Cretan Music

History and Profile

Crete is an island that is a part of Greece. The lyra is the dominant folk instrument on the island; it is a three-stringed fiddle similar to the Turkish kemence. It is often accompanied by the Cretian lute (laouto), which is similar to both an oud and a mandolin. Thanassis Skordalos and Kostas Moundakis are the most renowned player of the lyra.

The earliest documented music on Crete comes from ancient Greece. For many centuries, Cretan music was primarily influenced by eastern techniques and styles. The Cretan lyre is almost the same as the lyre of Istanbul. Concerning their roots, we have to deal with two different possible versions: 1) The lyre was brought by the Arabs who where coming from Spain and stayed in Crete as conquerors from 823 A.D. to 961 A.D.. During these years the lyre stayed in Crete continuously; this means that the Arabic rebab of that period is morphologically the same as the lyre of Byzantium. 2)The lyre ‘arrived’ in Crete from Istanbul, probably through the Dodecanese, and "entered" the island through Sitia, which is the neighbour of Kasos and Karpathos. This must have finished by the 12th century (1101 – 1200 A.D.), since two centuries are more than enough for a musical ‘trip’ from Istanbul to Crete. Following the Crusades, however, the Franks, Venetians and Genoese dominated the island and introduced new instruments and genres. By the end of the 14th century, a poetic form called mantinada became popular; it was a rhyming couplet of fifteen syllables. The introduction of the violin was especially important.

After the fall of Constantinople, many church musicians fled to Crete, as did numerous Venetians. A French physician in 1547 (Pierre Belon) reported warrior-like dances on Crete, and Sherley, an English traveller, reported in 1599 of wild dances performed late at night.

The oldest surviving folk songs in all of Greece can be traced to the 17th century, when songs in the rizitika type were recorded by monks at Iviron and Xyropotamos at Mount Athos. The theme of the rizitika songs differs. We have songs mentioning historical facts, songs of Death, of the street, company, heroic songs, erotical and reported in daily circumstances, in the living conditions of the shepherds, etc. Many of the rizitika are interpreted allegorically and are detected into them coded liberating messages that were transfered in times of slavery. Although, recording secular folk songs was almost certainly forbidden by the monk's code of conduct. However, the connection between music and religion continues in modern Crete; priests are said to be excellent folk singers, including the rizitiko singer Aggelos Psilakis.

By the early 20th century, the violin was playing a more prominent role in Cretan folk music. A combination of the violin and lyre, the viololyra, was created in 1920. Twenty years later, the modern form of the lyre appeared when a lyraki and vrodolyra were combined by Manolis Stagakis. Replacing the falcon bells which had traditionally been used to keep the rhythm was the boulgari, a smaller stringed instrument that arrived in Greece with refugees from Turkey in 1915.

Modern music

In the 1960s, musicians like Niko Xylouris and Yiannis Markopoulos combined Cretan folk music with classical techniques. Some Cretans felt that this was unpatriotic, and Xylouris especially was criticized relentlessly. Nevertheless, he remained popular, as did similarly-styled performers like Charalambos Garganourakis and Vasilis Skoulas. The film Zorba the Greek also helped to expand the audience for Cretan folk music; popularity peaked from about the middle of the 1970s to the middle of the 1980s.

Nowadays the rizitika function still in the traditional way, however mainly in teams of their realised friends, that are often organised in associations for their protection. Although, visitors in crete have the ability to join cretan nights with live music in various taverns mostly in villages all around the island. Even more many of the hotels organise cretan nights according to their events and happening schedules.