A native of Belarus (b.1976), Accordionist Alexander Sevastian is the four-time first prize winner of international accordion competitions including the prestigious Coupe Mondiale in 2007 in Washington, [...]
They spoke about it
A history of the accordion would not be complete if it didn’t include a substantial chapter dedicated to Russia, which, when it comes to crafting as well as perfecting technique, the creation of specific compositions and the key role played by performers on the international scene, has greatly contributed to the development of the instrument.
In the mid-seventeenth century Johann Wilde had already popularized the sheng (mouth organ, dating from 3000 B.C.) at court, but it took only one year after the Viennese Cyrill Demian deposited his patent for the accordion to bowl over the Russian public at the Nijni-Novgorod Fair in 1830. Rebuilt, improved and Russified, its production began in the city of Toula and soon the instrument was included among those associated with folk music repertoire. In 1870, Beloborodov perfected a chromatic instrument with two rows of buttons. The instrument attracted composers, who began to dedicate their works to it. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), for example, used four accordions in his Second Suite for Symphonic Orchestra in 1883. This recording offers “Troika” and “October”, from his Seasons for piano, which exquisitely call to mind landscapes and events typical of each month of the year, as well as an excerpt from the popular Nutcracker Suite.
In 1907, Khegstrem founded the First Russian Society for Harmonica Lovers (harmonica and accordion are interchangeable in Russian). The instrument, which from then on bore the name bayan, after the bard and magician Boyan, who sang historical and fanciful tales (that are notably found in Pushkin’s Ruslan and Ludmila), allowed performers to exploit the most difficult works in the Classical repertoire. Here Alexander Sevastian performs excerpts from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), a cornerstone of Romantic piano literature, and two lyrical pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) – including his famous Vocalise – which highlight the instrument’s rich timbre.
As of 1926, conservatories and universities began to welcome the accordion in St. Petersburg (and the following year in Moscow and Kiev) and soon after that, specific competitions, publications and an extensive literature made their appearance.
A vital bridge between traditional folk and Classical repertoire, the bayan long remained synonymous with national pride. Indeed, the Soviet government did not hesitate to include the Jupiter factory in the Ex perimental Department of the Red Army. In 1966 the Soviets started to participate in international competitions, notably in Klingenthal (in the (former) German Democratic Republic), for decades winning all the first prizes. They continue to push back the technical boundaries of the instrument, while magnifying its expressive possibilities.
Born in 1946, Vyacheslav Semionov remains an icon of the accordion. A virtuoso and renowned teacher, his compositions are regularly chosen among the imposed repertoire for the most prestigious contests. The author of two sonatas, the concerto “Frescoes”, caprices, suites and fantasies based on folkloric themes, his Don Rhapsody No. 1, a true signature piece, has met with great success the world over. Inspired by Cossack folklore, this particularly virtuosic work draws attention to the various facets of the instrument.
Born blind, Ivan Panitsky (1906-1990) was known for his gifts as a performer. Contagiously simple, his compositions always take on a particularly expressive register. “Oi, da ty, Kalinushka” (Snowball Tree) remains one of his most cherished works.
Vladislav Zolotaryov (1942-1975) gave the accordion its reputation as a classical instrument. Consisting of six movements, his Chamber Suite is meant to be representative of his style and offers magnificent music, lyrical and melancholy, void of any painful drama, but rather imbued with light sadness. The work leads the listener into a meditative state, with only silence to greet the last notes. Dedicated to his wife, it communicates the depth of the composer’s feelings toward his muse.
Georgy Shenderyov (1937-1984) champions an authentic national style. His Russian Dance is made up of two different dances, a calm and reasonable rondo throwing it self into the other one, energetic and overflowing with joy.
Born in 1976, Vyacheslav Korolyov composed several fantasies based on Russian folkloric melodies. His Impromptu on “Oy ti, Rozh” was inspired by a song by Alexander Doloukhanyan, as well as the sudden death of the well-known Vyacheslav Chernikov in 1994. In honour of the latter, Korolyov wished to instill a typical color into “Oy ti, Rozh”, emphasizing a particularly lyrical theme, developed all along the piece until it reaches symphonic density. In the cadence, the com poser uses a three-note motif, C-H(b natural)-E, stemming from Chernikov. Unexpectedly, you hear a click from the converter switch of the left-hand keyboard interrupting the music, a gesture evoking Chernikov’s death on stage from a heart attack. After several se conds of stifling silence, the last variation is ex pressed, desperate yet bearing hope: life goes on…
The Russian folk song “Oi, Moroz, Moroz” serves as a basis for a complex fantasy that brings out the enormous virtuosic possibilities of the instrument.
© Lucie Renaud & Alexander Sevastian
Translation by Annie Prothin