Nikolai Chaikin was one of the most famous accordion composers of the former USSR. Among his most well known works are two Concertos for Accordion and Symphony Orchestra, two Sonatas for Accordion and Symphony Orchestra and many other compositions which have become a part of the popular repertoire of accordionists throughout the world.
Apart from his composing work, Nikolai Chaikin was also well known as an accordion teacher. He was the Professor at the Gorky Conservatory and the Gnessins' Musical Institute in Moscow. Nikolai Chaikin was one of the first composers in Russia and Europe who introduced the accordion to the musical world as a professional concert instrument.
It was a little difficult to organise this Celebrity Interview with Chaikin. This famous composer has suffered a long illness and after the last stroke attack, he can hardly talk and sadly he has almost totally lost his eyesight.
This Celebrity Interview is somewhat unique in that email was not used and it was made by telephone between Castelfidardo (Italy) and Moscow. Therefore, I would like to thank his wife Vera, who helped to answer many questions and made more precise many things in our telephone conversation. The voice of Nikolai was so quiet, that the recording device did not work and therefore all the Celebrity Interview had to be written from my memory, and I apologize about that.
This Celebrity Interview was planned to be ready for publication for the 85th Birthday of Nikolai Chaikin on the 15 February 2000. Sadly, he died in poverty only two days after that. I would like to thank Vladimir Zubitsky for his work in bringing this Celebrity Interview to us. Wallace Ligget - Moderator.
Q. Dear Nikolai, could you please tell us where were you born and your first meeting with Bayan (Ed. We have used the Russian term for accordion "bayan" throughout most of this interview.)
A. I was born in 1915 in Kharkov, the former capital city of Ukraine, a city with many culture traditions. The bayan as a folk instrument was very popular and many people liked it and played it. There were not any bayan schools and teachers, so I started to play myself by ear..
Q. How did you gain a qualification?
A. I learned the piano and musical theory at the Kiev State Musical Conservatory, and also I gained a composers degree there.
Q. Who was your teacher in composition?
A. Professor Lev Revutsky - classical Ukranian composer, author of a well-known Second Symphony, Piano Concerto and many choral compositions.
Q. Dear Nikolai, You were a witness and an important part of the evolution and historical process when the bayan developed from a folk instrument to became a professional concert instrument with other instruments. Could you please tell us about that evolution?
A. This is a volumetric question. I will try to answer briefly. There is a "full family" of folk instruments in Russia, such as: balalaika, domra, and guitar, many of wind and percussion instruments. There were many amateur ensembles and orchestras, where bayan was used among all others instruments. However, these formations did not have a big popularity in Russia, but the bayan as a solo (and accompanied) instrument was always very popular. Its predecessor - harmonika (diatonic type of accordion) was also very popular in the countryside and played the role of today's disco, and united all younger people in dance and song.
Gradually, the solo repertoire was accumulating. At first it was improvisation of simple variations on folk tunes, then people started to write the music down and that spread this repertoire among the performers. In the former Soviet Union, there were often musical folk festivals, where amateur bayan players were able to show their skills. More talented players started arranging popular classical pieces for the bayan, such as: "Flight of the Bumble-Bee" by Rimsky-Korsakov, "Turkish March" by Mozart, and "Polonez" by Oginsky (the most favorite piece).
In 1936, the First Department of Folk Instruments in Kiev State Conservatory was opened and named after Tchaikovsky. Later on, similar departments were opened in almost all Conservatories and Culture and Pedagogical Institutes of the Soviet Union Republics. I must say that this was an enormously positive development - and gave an opportunity to accordion and bayan players of gaining a musical degree at tertiary level. There are now many conservatories in the world, which still do not want to include the bayan in professional study. In Russia, that question was decided almost 60 years ago.
Thus, the developing performing process of the bayan naturally led to the formation of original repertoire.
Q. Why, being a pianist and a composer, did you write your first concert compositions for bayan, such as, your very famous First Sonata?
A. It seemed to me, that the possibilities of the bayan were much greater than the only folk repertoire available at that time. I wanted to make an experiment of writing something especially classical for the bayan, both in form and in meaning as well. Also, a friendship with well-known Ukrainian bayanist Nikolay Rizol, who became a founder of the "Bayan Quartet of Kiev Philharmonia", assisted my strong feeling towards composing for the bayan.
The "Bayan Quartet of Kiev Philharmonia" was the first professional ensemble in the Soviet Union which consisted only of bayans. This ensemble played on the stage for up to 45 years. It turned up during the Second World War and we played together in an Army Ensemble and traveled over a thousand kilometers of front-line roads making concerts for the soldiers. My friend Nikolay asked me, for a long time, to write a Sonata for bayan, and he really became a fervent fan of my compositions and introduced me to the wide possibilities of the bayan.
Q. Your earlier compositions are written for the bayan with standard bass only. In the latest works, you are using a combination of free bass with standard bass. Many of the performers are saying, that the standard bass instrument is used only in folk style music and that the professional future is for bayan with free-bass. What do you think about the free bass bayan?
A. I think, that there has been a real evolution in the historical process of bayan development: from the simple only standard bass instrument to the more complicated free bass and standard bass combination instrument. Although, I must say, that in Russian history, the first bayan were a primitive free bass only instrument. Only after that, were there made the standard bass chords for easier accompaniment.
Any evolution is a complication and the making of the free bass system brought to the players more polyphonic possibilities such as to play organ and claviers classical compositions. However, I still think, that the future of the bayan is in combination of both the standard and free bass systems. Both are needed to allow the maximum use of all possibilities of the bayan.
Q. What are you living conditions today?
A. Answer (the answer came from Vera, Nikolai's wife, because Nikolai did not tell anything): The monthly pension of Nikolai is 650 rubles (US$24.00) and mine is 400 rubles (US$18). Our son has died from a stroke attack at 44 years of age. Our daughter is working and having the monthly salary of 800 rubles (US$29).
Vladimir Zubitski: One month ago Konstantin Miaskov - one of the classical composers of the Soviet Union Bayan school - passed away. His wife, after the funeral, could not stay in such poverty and threw herself out the window from the 9th floor. This situation in Russia is not only a tragedy of the Russian bayan culture, it is also a cultural tragedy for bayanists throughout the world.
Here is address of Vera Chaikin. I would be very glad, if some of you will send a letter or telephone his widow to let her know that Nikolai's music is popular today, that he has not been forgotten, and that all he has done for the bayan, in helping it to become a professional concert instrument, is greatly appreciated.
Gazetnji Pereulok 13/15 appt.39
Phone: 007 095-2298831
Q. Further information about Chaikin was provided at the time of his death by Dr. Herbert Scheibenreif.
Russian composer Nikolai Chaikin died in Moscow on February 17th only two days after his 85th birthday. He was Vice-President and member of the music committee of the CIA (Confederation Internationale des Accordeonistes IMC-UNESCO) in the 1970's. Chaikin's most famous compositions for the accordion include Ukrainian Suite (1972), Concert Suite (1964) and Children's Album (1969). Among his students were famous bayanists such as A. Surkov, A. Beljajev, V. Fedosejev, A. Poletajev, Y. Kasakov, E. Mitchenko, V. Bonakov, V. Avraljov and others.
List of Chaikin Accordion Compositions:
"Ukrainskaja rapsodija " for bayan quartet
Concert Suite in 4 movements
Concert piece "Skoromohi"
Prelude & Fugue
Fantasy on 2 Siberian Themes
Two Concertos for bayan and symphony orchestra