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Bayan, a Russian Folk Music Instrument
August 2, 2007 15:00


The bayan -  russian musik instrument, is one of the most perfect chromatic accordions existing nowadays. It is widely known abroad as “button accordion”, while buttons are not the only difference. As compared to the western accordion, the Russian bayan has a different tone colour and fuller sound and is great for dance melodies.

The instrument was named after the legendary Russian bard, narrator and musician Boyan. The word “bayan” is found in posters and advertisements starting from 1891. Till that time the instrument was called “garmonika”.

“Garmonika” (accordion) comes from the Asian instrument known as “shen”. Shen arrived in Russia long ago, in the 10-13th centuries during the Tatar yoke. Some researches assume that shen made its way from Asia to Russia and then to Europe where it was developed and became the popular instrument of accordion.

The instrument’s expansion in Russia started from 1830 when Ivan Sizov purchased a hand-made harmonica at a fair in Nizhni Novgorod and decided to open an accordion workshop. In the 1840s the first accordion plant was founded by Timofei Vorontsov in Tula; it produced about 10 thousand accordions every year. Soon “garmonika” became the symbol of a new folk instrument and an indispensable part of all folk festivities and merry-makings.

The first accordions made in Tula had only one row of buttons for each hand. The so-called “cherepashki” (“turtles”), i.e. very small concertinas were developed on the same basis. Quite sonorous and loud, they impressed the audience, in spite of performing eccentric turns rather than music.

Saratov accordions that followed Tula accordions had an original timbre thanks to bells added to their construction. They became very popular.

The accordion masters from Vyatka expanded the sound range of the instrument by adding buttons for the left and right hands.

Livensk accordions had extremely long bellows some of them reaching two meters; a performer could even wrap the instrument around him.

Two-row accordions the construction of which was adopted from Europe were the next stage of the instrument’s development. They could be also called “two-scale” accordions, as each button row for the right hand had a certain scale fixed to it. Such accordions were called ‘Russkie venki” (i.e. Russian wreaths).

Nowadays all the abovementioned types of accordions are true rarities. They differed much from the bayan as it is known today.

The bayan owes its existence to the gifted Russian master Pyotr Sterligov. Chromatic bayans developed by Sterligov were perfected so fast from 1905 to 1915 that the latest models of that period are still used for factory production of the instruments. The instrument became especially famous thanks to the accordion virtuoso Yakov Orlansky-Titarenko.

Recently the so-called “selective” bayan has become popular among advanced performers: it is peculiar for the fact that the left-hand button board has no pre-set chords. Considerably expanding the music performing scope of the instrument, it makes the playing technique much more complicated.

Today the bayan with its broad sound range and purity of tone remains a popular instrument for playing folk music and is often the instrument of choice for accordion virtuosi who perform classical music.

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    Photos:

    esg.conservatoire.ru




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