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Slovenian-Australian accordionist

Slavko Avsenik’s accordions

The sound of Slavko and Vilko Avsenik’s ensemble (Slo: Ansambel bratov Avsenik, Ger: Slavko Avsenik und seine Original Oberkrainer) had many moving parts that contributed to the legendary sound which evolved throughout their career spanning from the 1950s to the 1990s. Technique, band members, advancements in sound engineering, arrangements by Vilko Avsenik and combinations of instruments evolved with each album and each decade. This includes the evolution of each accordion that Slavko Avsenik recorded and performed with.

Sources for this article include analysis of audio recordings, photos, and some amazing books written about Avsenik’s band and career by Ivan Sivec and Aleski Jercog which I highly recommend purchasing if you can read Slovene or German.

Beginning to 1961: Hohner Verdi IIIB

Avsenik’s earliest recordings featured the Hohner Verdi IIIB (3B) from circa 1930s. This model accompanied vocalists Franc Koren and Danica Filiplič with Gorenjski Kvartet which became Kvintet Avsenik. It had a very vintage dry musette sound, and was exceptionally light compared to the tone chambered accordions that followed. He would have used the 2 middle reed musette register on this accordion and appeared with it on the earliest archived German television appearances with the quintett as well as the first Slovenian television production with Kvintet Avsenik with vocalists Franc Koren and Ema Prodnik (the audio however featured the Excelsior 1320s).

One of Avseniki’s earliest TV appearances
Gert aus Südtirol playing the Hohner Verdi IIIB in Avsenik’s vintage style
1961 to 1964: Excelsior 1320S

Unlike the Hohners beforehand and afterward, the Excelsior 1320S was made in Italy, and it was a 4 reed accordion. Avsenik purchased this accordion while touring Switzerland. The 3 middle reed musette tuning with the ‘straight’ tuned middle reed within the tone chamber (cassotto) changed the entire character of the accordion’s sound to a fuller, richer, smoother one. It also appeared on some album covers including Heiteres Wunschkonzert (Telefunken), Goldene Schallplatte (Telefunken) and Srečno Pot (Jugoton). It’s interesting to note that later Hohner Morino models (VN/VS) were reportedly also manufactured by Excelsior in Italy.

Accordion solo with the Excelsior
1964: Hohner Morino VM

During a concert in the 1960s, two Hohner representatives from Germany approached the already renowned Avsenik with a deal to exclusively perform, record with and represent Hohner accordions to the Slovenian market.

Named after Italian accordion maker Venanzio Morino who became the chief designer for Hohner in 1928, the Morino VM has become the standard for the character of sound that all accordionists want to achieve in the Oberkrainer genre. Its resurgence particularly in the last decade shows how timeless the VM really is.

It has 5 treble reeds with the lower and middle ‘straight’ reeds in the tone chamber/cassotto, and 5 bass reeds in the ‘winkelbass’ positioning. The Morino is a popular accordion across different genres from Jazz to Scottish to Classical, and second hand VMs are still very sought after around the world. Even when Avsenik appeared on television with newer Morinos, it was always the VM that you were hearing from the studio recordings. I’ll add that Avsenik’s Morino was drier tuned compared to a lot of VMs in existence, and the drier tuning has became the standard for most Oberkrainer accordionists. Slavko’s grandson, Sašo Avsenik also currently performs and records with the Morino VM.

In the Oberkrainer/Alpine market, current accordion builders are constantly trying to replicate and evolve the Avsenik Morino VM sound, and these are among the most expensive new accordions in this specific market. Some examples include the Alpengold Krainer VM, Fismen Oberklang, and so on.

Avsenik with the Morino VM
Grandson Sašo with the Morino VM
Late 1990s: Hohner Alpina IV

After the end of his band’s career, Slavko Avsenik would appear and record with their official successor Gašperji (Ger: Die Jungen Original Oberkrainer) in the late 1990s. All of Avsenik’s live and TV appearances were with the Hohner Alpina IV from the popular Beltuna factory in Italy who also produced Zupan accordions at the time. This is a significantly lighter accordion, with 4 reeds instead of 5, no tone chamber/cassotto, and he used the 2 reed violin register instead of the 3 reed musette, reminiscent of the early days on the Verdi IIIB. A few studio recordings with Gašperji were made with the Alpina, while others were still recorded with the Morino VM despite appearing with the Alpina on TV. No doubt that the lesser weight of the Alpina would have been a lot easier for Avsenik for all of his public appearances.

Avsenik performing for Karl Moik on his Hohner Alpina IV
Martinova Polka with the Hohner Alpina
Hohner Morino VS Slavko Avsenik edition (playback version)

While Avsenik continued to record and perform with the heavy 5 reed Morino VM until the end of Ansambel bratov Avsenik’s live performing period (1990), when he started to appear with a newer Morino, but only on TV appearances with playback audio such as Musikantenstadl, Lustige Musikanten, 1990 birthday program from Bled and so on. If you watch carefully, you will notice that he is able to move with this accordion with much greater ease and speed than the VM. To achieve this, Hohner provided the new Morino VS Slavko Avsenik edition with no reeds inside it.

Avsenik’s televised birthday program with the Hohner Morino VS Slavko Avsenik edition
Avsenik’s studio ensemble on German TV

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