The Russian way of playing the accordion:


   a case study related to the Chambersuite of Vladislav Solotarjow

The problem I sometimes face with my instrument is that the melody in the right and left hand are overshadowed by the continuous repeated motive. I have to concentrate and practice a lot to play this motive as relaxed and soft as possible to be able to keep hearing the melody. When I play it on the Bayan this problem does not appear. The bass line sounds stronger and some overtones in the right hand are brighter.


I have tried by changing my register to get more close to the sound of the bayan and to hear the melody more clear:

Elisa accordion: part 1 on the middle octave register, and played one octave lower as a trial to get more close to the sound of the bayan:

From this comparison it became clear to me that the Bayan has a more rich sound. The bass is very powerful and the right hand has a very rich and colorful sound. Another example of the Chambersuite, which underlines this, is the beginning of part 2, ‘Moonlight shines through the window’. Since I have started to practice this part, I was annoyed every time by the trill figure in the accompaniment. The high melody should sound clear, but whatever I tried to play it like that, it was a bit overruled by the trill. I found out a way to play the trill as soft as possible, almost not touching the buttons. This demands a lot of technical preciseness because the melody is played with the same hand. It is difficult to control this during the whole piece. 

Recording of Friedrich Lips:


- First of all Lips has a slower tempo in general compared with Mika Vayrynen I think this tempo is more correct. Bar 1+2 are played more mysterious.


- Halfway in bar 3 Lips plays a little ritenuto. Also in the end of bar 7 and 8. With this, Lips is giving more freedom to the listener and himself, he is telling a story.

In the description how this should be played in his opinion, Lips concludes that the right hand is ‘free’ in this passage. For that reason the right hand will be accountable to execute the vibrato. The thumb has to be placed onto the right side of the keyboard in any preferable spot.[23]


After that, Lips gives two descriptions of options how to play that vibrato with the right hand. With a normal vibrato with the right hand, the thumb is being used as an outside support and placed onto the keyboard. In the same time the under arm performs a periodic movement with pressure, which is transferred by the thumb to the instrument. This creates a pulsation in the movement of the bellow. The performing elements of the body; the hand, the arm and the fingers should be completely free to be able to vary in intensity of vibration.


The other possibility is the so-called ‘flashes vibrato’. The starting position is completely the same as with the other vibrato. Again the thumb serves as a transmitter of the movement. However, this vibrato is not created by a movement of pressure generated from the area of the under arm, but by tightening the muscles around the elbow area.


The frequency of this vibrato is higher and the amplitude lower. That’s why this vibrato is called ‘flashes vibrato’. Because the arm gets tired and cramped easily, this variation should not be applied over long passages. [24]


In the example mentioned above from the vibrato in the bass, the sound reminds us of a cello. When one vibrates constantly and fast, the tone will become slowly weaker. The example should be played rubato. The meandering written line under the notes indicates this. The best result in the opinion of Lips, will be reached when the vibrato is performed with an ‘open’ right hand.[25]


This was of course a technique I wanted to try and compare myself as well. It is true the first vibrato variation is the best way. This passage is too long to generate a vibrato from the elbow area. Besides that it needs a more low and organic sound instead of the high frequency of this variation.


When I tried the variation in which the under arm creates the pulsation movement, using the thumb as a movement generator, I experienced now and then a vibrato which sounded to hard and square and a bit non-rubato.


Because of this, I have figured out another way to place the hand. In the way Lips suggest us, the thumb will be the generator of the pulsating movement, by placing the thumb on the keyboard. While in my pinion after trying some different things, a more beautiful vibrato appears by placing the whole right hand on the whole right side of my instrument. The thumb is a small movement generator and the vibrato becomes a bit square and ‘hard’ as a result. When I place my whole hand on the right side of my instrument I use my wrist as a generator.  The vibrato becomes in my opinion more organic and less square. It sounds more round and thus more beautiful.

Besides these mechanical, construction-related combinations on which the performer does not have any influence, other eleven other sound-colors exist, that differ from one another by pitch and sonority. It must be clear that there are in total 15 registers. in one hand transposing and in the other hand non-transposing registers.


Registers that are transposing are: 


When I tried this with the bayan of Robbrecht, the high notes sounded much more sharp and the trill did not overrule the melody anymore. 




Isacoff S. - A natural history of the piano, Vintage books, 2012.

Klause I.  - Das Leben des Komponist Vladislav Andreevic Zolotarev, Books on demand GmbH, 2005.

Lips F.     - Die Kunst des Bajanspiels, Schmülling, 1991.

Maes F.   - Geschiedenis van de Russische muziek, van Glinka tot Sjostakovitsj, Boom uitgevers Amsterdam, 1996.



Журавлёв Николай Алексеевич ‘Литературно-поэтическая программа в творчестве Владислава Золотарёва (на примере цикла «Камерная сюита»)’



- Friedrich Lips

- Mika Vayrynen 






Chapter 1 - The accordion and its history

                     History of the bayan

                     Differences between the bayan and the accordion


Chapter 2 - Vladislav Solotarjow


Chapter 3 – Chamber Suite in six movements, the poems and an analysis.        

     Evening Prelude                                                                                                                         

     Moonlight shines through the window                                                                                       

     Snowfall at night                                                                                                                              

     Mysterious visions                                                                                                                             

     Sad Dreams                                                                                                                                            

     An old fairytale


Chapter 4 - Russian music and the way of playing


Chapter 5 - The Russian way of playing in my own artistic practice

-    Part 4   ‘Mysterious visions’  –  Beginning section

-    Part 1   ‘ Evening Prelude’    –  Beginning section

-    Part 3   ‘ Snowfall at night’   –  Middle section

-    Part 6   ‘An old fairytale’       –  On the issue of vibrato


Chapter 6 - Comparison between two instruments: The bayan and the accordion.

-    Beginning of part 1 ‘Evening Prelude’

-    The trill of part 2 ‘Moonlight shines through the window’






Since I was young I have had a special interest for Russian music. My first travel abroad, at the age of twelve, was to Kaliningrad, Russia. I went together with my parents and brother by car and caravan to visit our Russian family friend. We stayed in the company of Russian people and it was a great experience. The image of this country, the culture, the nature and the people has stayed in my mind ever since. There I got also my first Russian music book. The songs were folkloristic but at the same time very melancholic. I remember one song, which had the title “по дону гуляет казак молодой ”. The general meaning of the song is about a young girl crying at the riverside about her love, which had to serve in the army and didn’t return. A typical example of the Russian melancholic soul captured into music. This is where my interest for Russian music started and I kept playing it since then.

During my studies at the conservatory I played Russian repertoire and every time while studying and listening to recordings, one question came up again and again. I was touched by the way some Russian bayanists play, full of emotions and dedication to tell a story, still virtuosic but with so much imagination and passion, and so the questions arose: “Does a Russian way of playing the bayan exist?” and if so “how can I achieve this?”


In order to find out more about these questions, I have decided to focus on the music of Vladislav Solotarjow. He has been of great importance for the development of the repertoire for my instrument. His composition Chamber Suite, is one of my favorite compositions and in my opinion a typical example of that Russian Style. That is also the main reason why I want to use this piece in my research.


In the following sections I will firstly provide a brief history of the instrument for those who are not yet familiar with it. I will place Solotarjow in this historical perspective and give a brief biography of his short and tragic life. Together with the use of recordings I will give a description of what I exactly mean with the Russian way of playing in general, and more specifically the Russian way of playing the bayan. After that I will investigate what is necessary in order to be able to apply the findings in my own artistic practice and find some solutions and techniques that can be helpful for attaining this goal.



Chapter 1 - The accordion and its history


An interesting story about the birth of music and the accordion has been written in Chinese history books. A story in the book of Chronicles around the time of the legendary “Yellow Emperor” Huang Ti (circa 3000 B.C.) is as follows. Besides being an emperor Huang Ti accomplished himself also by the invention of boats, money and religious sacrifices. One day he sent the noted scholar Ling Lun, to the Western mountain regions to find a way to reproduce the song of the phoenix bird. Ling returned with the Sheng (or Cheng) and captured music for mankind and together with this also took the first step towards the genesis of the accordion.


The Sheng is in fact the first known instrument to use the free vibrating reed principle, which is the basis of the accordion's sound production. Shaped to resemble the phoenix, the Sheng had between 13 and 24 bamboo pipes, a small gourd that acted as a resonator box, a wind chamber, and a mouthpiece. Other instruments using a free vibrating reed were developed in ancient Egypt and Greece, and were depicted in many beliefs.


Almost unchanged after ages of use, the Sheng attracted the attention of European musicians and craftsmen after being taken to Russia around the year 1770. Johan de Wilde brought it in those times to Saint Petersburg and played on it at the imperial courts. Russia is geographically partly located in Asia. For that reason it is very plausible the Sheng arrived first to Russia rather than Europe, where the Sheng was brought by Marco Polo after his travels. The instrument spread over Europe and started to develop. The first chromatic bayan was built by the Russian musician Beloborodov in 1870. The word bayan comes from an old poet, artist, musician or troubadour, Bojan.


Another variation on this instrument in earlier centuries in the West was the portative, which was widely used in England during the 12th and 13th centuries. The portative consisted of a small keyboard, a bellow, pipes, tongues and was firmly secured or connected onto the player.


Besides the portative the Regal also existed. It had a keyboard and one or two bellows. Unlike the accordion and other tongue sliding instruments, it made use of slamming tongues or reeds like a hobo. This instrument, however, has lost popularity because it quickly became disgruntled. It was widely used as an accompaniment to madrigal singers, between the 15th and 18th centuries.[1]



History of the bayan


The word bayan is derived from the 19th century poet, artist and musician, Bojan. In first instance, the word bayan was used to refer to the ancestor of the modern bayan, the Russian harmonica. The instrument developed by the addition of a bellow, registers and a special button on the left side to switch the system from standardized bass into melody bass (converter). On the right, the number of rows of buttons was extended from three to five.


As already said before, halfway the 1700’s, Johan de Wilde brought it to Saint Petersburg and played on it at the imperial courts. After this from around 1770 till 1790 Kratzenstein, Kirsnkik en Vogler got inspired to build instruments with free reeds. The mass production of accordions began in Tula in 1830 and in 1870 they built the first chromatic three-row accordion. This instrument was built by the Russian musician N. I. Beloborodov. [2]


In 1907 P. Sterligov created an instrument for Jacov Orlansky-Titarenko, which fundamentally differed from the then existing harmonicas. He named it after an old Russian singer and troubadour Bojan. The instrument had 55 buttons in four rows on the right and 72 buttons on the left. Titarenko had many concerts, and since that time, these instruments with more than three rows were called “Bayan”. The instruments with one or two rows and diatonic, were called harmonicas.


The first bayan with single notes in the bass and a whole new bass mechanism was built by Sterligow in 1929. The possibilities of the bayan increased enormously by the fact it became possible to play standardized bass as well as melody bass in the left manual.


It has been a big merit of J. Wolkowitsch to perfect the quality of the instrument in such a way that it met the conditions necessary for professional performance. By pressing one button the whole system could be changed from standardized bass to melody bass. In 1962 he built the first production model with a sound box, called cassotto. He continued developing this instrument and in 1969/1970 he built the three and four voices model “Jupiter”. The factory in Moscow still names his instruments Jupiter. Instruments that subsequently became famous all over the world. [3]





Differences between the bayan and the accordion

Before 1929 the accordion and bayan were used as a folk instrument. Due to the developments that took place between 1929 and 1970, they slowly evolved into a more professional instrument and after 1960 it became a real classical concert instrument. The instrument which is very similar to the Western European accordion is the Russian bayan. Bayan could simply mean button accordion, but in fact those are two different instruments from the same family. Both instruments are nowadays concert instruments and there are a few differences.


First of all there is a clear difference in the form of the instruments. The keyboard of the Bayan is more or less placed in the middle, or better said a little bit more in front. This causes a better hand position. This also makes it easier to place the thumb behind the keyboard. 


There are differences in the repertoire as well. The Russian repertoire for bayan exists for the biggest part out of (classical) transcriptions. The Russian music itself often has a strong influence of folk music. On the other hand, the repertoire for western button accordions is often more modern. The contemporary Scandinavian compositions, which have been composed for the famous Scandinavian accordionist Mogens Ellegaard, are a good example.



Chapter 2 - Vladislav Solotarjow

One of the most important composers for the bayan in my opinion was Vladislav Andreevic Solotarjow. Solotarjow was born in 1942 during the war in the place de-Kastri in the region of Chabarovsk, where his father was an officer. This military area where he grew up in would influence his youth and subsequent tragic life. [5]


He moved with his parents several times from West to East Russia. At the age of 11 in 1953, his father bought him a bayan. Till his 16th he did not have any music lessons, but he did the most by himself by improvisation and by ear. In 1958 he moved to Magadan where he would stay for 13 years. This city became very important in Solotajow’s life. He loved the nature there and would always return to this place.[6]


In Magadan Solotarjow went to music school and was a very talented player on his instrument and started even to compose. Due to the development of the accordion in the ’60, he got a better instrument from his father in 1967. This instrument had the possibility to change the left hand mechanism. It gave him many possibilities on the instrument. It became even possible to play the instrument in a professional way and no longer only as a folk instrument. From that time on Solotarjow begun composing for that instrument as well. A good example of a piece where we can observe this change is his Chamber suite. He started to compose this piece already during his army duty from 1963-1966. At that time he was working on the first part of the suite, which he called ‘sentimental pieces to A. Blok’. [7]


The first parts were composed for the old accordion with standard bass only. In part 2 to 6 he makes use of a combination of melody bass and standard bass or he uses melody basses only. This piece was an important step in the direction of the new repertoire for bayan and it is the first piece that can only be played on an instrument with two manuals. I will come back to this piece in the next chapter.


During his army duty Solotarjow had some time to think about the situation of the repertoire for bayan. In his opinion the repertoire was unilateral and most of the arrangements of folksongs, were primitive. He thought this was caused by the fact the composers for bayan composed too simple and limited because they didn’t use all the possibilities of the instrument. Solotarjow considered the bayan as a combination between an organ and symphony orchestra, which would be expressed in his works later on. To encourage people to think was the strength and power of a composition. Solotarjow considered the bayan as a typical polyphonic instrument. With polyphony he meant the principal way how nature is organized and in which the freedom of the individual and the cohesion overall/of the whole could co-exist. This idea of polyphony did not yet exist and was not yet realized in the compositions for this instrument. On this path he was greatly influenced by works of Shostakovich, Schönberg, Hindemith, Barber and Scedrin.[8]


Solotarjow begun studying composition at the Moscow conservatory but this was not very stimulating for him. He felt that he lost his freedom in composition and after some time he stopped with his education. His life in Moscow with his wife and son was difficult. Due to money problems they had many fights and he often went away from home to go to his parents in the East. He needed the nature and some rest to compose. [9]


He wanted to become part of the Composers Union many times, but he was never accepted. His compositions were in conflict with the Sovjet Regime and this caused him some very difficult moments.


Solotarjow composed many other pieces for accordion and became close friends with another bayan player from those times, Friedrich Lips. Lips heard a concert where Solotarjow played his own compositions and the young and enthusiastic Lips wanted to meet Solotarjow. Lips had extraordinary playing skills as well and they soon became close friends. In 1974 Solotarjow wanted to apply for the Composers Union again. Lips performed his composition Sonate nr. 3. (In the jury were a.o. Gubaidulina.) They were impressed with this piece but unfortunately Solotarjow was not accepted again. He did not have a diploma of a conservatory and was not accepted because of bureaucratic rules. After this performance Lips and Gubaidulina got in touch with each other. Gubaidulina was greatly inspired by Solotarjows composition and started to compose for Bayan as well. [10]


Nevertheless being rejected for the umpteenth time for the Composers Union, Solotarjow kept composing day and night. Besides that he got depressed repeatedly. He lived for the art and music and was longing terribly for some recognition and appreciation for his music. But he did not allow himself any time. Money problems brought him often in troubles and caused tension and quarrel with his family. He grew weaker and his health got worse.


One time after a return from Ukraine to Moscow, he came to the discovery his wife had sold his instrument and burned all his writings. This confused and eliminated him completely. All his notes that he made from the beginning were destroyed in one stroke.


Nevertheless, he intended again to find new strength to be there for his family and to continue composing, which again failed. He suffered from the big pressure. He didn’t allow himself any time. The split between his compositional ideas and their implementation got bigger and bigger. This increased the pressure even more. He hated himself when he couldn’t work. To handle this pressure, which he put on himself, he intended to be alone as much as possible, to be able to start to work again. But this loneliness in contrast to previous times, didn’t give him the pleasure and productivity to compose. In nature he couldn’t find  the strength anymore as before. This all indicates great fatigue. Years of stress within his family life and the force he put on himself to continue working day and night took its consequences.


In 1975 Solotarjow became 33. He was  of the same age as Jesus Christ when he died. This was of great importance for him. In his diary he wrote: “The coming autumn, winter, spring and summer will be my last ordeal before arriving at the age of Christ. In the next year, 1975, I will become 33 a significant and dangerous age”.[11]


He felt that his end was getting near, which made him sad. Because of his important and special age he felt more responsible and obliged to work even more in the summer of 1974. As said before, in this year also his second admission for the Composers Union took place. Before this he withdrew himself for a long time in his summerhouse in the East and composed day and night. The circumstances he lived in caused a fight with his wife when he returned home to Moscow. She would leave the house together with their son. When they came back, Solotarjow had already taken his life.[12] Because of not following the Soviet Regime and committing a suicide, Solotarjow was a forbidden composer. His compositions and his death were silenced. It is possibly for this reason that he is still unknown nowadays.


Solotarjow composed the following pieces for bayan:


  • Children suites  1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6
  • Chamber suite/ sentimental pieces to A. Blok.
  • Partita
  • Rondo Capriccioso
  • Sonata nr 2
  • Sonata nr 3
  • Ispaniada
  • 24 Meditationen
  • Concertsymfonie


One of his most important compositions for the development of the bayan repertoire is his sonata nr.3, which is inspired by the 12-tone technique of Schönberg. This is his most important piece and in my opinion the highpoint of his compositions for bayan solo. It is a difficult piece because of its psychological depth of tragic and the complex concept. Solotarjow creates with different techniques an atmosphere in sounds and colors that have never been made for bayan before. The length of the piece of more than 20 minutes is also exceptional. In the first part you hear the influence of Schönberg’s twelve-tone technique. This is also the piece that Gubaidulina heard and got inspired to compose for bayan as well. In my opinion, without Solotarjow, our instrument would not be in the place where it is nowadays.[13]


Chapter 3 – Камернаясюитавшестичастях - Chamber Suite in six movements


I Вечерняя прелюдия (1963-1966)                          Evening Prelude

Не легли еще тени вечерние,                                    The evening shades have yet to sink,

А луна уж блестит на воде.                                       But moonlight’s shining in the lake.

Всё туманнее, всё суевернее                                     The heart, the soul – and everything

На душе и на сердце – везде...                                  Feels superstitious and opaque…


II Свет луны за окнами струится… (1963-1966) Moonlight shines through the window


III Ночной снегопад (1963-1966)                            Snowfall at night

Ночной снегопад над землею кружится                  In the night snow whirls over the earth

Прозрачнейший свет из окон струится                    Transparant light is streaming through the windows

И белые звёзды, кружась и звеня,                            And white stars, circling and tinkling

Печальную песню поют для меня…                        Sing sad songs for me….


IV Таинственные видения (1967)                          Mysterious visions

Отворяются двери – там мерцанья,                         Open the door – There is twinkling,

И за ярким окошком – виденья.                                And through a narrow window – Vision

Не знаю – и не скрою незнанья,                               I don’t know – and I will not hide  ignorance

Но усну – и потекут сновиденья.                             But I will sleep – and dreams will flow


V  Печальные мечтые ‘Зову мгновенья сумрачной печали’ (1967)

     Sad Dreams ‘I call for moments of dark sadness’

Кругом глубокий мрак. Я плачу.                               Around the deep gloom. I’m crying                                                     Зову мои родные сны…                                   I called my family dreams…



VI Старинная сказка (1967)                                    An old fairytale.

Не знаю, что значит такое,                                        I know not if there is a reason

Что скорбью я смущен;                                             Why i am so sad at heart

Давно не даёт покою                                                  A legend of bygone ages

Мне сказка старинных времён.                                Haunts me and will not depar



The Chamber suite was composed between 1963 and 1967. Besides his concert nr. 1 for Bayan, Solotarjow worked on this romantic suite and some other phrases during his army duty. Although he couldn’t work on his music that much during this period, he developed a few important characteristics of his musical language, which would come back also in his later works. The chamber suite is characterized by a very romantic language.[14]


Another important feature of this composition is the composer’s transition from a bayan with only standardized bass into one with a melody bass system. Part I and III can be played on an instrument with standard bass. In part IV and VI only the melody bass is used. In part II and V a combination of both systems is applied. After his Chamber suite, Solotarjow used only the ground bass of the standard bass system in his compositions, and not the chord basses. Therefore this composition is an important step in the development of the new repertoire for bayan. It’s also one of the first composition composed for an instrument with both bass systems.[15]


Evening Prelude. In this first part the listener is brought into a state of relaxation, rest and meditation. This is achieved by evoking the image of water. The first part gives us already a glimpse of the suite as a whole. Solotarjow uses some harmonic changes.  Although this part is in G flat Major, it has more the atmosphere of a minor tonality. Solotarjow wants to convey the sense of a soul filled by fog and vagueness. The piece ends on the dominant, D flat. The open ending of this introduction acts as a prelude to the parts that follow.


Moonlight shines through the window

The effect of the flickering moon is created by the tremolo figure in the melody in the middle register by alternating the two notes g and g sharp. In the left hand Solotarjow uses cords as an accompaniment. The music paints the landscape of the moon in an orchestral way, evoking an association with the impressionistic music of Claude Debussy.

Snowfall at night

In this part Solotarjow presents snowfall in the night mainly by the very slow tempo and the dynamics, which stay mainly around piano (p). Because of the unstable harmony the piece sounds colorful and the alternation to the major seventh cord is notable. The middle section is a very free (rubato passage), which gives an optimistic but also mysterious character to the piece. It is looking forward to the next piece of the suite.


Mysterious visions

This part of the suite is very full of images. The idea of mysterious visions is embodied by Solotarjow by many unexpected turns in the music; sharp changes of dynamics, different articulations like staccato against portato, fermatas and pauses and frequent changes in tempo. This piece is characterized by elegance lightness and poetry. The highest register is used, in combination with fast passages passing by, sharp interruptions of the melody and the sudden appearance of new musical elements, are making this an interesting part of the suite.


Sad Dreams

This piece has two parts. The first part evokes the image of sadness. This is clearly expressed by the downward movement in the bass line and more clear also in the melody line, which ends every time on the repeated b note. Together with the registration first 4-16 and in the repeat the tutti register, a dramatic atmosphere is created. The semitone scale brings us to the next part; an allegro that brings a contrast to the previous lento section. This allegro part shows energy of youth and hope and changes the sad feelings from before in a humoristic way. Bringing in some more light and hopeful emotions.

An old fairytale


The last movement is based on the story of the Lorelei of H. Heine;

 “Ich weiss nich, was soll es bedeuten, Das ich so traurig bin, Ein Marchen aus uralten Zeiten, Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn ”

It starts with a figure in thirds, against which the melody is played. This figure with the melody against it, moves a few times from the right hand to the left hand, before ariving to the middle section.This middle section is more dramatic and the culmination of the piece. It starts with the same motive in thirds togehter with the melody but now both a second higher then the previous part. After the climax of the piece the third section ends with a sequence in the left hand (vibrato), modulating to another tonality and reaching the third part, which is very similar to the beginning of the piece.Now the melody is played a fourth lower then the middle section and a minor third lower then the beginning. This last section gives hope to the listener and should not be interpretated very dramatic.[16]




Chapeter 4 - Russian music and the way of playing

Russian music

In my introduction I have mentioned shortly my fascination for Russian music and how some great Russian bayanists play, full of emotions and dedication to tell a story, still virtuosic but with so much imagination and passion. In my way to find an answer to my question ‘what is exactly the Russian way of playing?’ I will answer first to the question ‘what is Russian music?’


Well in general Russian music can be described as follows:

Russian music is of course music composed in Russia or by the Russians. Russia is a very large country with many different cultures and ethnic groups having their own music traditions.


Glinka can be seen as the first composer who gave an authenticity to Russian music. Peter Tchaikovsky declared in one of his diary notes dating back to 27 June 1888, that the whole Russian symphonic school was present in Kamarinskaja. Kamarinskaja is a relatively short and unpretentious scherzo for orchestra, composed by Michael Glinka. Of course we could argue about the maybe simplicity of this suggestion. But this statement of Tchaikovsky shows also a great desire for connection and a coherent musical tradition. [17]


Before Glinka classical/written music tradition did exist. Russian music derives from ritual folk songs and sacred music from the Russian Orthodox church. Many of those songs have been lost because they have never been written down.


In the early 18th century around 1703, Western musicians mainly from Italy, were invited by Tsar Peter to compose music at the imperial court of St. Petersburg. The Russian composers of that time copied those Italian composers. Although Glinka was abroad at that moment, he got the name as founder of the Russian music.


Around 1860 music education occurred with the first conservatory founded in 1862 by Anton Rubinstein and Theodor Leschetitzky in St. Petersburg. Anton Rubinstein was a Jewish-Russian pianist and made a big success abroad in America. After his return to Russia he created this conservatory. It instantly came to symbolize what Leschetitzky described as the Russian spirit: prodigious technique wedded to passion, dramatic power, and extraordinary vitality. St. Petersburg eventually graduated such remarkable figures as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.[18]


In 1866 Nicolai Rubinstein (the brother of Anton Rubinstein) founded the new Moscow Conservatory. There has always been a debate between the two conservatories about those who wanted the 100% Russian style and those who wanted a mix between the Russian style and Western elements. Moscow pianists are said to play with lots of pedal and lots of gestures. St Petersburg pianists are described as playing with no pedal and always looking at the keyboard. This is an exaggeration, of course, but there is a grain of truth in it.[19] To this typical Russian style composers like Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov belonged. A composer who was more western orientated on the other hand was for example Tchaikovsky.


In the late 19th century, from around 1885 and after, the musical life was sponsored by rich industrials like Mamontov, director of the Russian railway. He gave new opportunities to young Russian artists.

In the 20th century many Russian artists went abroad for economical reasons. Stravinsky (1910) for example went to the US and to France for his success with the Ballets Russes. Prokofiev (1917) went to the USA, France, and Germany and returned finally to the Soviet Union. Also Rachmaninov left to the USA.


Prokofiev thought to have a safe status after his return but under the regime of Stalin it wasn’t truth. In the first years of the Revolution everybody was free. But from 1928 and on, everything became more controlled and in 1932 the association of Russian composers was founded. From that moment and on there was no artistic freedom anymore, everything was controlled by Moscow. It was chaos, no real music was made anymore because of the fear to be sent to Siberia in case the music composed, was against the Russian regime. In 1948 all Russian composers were accused of formalism. Which means the form/shape is more important than the content. This principle was forbidden by the regime. Music had to have content according to the Russian socialistic doctrine. The main idea of the Russian socialistic realism was as follows; The content was the most important. Optimism after struggles and hard times must be present. Also the people had to be present in the compositions. It had to be easy to understand and had to have the goal to get everything to a higher level. The big question of course was and is, if this was all possible to achieve with music….


Under the regime of Stalin in the 1930’s and 40’s, every republic of the Russian heritage, including the Orients were important and had their own specific style. Classical music arose, with folkloristic elements implemented in it. Summarized there was a very positive attitude towards folk music. During The Great Patriotic war from 1941-1945, artists were protected as an elite group, which could protect the country. They were evacuated and artists, like Prokofiev for example got inspired by folk music also.


Arriving now at the 20th century, I come to the era also Solotarjow was living in. Together with composers like Shostakovich, Scriabin, Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Ulstvolskaya, Firsova, Khachaturian and so on he faced many difficulties. Many composers of that time became a victim of the Stalin regime. Music had to serve and support the political ideas. Improvisation, liturgical or mysterious music or for example 12-tone music inspired from the West, nothing of this was allowed. Everything had to be inspired on folk music, had to represent the people and the Russian state and had to have a clear melody and harmony. This caused that music became less spontaneously. It became directed.



The way of playing

In this chapter I want to talk about how to perform Russian music. Mainly I want to achieve to play The Chamber suite of Solotarjow as Russian as I can. After having done an analysis of the piece, some research about Solotarjow’s life and Russian music in general, it’s time for me to take the next step. I can place the music in a context now. This has helped me a lot to be able to perform this music better I believe, and this is already a conclusion I can make. Namely, that in order to be able to perform and understand a piece of music well, it is very important to know more about the context in which it was written.


The following quote of Ylia Itin from the book A natural history of the piano completely underlines my opinion about the spirit of Russian music:                            

‘It’s difficult to describe the spirit of Russian music, because within the tradition there are so many different personalities. But the general perception of the Russian soul as something dark, heavy, tragic, sometimes explosive but also lyrical, has some merit. Russians tend to go to extremes of ecstatic joy or deep depression. I think this is all connected to the country’s history. There have been horrors over the centuries, and there is much to cry about. At the same time Russian art, literature, music and theater have always been extremely important to the people, more than in a free society, probably because there was no other outlet for public thinking and sharing. That’s why there is a saying in Russia; a poet is more than a poet. [20]


The Russian music gives a lot of freedom in how it should or can be played. Because of its sometimes heavy, tragic explosive but also lyrical character one should follow the emotions from its inner character and feelings. This idea of me is underlined from another phrase from the same book from another great pianist, Ashkenazy, who as a young pianist, grabbed listeners with a combination of Romantic fire and masterful control. When he got more mature he came to the view the classical Russian approach was too extreme. “There is still fascination with Russian playing in the West” he declared. That is, playing with a lot of freedom. But it goes against the grain in certain types of music. What I like about Russian ballet is that the dancers don’t necessarily take their steps from the rhythm of the music. It’s like a rubato (gently holding back or rushing forward) in movement. On the stage it’s fine, and it doesn’t upset the pattern or basic expression of the dance. But in the Russian way of understanding music, this can be bad… You don’t need to take big liberties in Mozart, Beethoven or Bach. I think there should be an interpretation that arises from within the music, not so much from a concern with being “free”.[21]


I agree with the quote mentioned above. The Russian way of playing, being virtuosic with so much control over the music to be able to play free, expressive and from your inner feelings and emotions does not fit to all types of music. Indeed one can’t be that free in playing Bach for example. For that reason I choose also an original Russian piece, composed for bayan. I think the Chambersuite is a very good composition to try out this Russian way of playing by myself.


Example 1 is about the first 12 bars from part 4, ‘Mysterious visions’.

Recording of Mika Vayrynen:


- Bar 1 and 2 are almost identical to each other, only the first note of each bar is played a bit longer. He continues in tempo to bar 3+4 and so on.

- In my opinion it misses some character and imagination and it is not mysterious enough for me.  It is played hardly without any tempo changes, more like an etude.

Example 2 I would like to give comes from the beginning of part 1, ‘Evening Prelude’.

Above the score is written tranquillo molto espressivo, tempo  (        = 50).

Recording Mika Vayrynen:

Recording of Friedrich Lips:

Lips on the other hand plays this part slightly a bit too fast in comparison with the advised tempo. He plays it more andante, tempo 60. The 16th note motive is played much nicer in comparison with Mika Vayrynen. I can hear a forward going motion with the last 16th of every motive going to the next motive, which I really like. Lips plays more expressive.

In this recording I miss the variation and creativity of the performer. The first two bars, which I consider as a kind of thought which comes up, are almost identical to each other. Then an answer follows in the two bars after that. This has some movement and ritenuto. The repeat of the first bars, in bar five and six are again identical as the first ones. The chromatic scales are played without emotion as if Vayrynen is falling over the notes. The second chromatic scale is not really clear and it has no meaning to me. The ending of the section is played really straightforward with a little ritenuto in the very end. I miss the free rubato sensation and it’s dreamy thoughtful character, which the music invites in my opinion.

Friedrich Lips and the art of playing the bayan

In his book ‘The art of playing the Bayan’, Lips mentions many important aspects of playing the bayan. It is not necessary for this research to quote everything because my research is not exactly about that, but I find it important to mention those things, which has to do with The Chambersuite of Solotarjow.


In his chapter about sound production Lips explains about the following elements and techniques; bellow, keystroke, vibrato, and different ways of articulation.


Those techniques usually are a basic part of the vocabulary of an accordionist. An example connected to the playing of the Chambersuite is about vibrato. At the subtitle ‘vibrato played in the bass’ Lips comes up with an explanation how to play a few bars from the last and sixth movement, An old Fairytale.

In the first example the vibrato is played as Lips suggests:

In this second example I play the vibrato in my own way:

Comparison between two instruments: The bayan and the accordion.

One last thing that stayed in my mind during this research, is the difference in sound between the accordion and the bayan. I have already talked about the difference in the way they are manufactured, the different materials that are used, the shape of the tongues and other matters which could be the underlying reason for that difference. However I needed to experience for myself how it feels to play on a real bayan.

I have the feeling that, besides the way of playing I tried to reach as close as possible during this researchthe, the color of the instrument and the possibilities it affords are very important factors. I needed to check if the registers of the bayan have a different, more full color of sound, compared to the accordion. For that reason I have asked my colleague Robbrecht van Cauwenberghe, player of a Jupiter bayan, to compare with me the sounds of our instruments. Mainly the registration.

In his book ‘Die kunst des bajanspiels’, Lips writes an interesting chapter about the registration and sound colors of the bayan. While many other instruments can’t change their sound color, the accordion and the bayan has access to a big pallet of registers, which helps to change the actual color of the tone. An artistic performance of course needs a comprehensive and well-founded knowledge about the character, the effects and the colors the instrument affords. Every type of Bayan has its own sound color. For example the instruments from Tula have a very deep and expressive tone. By comparison, the Jupiter from Moscow is characterized with a very richness of sound colors. Not only because of the amount of choirs but also because of the many possibilities of different register combinations.

The basic register forms of the right side are the following ones:

- Concertino (8) 

- Piccolo (4’)

-                Piccolo; transposes one octave up                                

All registers with the Bassoon 



Also the highest notes in the right hand of the bayan are different. The sound is sharper and more direct and the buttons seem also to react really fast. The sound is slightly a bit more direct and sharp then on my instrument.




I would like to show the differences between the two instruments on the example of the first bars of the first movement of the Chambersuite, 'Evening prelude':

Elisa, bayan:

On Bayan:

On Accordion:

With special thanks to:

My research supervisor Stefan Petrovic for giving me valuable advise during all the research process, my main subject teacher An Raskin for her advise about the studying and playing of the Chambersuite and my colleague Robbrecht van Cauwenberghe for being so kind to let me try his instrument.

Another difference is the placement of the tongues. The Russian tongues are placed on big plates, like the tongues of a harmonica, and not on blocks, like the accordion. For this reason they don’t have to use wax. Also the form of the tongues is slightly different. The Russian tongues are square and the ones from the for example Italian button accordions are conic. This makes the sound different.  Another reason for the difference in sound is the way the sound is leaving from the two instruments. The bayan uses the whole instrument as a big sound room. The button accordion on the other hand captures the sound before going out in small wood boxes, the so-called casotto. And last but not least the metals being used have a different compound.[4] 

Chapter 5 - The Russian way of playing in my own artistic practice.


My idea about the Russian way of playing and its concept how to perform that is as follows:

I think that Russian music should sound very organic and be played with a high sensitivity. I can achieve this by finding a balance between continuous movement and sublimity. The music should go forward but also needs to have its tranquility. The perfection of the performance is in the balance of those components.


In the following examples I will to show the way in which I have searched for reaching these qualities in my own playing.

I have started by compare two recordings by two very different players. The one is from Mika Vayrynen, a bayanist from Finland (Scandinavian school). The second recording is by Friedrich Lips, a famous bayanist from Russia. He plays on a very special instrument, that was made especially for him. It’s a combination between an accordion and a bayan. In an interview he says the following thing about this instrument:


“In 1990 in Amsterdam, Mogens Ellegaard told me that Massimo Pigini would construct a special instrument and asked me for my input. I told Ellegaard that the little things here and there, didn't really help that much, and what I wanted was an Italian made instrument, but with my own Russian reeds. For me the Russian reeds have a deep power and I have grown accustomed to this. Massimo Pigini was agreeable and proceeded to create two new 'Mythos' instruments. One for me and one for Ellegaard. These were the first two instruments of this kind. So my Mythos instrument combines the Italian craftsmanship and mechanics with my Russian reeds.”[22]

                                                                                                                                                                                      In the following section I make a comparison between Friedrich Lips and Mika Vayrynen. By listening to their recordings, I analyse their interpretation and way of playing. This has helped me to make my own version which I show afterwards in some recordings.

The annotations in the score should be red as follows:

      = Forward movement in tempo and sound. The starting point is the arrow. The line indicates where the movement is going. This could mean a speed up in tempo or crescendo.

      = Backward movement in tempo and sound. The starting point is the line and the arrow indicates where the movement is ended. When there is a ritenuto, I add the following symbol: 

My artistic practice


After the little analyses I did of the two versions it became easier for me to find my own way how to play it. First of all I personally prefer the version from Lips above the one of Vayrynen. The version of Lips sounds more folkloristic and I feel the Russian soul and passion. I have tried to get as close as possible to these qualities. Besides that, I have naturally added my own view and personal style in it.

 - My idea is to start bar 1 softly and mysterious. Bar 2 should not sound exactly the same, but more as a confirmation. I like to continue in tempo to the next bar and I agree with the little ritenuto made by Lips, halfway bar 3. The ritenuto he makes after that in bar 7 and 8 are appropriate. I would like to do that as well.

- Because of the minimal material of notes in bar 1+2, I have chosen to keep the first note in the right hand on 3rd and 4th beat a bit longer, sounding over the other two 8th notes. In this way the sound becomes richer. You can listen the sound file of my version below:


Mika Vayrynen has a very slow tempo, around (     = 32). Of course it should be played calm but this Grave tempo, sounds very slow to me. Besides that he makes very long lines without being very expressive. Vayrynen makes his phrasing only by making a big crescendo over the first page. I miss the expressive, organic way of playing. Also the last 16th note of every motive is played quiet long and portato. I would prefer to hear it as an upbeat for the next motive, to gain a forward motion in the piece. In the way Mika Vayrynen plays it, it becomes more a slow funeral march. 

My artistic practice:

In order to be able to make this piece into a nice performance it is important firstly to have a clear idea about this part. The evening although it is the end of the day, is also the beginning of the night. The evening twilight falls. The description ‘tranquillo molto espressivo’ shows this contradiction a little bit as well. Quiet but very expressive. The dotted rhythm remains constant throughout the piece. It indicates a forward progression. A propulsive bass, very quietly played.


To achieve this I have studied it first in forte. By playing the buttons almost stroking and with a relaxed hand as much as possible. After having studied it in the more difficult forte, I went go back to the notated pianissimo. Now the perfect sound and basis I want to achieve started to arise. Over it, the melody has to be played. It has to sound very expressive. This combination between the relaxed and quietly played dotted rhythm notes and the expressive melody demands a lot of practice and concentration. It is all about how to find this continuous movement in combination with sublimity. I want the music to go forward, like it does when Lips plays it, but also to have tranquility. For that reason I aim to play it a bit slower teh Lips. Finding the right balance between these components seems to me to be very important in playing this piece.

Example 3 is an analysis between the middle section of the third movement, ‘Snowfall at night’.  

I have chosen this section because it is a nice rubato part exactly in the middle of the third moevement, which has an A-B-A form. The middle section (B) is indicated with ‘meno mosso, molto rubato pensieroso’. Compared to the A sections the movement becomes less and it should be played very free and thoughtful. The meno mosso appears naturally after the first A section of 16th notes because the material, of the quarter and half notes with some decotarions of chromatic scales, is already less. The rubato and thoughtfulness way of playing was interesting for me to compare.

Recording of Mika Vayrynen:

Recording of Friedrich Lips:

Again I like the recording of Lips more then the one by Vayrynen. Not even one bar is played the same. The first bar has a nice movement. Like a thought witch comes up. The second bar is a softly repeat. The third and fourth bars follow are like an answer, with a nice ritenuto towards the end. This passage of thought and answer is repeated again but now the first time is louder and the second time even softer. The answer is extended with some decoration and has an open ending, which gives the sensation of hope.

My artistic practice:

I agree with the idea of Lips to have a difference in dynamics between every first and second bar. Something that I have add in my version is to play the chromatic scale or decoration almost in the end of this section, as a sort of upbeat towards the high note by leaving a little space between the repeat of the last notes of the scale. I like also to make a very little accelerando in the beginning of the last two bars before making a ritenuto. Listen my version below:

- Bassoon (16’) 

- Clarinet (8’)

Bassoon + clarinet

Bassoon + concertino

Bayan + bassoon

Non-transposing registers are:


The registers Solotarjow uses in the Chambersuite are:

Bassoon, Orgel, Clarinet, Oboe and Bayan

                                                                                                                                                                                    Bayan + Bassoon,

                                                                                                                                                                                  Bayan + Piccolo,

                                                                                                                                                                               Bassoon + Clarinet



The bayan of my colleaugue Robbrecht has a few differences compared to my accordion. First of all the bass does not have the option to play with the single 8 register, but only the double 8. This makes the bass really powerful and having a deep sound. Compared with my double 8 register there is still a clear difference, listen the audio example below:

Left hand accordion:

Right hand accordion:

Elisa, accordion:

On Accordion:

On Accordion with other register: 

The recording on the last register gets most close to the bayan sound. Unfortunately in that case, it should be played one octave higher because this is a transposing register. The result is that the melody goes out of the range of the instrument and makes it impossible to play it on this register. This comparison between the two different instruments and their registers, has proved to me that the sound and character is certainly influenced by the instrument.


Russian music is very particular. Through the centuries of this huge country’s history, art has always been of great importance, no matter what the political situation was. And the world still honors their cultural heritage, their literature, dance and music. Russian music has always touched and inspired me so it was obvious to specialize during my master in this subject.

Russian music is characterized by the presence of the people’s soul. This soul is sometimes dark, heavy, tragic, sometimes explosive but also very lyrical and with a great passion and imagination. Russians tend to go to extremes of ecstatic joy or deep depression.

An example of this is Vladislav Solotarjow an excellent and very gifted bayanist and composer. He has been of great importance for the development of our instrument; the accordion, or in Russia; the bayan. Facing many difficulties in his life because of the Soviet regime as well as his psychological situation. Although his life was short, he left us some great compositions and inspiration for others to compose for the bayan. Because of that and the technical and mechanical development of it during those times, the repertoire for bayan has enlarged since then and this has contributet to the change, from a folk instrument to an instrument for concert stages.

Becoming myself a performing musician I wanted to investigate what this Russian music is about. What are the characteristics and how do Russian performers play? I wanted to get as close as possible to the ‘Russian way of playing’. Focusing on Solotarjow’s ‘Chambersuite’ or ‘Sentimental pieces to Alexander Blok’, made me develop my Russian way of playing. I have done this through listening, analyzing and comparing recordings, from Mika Vayrynen a Scandinavian bayanist and one of Russia’s most important bayanists Friedrich Lips and making my own recordings.

This research has proved to me that the Russians play very expressive, with a lot of passion and freedom. Their music and their instrument are very colorful. I have achieved many of these characteristics in my own playing, even adding my own personal style to it in the end. Only the colorfulness of sound was still missing sometimes.

Wondering about my technique and musical decisions, I took the chance to compare the two instruments with each other. My accordion, built in Western Europe (Castelfidardo, Italy) versus the Russian-built, Bayan (Moscow). Because of the differences in manufacturing, the sound between the accordion and the bayan, is slightly different. The bayan has in some registers a bigger and richer sound. A sound that is necessaryfor Russian music. I would not say the one or the other is ‘better’ but for Russian music the bayan is the right instrument and because of its characteristics, it is of great help in performance.

It was really helpful to investigate the history of the instrument, the history of Russia and their music in order to get as close as possible to the Russian way of playing. Furthermore, reading about Solotarjow’s life, analysing his composition and listening to different recordings, greatly imporved my understanding of this music. 

These things have helped me to develop my artistic practice. The part of the research that directly involved my artistic practice has been of great value for me. And helped me perform Russian music in a better way. It has enriched my expressive pallet by including more freedom in my playing in many different aspects for example in tempo, dynamics and phrasing. The Russian way of playing is very free. I can decide when I speed up a little or slow down. I can do a lot more with dynamics as long as it still sounds organic and even in the phrasing I can be freer and take my own decisions. There are fewer rules then in other types of music. It is all about finding a balance between continuous movement and sublimity. The music should always go forward but it needs also its tranquility. The perfection of the performance seems to me to lie in the balance of these components.

I can conclude that it is possible to achieve the Russian way of playing. It does not mean that with playing the bayan, one can play in the Russian way also. Of course one can get close to some specific sounds and atmospheres, which one might not be able to reach with a normal accordion that easy. Besides that, it is very important to have or to imagine the Russian soul. If you do not have the Russian soul the performer should have background information from different aspects such as the composer and the country’s history. Next to this, it is necessary to be open to a different way of playing. A way of playing that might be unfamiliar to the performer. Leave some rules behind and try to find a balance between your emotions and the way you express yourself through the music. I believe in that way it will be possible to perform in the Russian way.

                     A research paper by Elisa van Kesteren-c012521-Classical Accordion

Student of An Raskin

Research supervisor; Stefan Petrovic. Circle leaders Ellen Corver and Enno Voorhorst

07-03-2016 Royal Conservatory of The Hague.


Tongues of the bayan

transposes one octave down; 

Organ + concertino

Organ + clarinet 




Bayan + Piccolo.

Left hand bayan:

Right hand bayan:


Tongues of the accordion






[5] Inna Klause ‘Das Leben des Komponist Vladislav Andreevic Zolotarev’ p. 17

[6] Idem p.18-19

[7] Idem p. 51

[8] Idem p. 41

[9] Idem p. 123

[10] Idem p.158-160

[11] Idem p.153

[12] Idem p. 153 and 162

[13] Idem p. 120

[14] Idem p. 42.

[15] Idem p. 53

[16]   Журавлёв Николай Алексеевич ‘Литературно-поэтическая программа в творчестве Владислава Золотарёва (на примере цикла «Камерная сюита»)’

[17] Francis Maes, ‘Geschiedenis van de Russische muziek, van Glinka tot Sjostakovitsj’, p. 9

[18] Stuart isacoff ‘A natural history of the piano’ , p. 242

[19] Idem p. 253

[20] Idem p. 253

[21] Idem p. 260

[23] Friedrich Lips ‘Die Kunst des Bajanspiels’, p. 79                

[24] Idem p. 78

[25] Idem p. 80