The Free-Reed Review
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Book Review: Friedrich Lips
The Art of Bayan Playing

  • Editor's Introduction-Ulrich T. Schmülling
  • Introduction to the book-Prof. Boris M. Yegorov
  • 1. Creating Tone
  • 2. Playing Technique
  • 3. Interpreting a Musical Composition
  • 4. Particulars of Concert Activity
  • Epilogue
  • Biographical Register
  • List of Musical Examples
  • List of Names
  • References
  • 211 pages
    published: 2000
    review date: January, 2001

    Order from: Intermusik
    Postfach 1609
    59159 Kamen
    Phone: +49 2307-79111
    Fax: +49 2307-71822

    In USA and Canada order from:
    Ernest Deffner Corp.
    230 Herricks Road / P.O.Box 608
    11501 Mineola, New York
    phone: 001-516-746-3100
    fax: 001-516-746-7085

    Review by Robert Karl Berta :

    I had heard from several sources that noted virtuoso concert accordionist, Friedrich Lips, wrote what is considered the ultimate book on technique, interpretation and performance of accordion playing (published in 1984). Unfortunately, it was written in Russian so was of no use to me...or countless other non-Russian speaking accordionists. I heard later in 1991 that it had been translated into German. Still no use to me.

    Recently I was thrilled to hear that Willoughby Ann Walshe, familiar to many in our club [Mr. Berta is a past president of the San Francisco Bay Area Accordion Club], had undertaken the task of translating it from German to English. American accordion businesswoman Faithe Deffner informed me that I could get a copy from her for $23.95 plus shipping and handling. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to obtain the book. When I received it I was impressed with the quality of the soft cover book. It is 211 pages long. Twenty two pages of the book are two introductions (from the Russian edition by Professor Boris M. Yegorov from the Moscow Gnesin Institute and from the German edition by publisher Ulrich T. Schmülling) that are themselves a treasure of information about the accordion in Russia.

    Of course the first thing you learn if you didn't already know is that the accordion is not the familiar piano accordion we are familiar with. While the piano accordion is played in Russia, the instrument described here that the Russians developed to a high level is called the Bayan. Bayan is the Russian word for minstrel or rhapsodist. The bayan is a chromatic instrument (same note played on push and pull stroke) but instead of piano keys on the right side it has a series of buttons in rows. This can range from two rows to 5 rows. The bass system looks the same as what we are familiar with...often it has a converter...from stradella system to free bass although many of the bayans are only free bass.

    I suppose that many people would assume that much of what Lips writes about is specific to the bayan and therefore not of much use to the piano accordionist. In fact that is NOT true. While there are some bayan specific general everything in the book is applicable to the piano accordion...or for that matter even other forms of reed instruments like button boxes, concertinas and bandoneons. I found it curious that a book titled The Art of Bayan Playing would feature drawings of piano accordions on the front cover rather than the bayan. Perhaps that was an attempt to try to get the piano accordionists attention (if so this is a clever bit of marketing). In fact I can't imagine ANY musician not finding lots of gold in these pages. I am still reading and re-reading many parts of the book but have to admit this IS the most incredible collection I have seen. Perhaps the only "competition" is Anthony Gala-Rini's extraordinary collection of writings in book form, A Collection of Lectures, (also available from Deffner).

    The first section is devoted to tone. Some of you who attended Peter Soave's workshop may remember the very strong emphasis he placed on tone. In Lips' book that is also placed at the very top of the techniques. And I was gratified to see how much emphasis he placed on bellows control. Anyone who plays accordion knows that the absolute MOST important attribute of our instrument is the bellows which allows you to create an incredible array of nuances that few if any instruments can match. He also discusses keystrokes (and you thought you just pushed a button!), tremolo, bellows shake and how to perform various types of articulation. I am sure the terms legato, staccato are familiar terms to would you like to add a bunch of additional types of articulation to your playing palette? He goes into excellent detail and describes with text and musical examples of terms like legatissimo, portato, tenuto, detache, marcato, non legato, martellato and knowing all those terms will impress someone with your knowledge! Throughout there are descriptions of various that caught my eye is that there is an alternative way to do a trill...instead of with alternating fingers you can rapidly rotate your wrist...evidently this is easier to maintain than the more traditional method.

    The next section is devoted to the other key attribute of the accordions...registers. Lips describes how to choose the appropriate register and apply to total perspectives and phrasing. You may remember the articles that both Paul Magistretti and myself have written about phrasing...making the music sing. I was happy to see that Lips also considers that of prime importance.

    Next up is a chapter on playing technique which discusses everything from how you sit and how the accordion sits on ornamentation, scales, arpeggios, chords, jumps and polyphony. Fingering is discussed and while the fingering for a bayan is obviously different than a piano accordion...the same principles apply.

    The second to last chapter deals with interpretation of a musical composition. It discusses how to develop a musical picture, content, tempo (Paul Magistretti's excellent article in the November Bay Area Accordion Club newsletter comes to mind), rhythm and interpretation.

    Lastly Lips covers how to give a concert...from selecting the repertoire to preparations before the concert, to after the concert.

    After reading this book I believe that EVERY teacher should include a copy for each of his students and regularly refer to it to illustrate various techniques. And of course for us "oldsters"....a book like this can greatly improve our playing and give you some exciting new tricks to learn. I even found it valuable as a listening tool. After reading through the book and than listening to my recordings of Semyonov and Lips I was able to spot many examples of what the book described. It was great to have these nuances revealed and as a result I have become even more impressed with what those artists are doing. In short...this is the best $25 I have spent on my accordion.

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