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Claudio Beltrami restores the Dallapé Liturgical Accordion

It’s the stuff of legend and where legends are involved there is always a mystery involved.  The Dallapé Liturgical accordion or “La Liturgica” belonging to Stradella Accordion Museum has just been restored by Claudio Beltrami of Beltrami Accordions, Stradella.  It is one of reputedly four instruments built by Dallapé in Stradella in 1941. Claudio Beltrami says that despite the fact that it was built during the war when materials were in short supply the instrument is one of incredible quality with only the best materials used.  Beltrami too had to be very careful to use period materials to restore it to its original condition. It boasts 6 sets of treble reeds across 43 piano keys.  The footages are 32′ in cassotto, 16′ in cassotto, 8′ + 8′ + 4′ out of cassotto as well as a 2 2/3 foot set of reeds which means they are tuned a perfect 5th above the piccolo reed.  This means that the reeds of this register go up to the F# above the top note on the piano! This footage is usually only found in church organs. It weighs a staggering 18kg. The composer and accordionist Gianfelice Fugazza had a hand in its design and also feature a row of pedal notes in the left hand which one depresses and are automatically held down till a second touch releases them.  It’s restoration has been financed by the family of the late composer who died in 2007.

Dallapé (with the accent on the last e and not pronounced Dalappy as is commonly thought), was Stradella’s largest factory and dates back to the 1870s.  Rather like Paolo Soprani in Castelfidardo, workers who subsequently left their employment then ended up opening their own factories in Stradella making it a major hub of accordion manufacture.  at it’s peak Dallapé employed hundreds of workers.  The building, which has a large palatial frontage and extensive workshops at the rear still exists but the company sadly ceased trading in 2010, another victim of an economic downturn.  There are rumours that the town council may use the building or part of it to house the Stradella Accordion Museum, currently in the Town Library building, which would at least be fitting use to this historic building.

In 1941, Dallapé took Fugazza to perform for Pope Pius at the Vatican. The Vactican was also gifted with an instrument.  He was very impressed by it’s sound and gave his blessing that the instrument should be played in churches. A great publicity coup! The Vatican are unsure to its whereabouts today and there are various stories surrounding where the other two ended up but at least the one in Stradella is now in working condition. It will feature in a special concert later this year in Italy and we will make sure we let ZZ Music subscribers know when and where that will be.

There’s an interesting sub-plot to this story too.  Stradella is in the province of Pavia in an area called the Oltrepó (literally beyond the Po).  The Po valley is the industrial heartland of Northern Italy and was notoriously communist traditionally, especially in the postwar period and therefore anticlerical too. Angry at Dallapé’s gift to the Vatican a group of workers in Stradella calling themselves Operai di Stradella got together and created a rival instrument which was then presented to Comrade Stalin as an act of defiance!  Anyone who has read the Don Camillo books by Guareschi, seen the old black and white films with Fernandel or even saw the Don Camillo BBC series with Brian Blessed in the 70s will know that the battle between church and communist local administrations often produced rather humorous and sometimes even quite dramatic consequences!

The good news is that the Liturgica will once again be played instead of being just a static museum exhibit.  It would be wonderful to allow players to play it in concert from time to time rather like and old Stradivarius in private collections loaned out to visiting musicians so that more and more people could experience this truly unique sound.