The history of accordion’s name “Bayan”

Posted by
/ / Leave a comment

This is the tale of bygone years:

from whence came the russian land,

who first ruled in kiev,

and from which source the russian land had its beginning

(Russian Primary Chronicle, translated by Samuel H. Cross)


Here I would like to give you the information why we use in Russia the name for accordions – “Bayan”, when it started to use and what does this name exactly mean.

First of all I would like to explain the choice of the article style. I decided to use quotation from 1st greatest historical Russian Annals book in the begging because button accordion and harmonica in Russia is really native and important national sign and the theme of the article strongly connected with Russian history. I hope that this way gives more chances to understand what the reason of the Bayan name appearance was and when it happened. But I promise do not use serious style of writing when I will speak about things which are not serious.

“Let us begin this tale in this way”:

In our “History of accordion performance” books in USSR and Russia we can usually read the official version that in 1907 well-known accordion maker Piotr Sterligov had made the instrument for Jacov Orlansky-Titarenko – popular harmonica’s player from St Petersburg.Jacov Orlansky Titarenko

This instrument was called “BAYAN”. J. Orlansky-Titarenko had numerous concerts with this and other new instrument made by Sterligov and contributed to great promotion of this name “Bayan” and also the type of these instruments everywhere in Russia. Soon all harmonics with the same construction were called “Bayan”. It was a type of harmonica with chromatic scale with 3, 4 or 5 rows of buttons in right hand.1

Tipico GarmonHarmonica or how we pronounce – «Garmon’» – was called only instruments with 1-2 rows and diatonic scale which used for popular tunes, easy folk melodies and so on.

Big Bayan “Yasnaya poliana” (TULA factory).3 rows in right, 64 buttons,E-la#4. 2 reeds in right. 4 in left. Full plates of reeds made in BRASS METALL. When multitembral 4 reeds bayans appeared in 50th-60th artisans started to use aluminum metal for reeds because of the lighter weight of aluminum. Convertor system of left hand means that this model produced in 60th or later when the education on free bass instruments started in all country.

This name “Bayan” has fixed during Soviet age. All people identified “Bayan” with 3-rows instrument and also called it “Treokhrjadka” (“Treerows’s”). And «Garmon’» – with 2-rows instrument. The instruments with 4 and 5 rows were not produced on an industrial scale for all country till 60-th and only very small quantity imported from abroad.Tipica Bayan

Accordion industry had task to produce accordions for everybody – cheap and with simple construction. This is the reason why 3 rows type instrument with 2 reeds in right was only chosen for the production. Typical construction of right keyboard became the position of keyboard panel not like in European accordion models but with the space between body of player and keyboard. This construction was also comfortable for Garmon’ players – it was easy to fix thumb under the keyboard. (This habit is still very popular in old teaching methodology). It also helped to control the instrument on knees, to feel confident contact with buttons.

Two reeds in right keyboard in Soviet Bayans always tuned clear, no tremolo. Tremolo tuning associated with piano accordion – instrument of western culture. And name “Accordion” used only for piano accordion. All Italian or German button accordions, like Hohner, Dallape or Scandalli with tremolo and also with big size buttons in right keyboard and big size of the keyboard many people called “Button accordion” of course. But in the same time some people called it “Accordion Bayan”(“Akkordeonirovanniy Bayan”). This instrument was usually used for entertainment music in tango, waltz, latino genres. For Russian folk music and in orchestra only clear tuned bayans were used. And until now former Soviet people use three names – “Accordion” (as piano accordion), “Bayan” (as Russian folk instrument) and “Button accordion” (western instrument for light style music). And only professionals know that name “Accordion” is used all over the world as name of both button and piano types. But then professional bayan players in Russia don’t know that name “Bayan” was also started to use in Europe but in another sense then in former USSR. And confusion with names still continued.

Why and in which sense European players and manufacturers have begun to use the name “Bayan”? In 70th Soviet players started to win classical categories in famous accordion competitions. And at that time the leaders of bayan art of USSR began to use new generation of bayan. It was already multitembral bayan with converter in left, cassotto and registers, 5th rows keyboards etc made by Soviet artisans special for these musicians. Now every professional musician knows about Jupiter, symbol of specific Russian sound, highest result of bayan evolution in USSR. Performers who started to play Jupiter (Moscow factory), Mir (Tula factory) and some other similar instruments have got the possibility to play transcriptions of classical music (including orchestral), contemporary music on new level of performance art. And name “Bayan” started to associate with instruments for serious classical repertoir, with academical style, with serious type of harmonica. And some of European accordion makers started to use the name “Bayan” for special type of accordion in their product line regardless of whether it is piano or button type of instrument. Top models with full range of buttons or keys, 4 handmade reeds, cassotto and clear tuning started to call “Bayan”. But both types of European “Bayan”– button and piano – mean “best of the best”.

So what is the history of name “Bayan”? When and where russian accordion makers and players discovered this name? This word has long history and many meanings.

Most popular opinion – the name “Bayan” comes from the name of Old Russian bard Boyan. Modern scientists refer this half-legendary person to 11-12 century AD. Boyan is the caracter of the famous old Russian epic poem “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign” written in Old East Slavic language and tentatively dated to the end of 12th century. Boyan in the poem was the bard, poet, musician and magician lived in the court of Gran Dukes of Russia. He extolled their feats, glory acts and victories with singing and accompanied himself on “gusli” – old string musical instrument of Slavic, Finnic and Baltic nations. As a magician Boyan could transform into animals and birds. His art as a bard was like creativity of Scandinavian scalds – poets of Viking Age.

Victor Vasnetsov "Boyan"
Victor Vasnetsov “Boyan” (1910)

During 18th-19th century, when the Russian literature became interested in Old Russian art, and remember Boyan. And because of oldrussian verb ‘bayat’ (to talk) name Boyan has got second version – Bayan. Boyan/Bayan became a symbol of beautiful syncretic art of Ancient Russia, predecessor of all Russian musicians and poets, national identity symbol. This name is begun to be used in different spheres of Russian life.

Bard Boyan we can meet in famous poem of the greatest Russian poet Alexander Pushkin “Ruslan and Ludmila”.

Name “Boyan” had Russia’s navy cruiser in the end of 19th century.Boyan

But we can find the word “Bayan” not only in Russian language.

Probably this word came to Russia from eastern and south neighbours of Ancient Russia. In Mongolian and Turkic languages “Bayan” means “Rich” and we often can find this word in titles and toponyms. Two Hagans (rulers) of Avar Khanate (state that existed on territory of modern Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Croatia and Serbia in 6th-9th centuries) had surname Bayan as well as rulers, generals and heroes of Bulgars (Proto-Bolgarians), Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

Boyan and Boyana are popular modern male and female names in former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

Slang of Russian Internet forums has also word Bayan, which means the repetition of already well known thing. It came from the situation when very well known old anecdote was on some website in “News jokes” section for a long time. Text of anecdote – “Yesterday buried the wife’s mother- tore two Bayans”.

In modern Turkish language Bayan means Woman/Female. During my concert tour in Turkey I’ve heard many compliments that Russian players so lucky to have women on a knees many hours every day.

In the slang of addicts Bayan means syringe, injector. (There is only one big difference here – they can use their “bayans” only while closing of “bellows” and no result while opening bellows. So it looks like AntiPiazzola bellows technic).

And finally we can say that history of “Bayan” name has long and rich history.

But back to our instruments I would like to add that not so many people take care about the reality. Only professionals know that harmonica came to Russia from Europe in the middle of 19th century. A lot of people believe that Bayan and harmonica were created in Russia. In fact the most important thing is that harmonica and bayan have found the connection with Russian soul. And Russian Bayan Art became one of the best in the world through natural integration into national culture and history.


1 Some of Russian researcher of harmonica’s history and also well known professor Dr M. Imkhanitsky says in his works that name “Bayan” was already used in different places of Russian empire by artisans for different types of harmonica since the end of 19th century before Piotr Sterligov.
2 After 2nd World War had appeared very interesting type of the instrument in USSR. When a lot of piano accordions came to USSR from Germany, some artisans had altered piano accordions to button version. 

Autore: Alexander Selivanov

Alexander Selivanov ha scritto 3 articoli.

Gli appuntamenti

  • No upcoming events
AEC v1.0.4



Siwa & Figli Accordions … a modern design with

Siwa & Figli Accordions … a modern design with "a ear on the past"

Founded in Belgrade, in 1983, by Ivan Stanojlovic and moved to Castelfidardo in 2005, the Siwa & Fig[...]

The accordion ... passion no limitis. Interview with M° Stefano Prestileo

The accordion ... passion no limitis. Interview with M° Stefano Prestileo

A young accordion builder cannot fail to visit Maestro Stefano Prestileo's precious collection of ac[...]

Interview with the Artistic Director of the International Accordion Festival (PIF)

Interview with the Artistic Director of the International Accordion Festival (PIF)

Being artistic director of a "big" festival of an "all in all" small world is a difficult and tiring[...]


3rd International Competition for Composition “Città di Spoleto”

3rd International Competition for Composition “Città di Spoleto”

The Cultural Association Italian Accordion Culture (IAC) in partnership with Acep, Unemia and Music [...]

Schedule time of 6° International Piano Competition

Schedule time of 6° International Piano Competition "Città di Spoleto"

Stop registrations to 6° International Piano Competition “Città di Spoleto” (21st-25th November 2018[...]

Strumenti&Musica Festival 2018 - The rules of Piano Competitions

Strumenti&Musica Festival 2018 - The rules of Piano Competitions

The Association Italian Accordion Culture (IAC), Première Voting Member of the CIA IMC-Unesco, offic[...]