Sofia Gubaidulina – “Under the Sign of Scorpio”

Variations on Six Hexachords for Bayan and Large Orchestra

There are instruments that allow a transition to be made from one sonic/spatial dimension into another without changing finger positions on the string or keyboard. All such instruments hold a particular fascination for me.

A natural harmonic of a third, for example, is produced on a stringed instrument when the finger only lightly touches the string. If one replaces this light touch with an expressive vibrato, however, one immediately finds oneself in a completely different sound world, although the finger remains on one spot, unchanged. Only the relationship to this point changes, the degree of contact.

With the bayan, too, there is the possibility of changing from one sonic/spatial dimension into another. This is done by switching from the single-tone manual, where each button corresponds to a particular tone, to the standard-bass manual, where each button corresponds to a chord. I made use of this special characteristic of the instrument in the bayan concerto: three melodic notes on the single-tone manual are here transformed into five or seven-voiced chord complexes by switching manuals.

But another possibility of the standard-bass manual was the most important one for me: by simultaneously depressing two buttons corresponding to a major and a minor chord respectively, and then shifting the hand gradually upwards or downwards over the instrument’s entire range – without changing the finger position – six different hexachords will result. These six hexachords lend the entire composition the structural foundation for its material and form: variations on six hexachords – thus the work’s subtitle.

The title of the bayan concerto “Under the Sign of Scorpio” arose from the fact that this work is dedicated to one of the most serious musicians of our time, the bayanist Friedrich Lips, who was born under the zodiacal sign of Scorpio. (Incidentally, this is also my own zodiacal sign.)

Sofia Gubaidulina