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Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Accordion World Magazine The following essay was originally published in the September/October 2004 edition of Accordion World magazine (editor: David Keen).
This essay was written by Friedrich Lips with a preface written by David Keen. This work is presented here by the permission of Accordion World.
(See our review of Accordion World Magazine) .

(It seems like yesterday, Part 4)
2nd Installment by FRIEDRICH LIPS

It is a great pleasure to present in 'ACCORDION WORLD' the second part of three of a monograph written by Friedrich Lips on the work of Vladislav Solotaryov. This is the first time Accordionists in the English speaking world have had the opportunity to read the full story, and we extend our gratitude to Friedrich Lips in authorising this publication.

This translation by Miss Barbara Harrison comes (as previous articles by Lips) from the German version by Dr Herbert Scheibenreif. The help is also gratefully acknowledged of the Russian composer Mr Artem Vassiliev, currently of the Royal Academy of Music, who read the original Russian and made a number of suggestions for improvement of the draft English version.

This article puts into historic perspective the development in the Soviet Union, prior to Glasnost and at the height of the Cold War, of a literature for the free bass accordion and shows that this was certainly not done without controversy. It provides also part of the answer to the question frequently asked as to why Russia is the leading accordion playing nation and dominates international competitions at all levels.

This second installment gives a deeper analysis and commentary on the composer's work. In this part the author seeks to show the various influences on the composer's work particularly 19th century Romanticism and in later compositions that of Schoenberg and his 12-tone system. The predominant influence throughout however is that of Russian culture and Russian melody. Above all Solotaryov was an accordionist and his music seeks to make the fullest possible use of the unique musical resources of the free-bass accordion in new and highly original ways.

David Keen - Accordion World editor

A Musical Analysis and Commentary on Solotaryov's Works

At the beginning of the art of the violin stood the great personality of Paganini. The pianists' art was essentially advanced by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov. For the art of the modern bayan Vladislav Solotaryov is one of the most prominent figures. He can quite rightly be called the creator of the original repertoire for the multi-voice melody bass bayan.

The work of Solotaryov is itself largely autobiographical. He was an artist with a very subjective mentality. Objective aspects of life went through the prism of his perception and feeling.(7) Everything he wrote was experienced by him and created under torment.

In his work one sees the difficult destiny of an artist. Sadly, the composer failed to produce all the highly interesting projects that were in his mind, to write a cycle of sonatas, suites, partitas and concertos for bayan. He once remarked to me with a smile: 'Children's suites somehow come before other genres!' Nor was the plan for a cycle of lyrical-philosophical operas about old Russia realised - 'Andrei Rublyov', 'Dionisy', 'Nil Sorsky', 'Sergei Radoneshsky', 'Joseph Volotsky', 'Avya Kum'.

After reading a book to the end, Leo Tolstoy is known to have been able to say whether it was written by day or by night. In his opinion, Jack London only worked at night, and Charles Dickens by day. Solotaryov composed mainly at night (and when by day, he closed the curtain and worked by candle light). Usually the plan took a long time to come to fruition, and then he put it all down on paper within a fairly short time, virtually without touching the instrument. In this way he often worked on several compositions at the same time. He always distinguished himself by unusual creativity. Sometimes, totally absorbed in a work, he would not rest day or night, and withdrew from the bustle of city life to somewhere quiet. 'My natural condition is solitude', he wrote in his diary.

He had a great love of nature, from which he derived strength and inspiration for his work. In his diaries there are descriptions of nature, testimonies of love and admiration. Clearly, linked to his own sensitivity and reserved nature, many of Solotaryov's works have a fragrance and a special feeling of purity (Chamber Suite, Concerto Symphony No 1). His romantic view of the world is present in nearly every one of his works. The influence of the Romantics in the 19th century is felt both in the descriptive themes and the harmonies. In his music very original images of the mysterious and fantastic appear for the first time in bayan literature (third movement of the Partita, 'Bagatelle' from the Children's Suite No 4, 'Mysterious Visions' from the Chamber Suite, second movement of Sonata No 3).

In the text of Solotaryov's works there are many directions to the performer. Dynamic markings are often exaggerated: ffff, etc. The composer tries to produce a powerful sound from the bayan (8) just as in orchestral music.(9) However, bayan players need to be constantly reminded that, even in the most emotional and dynamically loudest passages, they must produce an aesthetically beautiful sound from the bayan.

The foundations on which Solotaryov became established as a composer, are based above all on classical music, Russian culture and the latest ideas of contemporary composers at home and abroad. His creativity however, is very much of Russian origin. Apart from some individual cases of quotations from Russian folk tunes, (e.g. the Finale of Sonata No 2) his connection with folklore is indirect. Above all, these appear in the broad vocalisation of the bass theme (10) where his melodies are as beautiful and expressive as folk songs (e.g. the theme of the first movement of Sonata No 2, the second theme in the Finale of Sonata No 3, the Monastery of Feraponto, etc.). The polyphonic treatment of musical texture also indicates the connection with folk music. Themes in the 'Children's Suites' are evoked through images from Russian fairy-tales. One can imagine humour and sadness as well as joy and magic.

Third and fourth melodic intervals are also used to underline the Russian origin of the themes. One can quote a large number of examples from his works, where the influence of Russian melodies can be felt.

Solotaryov's music is also basically programme music, often characterised by a certain theatricality (a series of pieces from the Children's Suites) and pictorial in nature (Ispaniada)(11) as well as being humorous (Sonata No 2, 'Children's Suite No 2).

composer: Vladislav Solotaryov

If we look at the composer's work for bayan as a whole, it is not difficult to see that the individual images from earlier pieces are replaced by rather more general content in the later works. If the visual imagery spread before us in the Chamber Suite and in the first two Children's Suites is expressed by the titles and in the music itself, in subsequent works (Partita, two Sonatas) the programme is rather more abstract, and in the Five Compositions and the Concerto Symphony No 2, we see so-called 'pure' (non-programme) music, although the same mood is clearly recognisable here too.

Solotaryov's bayan works are appropriately scored for the instrument. His works sound acoustically natural, unlike some original works where the composers have a poor knowledge of the specific nature of the bayan. The works of such composers are more like piano works than works for bayan, and sound like arrangements. It is peculiar that some bayan players have reproached Solotaryov for the playability of the texture of his works. Composers who know the instrument well usually put their ideas on paper in an appropriate way. Let us take as an example the closing passage in Capriccio by A Repnikov. He wrote minor thirds in the octatonic scale quite naturally; everything else depends on the performer's virtuosity. In the case of a composer being unfamiliar with the peculiarities of the bayan, he could write this passage with, say, the major thirds in the semitone shift. Nothing is gained from the artistic point of view, but the technical task for the bayan player would be made somewhat harder.

This unusual feeling of appropriateness in bayan works is attributable to historically based causes. Essentially bayan players had to play arrangements and so had to tackle a large number of difficulties and drawbacks. Liszt, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov wrote for the piano and in no way thought whether their music would then fit easily on the bayan. Their compositions were only suitable for playing on the piano.

Solotaryov set out to write music for the bayan. The textures in his compositions are characterised by innovations. Sometimes they are multi layered and several musical elements can be heard at the same time. One finds passages over the whole range of sound in both hands, and a varied use of clusters (12) as well as glissando clusters. The use of standard basses in the second movement of the Chamber Suite is interesting. One senses however that the composer felt constrained by the narrow framework of this static keyboard and would therefore write all subsequent works for the melody bass bayan. Whilst Solotaryov writes mainly using the melody bass, he also sometimes blends the standard basses with the melody bass.

In 12-tone works (Five Compositions, Sonata No 3) the texture is not formally constructed, here the sound pattern comes to the fore, rich in content.

Solotaryov is a wonderful melody-maker; any of his themes illustrate this. His melodies are easy to recognise and always expressive. They breathe a peculiar freshness and unaffectedness; and even his 12 tone series are tuneful.

Solotaryov's melodies are stamped with the old Russian spirit. A theme develops, seemingly endlessly, especially the theme of Sonata No 2, the second theme in the Finale of Sonata No 3 and the main theme of the Capriccio. The broad melodic breadth and the rhythm combine in a flexible phrase. One can take examples of melodies of legend and epic type, which emphasise the Russian nature of the composer's music (Monastery of Feraponto). He also uses melodies as recitatives (third and fourth movements of the Partita). Many of Solotaryov's tunes are descending, giving them a sad timbre. His melody-making, based on the principle of repetition of the thematic structure, is felt neither obtrusively nor suggestively. Thus the expressive nature of the main motive is easily established.

A melody by Solotaryov usually develops in the bass accompaniment without counterpoint. By abandoning musical material enriched with counterpoints and imitations, the composer proceeds from the natural properties of the instrument, because the relief-like emphasis of individual motifs is difficult on the bayan, unlike on the piano. Another feature is the episodes with figuration, where the main subject is emphasised by changing register and dynamic contrasts.

I would like to refer to another feature of Solotaryov's melody making: it is basically diatonic, except for some works in the last period, where it is arranged horizontally in chromatic intervals ('Twilight' from the Children's Suite No 6, episodes from Sonata No 3 and the Concerto Symphony No 2).

With regard to the modal features of Solotaryov's works, attention must be drawn to the transformation of his harmonic language in the course of his creative work. In the Chamber Suite, the Children's Suites and in Sonata No 2 the harmonies are simple; the predominant intervals are thirds, sixths and octaves. Horizontally very melodic, vertically harmonious, they are very pleasing to the ear. In the Partita, partly in Sonata No 3. the harmonies are more complicated. The functional relationship is considerably extended, and at same time the feeling for tonality decreases. Structures and sonorities which are not based on thirds, come to the fore. There are seconds and sevenths instead of conventional intervals. The tune is distorted and sharp; vertically the functional relation gets lost. In his later work the composer uses the 12-note system (Five Compositions, first and second movements of Sonata No 3, Concerto Symphony No 2a). In this connection it is interesting to note that one finds simple harmonic resolutions in his 12-note structures.

The harmonic language of Solotaryov is based on the major seventh chord, which is no coincidence. This chord corresponds like no other to the composer's musical taste. The major seventh sounds tense in ff and sad in pp. In this interval a question is always asked, for which the composer has no definitive answer. In addition, in the major seventh chord the bright major triad (C-E-G) and the rather melancholy minor triad (E-G-B) can be heard at the same time. The simultaneous sound of major and minor chords produces a feeling of instability and tension, through which the emergence of a 'conflict situation' can be anticipated. One can quite rightly say that Solotaryov's music in some respects develops from the major seventh chord. (13)

Among the very characteristic modal features one must also mention the composer's preference for the octatonic scale (an alternate tone and half-tone scale). Rimsky-Korsakov had already used this very frequently in his work, as did contemporary composers like Messaien. Examples of the frequent application of this scale by Solotaryov can be found in the Partita (first, third and fourth movements), in the piece 'I Recall Moments of Deepest Sorrow' from the Chamber Suite, and in the Concerto Symphony No 1. One also finds shifts of parallel intervals, chords in the octatonic scale (e.g. in the second movement of Sonata No 2). In some pieces polymodal structures are used e.g. in the 'Christmas Carol' from the Children's Suite No 5 (theme in D flat major, accompaniment in B flat minor). Many works which are complicated from the point of view of musical language end up purely harmonic. Thus the basic idea of the composer's whole work manifests itself: from chaos to enlightenment.

In Solotaryov's work there is a characteristic fusion of contemporary and classical musical language. In this respect the composer of the Partita does not imitate modern composers and is not constrained by the scope of 'modern' systems. If he finds it necessary, he boldly goes beyond his boundaries. So in the first movement of Sonata No 3 he goes beyond the scope of the 12-note system.

For modern music the weakening of the harmonic (functional) trend at the same time as strengthening of the counterpoint in the horizontal is charactefstic.(14) It is fitting here to note that many works by Solotaryov are deeply polyphonic, some pieces being written directly in the form of a Fugato: second movement of the Partita, third movement of Sonata No 3, Fugato from the first movement of the Concerto Symphony No 1.

In the works of Solotaryov we do not find virtuoso passages without musical content. Moderate tempi prevail.

The metric-rhythmic organisation in Solotaryov's works also has its peculiarities. Their rhythms often do not fit in exactly defined bars with unchanging beats. Changes of time with different measures help us, for example, in some respects to understand the construction of the Partita (the time measure is unsteady to the point of complete omission of the bar line in one longer passage). It is sometimes hard on hearing, to establish the beat, because the metres basic beat is prepared from the start by part of the preceding beat, which leads to an increase in tension. Examples of this can be found in the Five Compositions, in the Concerto Symphony No 2, in the Fugato from Sonata No 3. In many works by Solotaryov a rhythmic figuration in Ostinato pulsates as accompaniment (one and the same rhythmic pattern), which contributes to the flowing continuous movement of the tune. Similar examples can also be found in works by the Viennese classical composers, e.g. the theme of Sonata No 21 'The Waldstein' by Beethoven.

With regard to the stylistic features of Solotaryov's bayan work, one must mention one final essential detail, namely the composer's thinking in respect of registers. Until recently bayan players registered original works for the bayan themselves. Solotaryov is a composer who realises the image with certain artistic sound resources, by imagining both the idea and established tone colours of the instrument. The composer carefully wrote down the whole registration, in which the registers required develop naturally from the start of the pictorial passages of the work. For philosophical ideas he was more likely to use muffled registers. Solotaryov did not restrict himself to three or four of the commonest registers. He used every possible combination of tone colours of the four-voice bayan in his compositions.


Following the above analysis, let us try in conclusion to highlight the new features which Solotaryov brought to bayan literature.

The first thing which I would like to underline is the new visual-emotional element in his works. Before Solotaryov there were very few fantastical and magical images in the original literature for bayan. A lot of his new and romantically moving images take on a sad mood.

In the composer's ideology there is a prevailing tendency toward the dramatic side of existence. Solotaryov was not afraid of mixing colours when opposing forces such as good and evil are fighting each other (Partita, Sonata No 3).

The composer puts a completely new light on traditional methods of using the bellows. Russian bayan players were always known for their virtuosic mastery of the bellows. However, until recently, composers rarely applied this expressive timbre and only as harmonic accompaniment to the tune (bellows tremolo in the Concert Piece by S Konyayev) or in lovely folk tunes ('Saratov Oruamentalia' by V Kusnezov, 'Volga Melodies' by A Shalayev).

In the case of Solotaryov this effect has been fundamentally transformed. The tremolo is associated with a number of specific artistic moods. Here there is both restlessness and trembling and a brewing storm ...Solotaryov's works are also distinguishable by the variety of playing techniques, such as clusters of all kinds; glissando clusters, bellows tremolo with cluster, cluster-glissando on a row, vibrato in the right or left hand and a simultaneous vibrato with both hands.

For the first time in bayan literature the composer used the method of collage(15) ('Slavsya!' an old Russian hymn by Glinka in the first movement of Children's Suite No 1, 'Verkldrte Nacht (='Radiant Night') by Schoenberg in the Finale of Sonata No 3 among others), and in the Rondo-Capriccioso for Three Bayans he quoted fragments from his own works.

It is to Solotaryov's great credit that he used artistic means of expression in a new way on the bayan and so pointed out new directions to composers in their creative search. In order to appreciate the positive qualities of Solotaryov's music, it is certainly not necessary to claim that it is perfect in every respect. From time to time one gets the feeling that as a composer with such a rich imagination he did not always succeed in managing the wealth of his material, which led to a looseness in form, and that he did not always manage techically to convey his thoughts fully. One can, of course, find other shortcomings in the works of Solotaryov, as one can with any other composer. However, in consideration of his crucial role in the fundamental change in relations between the musical elite and the art of the bayan, one must be extremely grateful for the coming of Vladislav to the world of the bayan.


  1. I do not want to find just any manner of expression .... I express myself in music (from Solotaryov's diary). return
  2. In the history of piano playing there are many examples of musicians with great compositional style being unable to realise their ideas within the limited possibilities of the piano. Let us remember Beethoven's sonatas, the orchestral sound of the piano in the works of Schumann, Liszt and Mussorgsky. return
  3. Any of my works for bayan could become orchestral works, but there are already so many wonderful works for orchestra; there is no need to add anymore' (from the diary). Obviously an orchestral score of the Partita for Bayan is of interest. Instrumentation of Sonata No 2 could also be envisaged. return
  4. 'Russian Chant (rasper) is an essential element of Russian unaccompanied vocalism, or Russian voice leading. If one listens carefully, all that is Russian in Russian music is based on chanting vocalisation.' Quoted from the book by S Yevseyev. The Russian Folk Polyphony, Moscow, 1960, paqe 26. return
  5. 'Ispaniada' was completed in 1974. This work represents pictorial stylisations in the spirit of Spanish music. According to the composer's words, he wanted to create an image of Spain as seen and imagined by a Russian. But in its form 'Ispaniada' is a rhapsody. In it there are Spanish dances and several large-scale middle parts as ostinato with a fifth movement in the bass which draws a picture of a sea voyage, and also a lot of cadenzas 'Ispaniada' is framed by one and the same cluster, which is intended to represent the sound of surf. return
  6. Cluster - compound sound in second steps, which should result in a compact sonority. return
  7. '.... my favourite major seventh chord', writes Solotaryov (from his diary) return
  8. 'For contemporary music the harmony which gradually loses its tonal connection must be an especially valuable binding force for the contrapuntal forms' S Taneyev. Moveable Counterpoint in the Strict Style, Moscow. 1959, page 10. return
  9. Collage (French) - quotation from another work return

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