sound that catches the ear. It is easy to understand the support that this powerful sound could give to the accordionist in a duet with a very sonorous Cabrette in front of an audience of dancers and without a microphone of course!

This musette sound has been used on both the diatonic and the chromatic accordion.

Towards the end of the 30's, a new sound where this strong tremolo has been removed will be used by some accordionists to play in a more jazzy style. It will be called the"swing" or "modern" or "American" sound. From this time on, orchestras will be more and more sonorized. Microphones were used to amplify the sound of the instruments. The guitar gradually replaced the banjo, which was acoustically more sonorous. However, the "musette" sound will remain extremely popular at dances until today.


The Great Accordionists of the Bal Musette

We can quote some representative names of the Accordéon Musette through the history of the bal musette:

- Charles Péguri (already mentioned above) was born in 1879 and played the diatonic accordion. He started his career in 1902. He was the brother of Louis and Michel Péguri, two great virtuosos of the Accordéon Musette. His greatest success:"Reproche".

- Emile Vacher born in 1883 is considered the creator of the musette style. He also played on a diatonic accordion but the left hand of his instrument had a uni-sonorous keyboard like a chromatic (mixed system). Among his many successes are"les triolets" and"Reine de musette".

- Jean Vaissade was born in 1911 and married the singer Rina Ketty. His greatest success:"Sombreros et mantilles" (a paso doble in 3 beats).

- Emile Prud'homme was born in 1913 and was a great media star. He also participated in many films including"Les grandes vacances" with Louis de Funès.

- André Verchuren born in 1920 is probably the most famous musette accordionist. Of Belgian origin, he became a naturalized French citizen in 1957. He was interned in the Dachau camp in 1944. He had a huge popular success from the 50s onwards. One of his greatest hits:"Les fiancés d'Auvergne".

- Aimable, whose real name was Aimable Pluchard, was born in 1922 in the North of France and played an accordion with a very pronounced tremolo. He was a great star of the Vogue records.

We apologise for the many artists of the Accordéon Musette whom we were unable to mention.


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