Music of Crete

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The music of Crete (Greek: Κρητική μουσική) is a traditional form of Greek folk music, also called kritika (Greek: κρητικά). Although both lyra and violin are the dominant instruments of the genre, it is accompanied by the laouto, and sometimes the Mandolin, the oud, and the askomandoura. Like much of Greek folk music, Cretan music is closely related to dance, with many of the common traditional melodies corresponding directly with Cretan dances like the Syrtos and the Sousta.

In addition to a canon of traditional songs, Cretan music is often improvisational. Typically, the lyrics are in the form of mantinadas (Greek: μαντινάδα), fifteen-syllable rhyming couplets that originated in medieval Cretan poetry. Mantinadas are sometimes improvised, and sometimes taken from poems, particularly the Erotokritos, an epic poem that is a staple of Cretan literature. The musical accompaniment of mantinadas is called a kontilia (Greek: κοντυλιά), a melody over a four-measure chord progression. This system is comparable to the blues in American folk music. Another musical construction common to Cretan music is the taximi (Greek: ταξίμι), an improvised solo melody at the beginning of a song similar to a cadenza in classical music.



Cretan music, like most traditional Greek music, began as product of ancient, Byzantine and western inspirations. The first recorded reference to lyra was in the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911); in his lexicographical discussion of instruments, he cited the lyre (lūrā) as the typical instrument of the Byzantines along with the (organ).[1] The lyra spread widely via the Byzantine trade routes that linked the three continents; in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lyra interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments.[2] Descendants of the Byzantine lyra have continued to be played in post-Byzantine regions until the present day with few changes, for example the Calabrian Lira in Italy, the Cretan Lyra, the Gadulka in Bulgaria, and the Pontian lyra (Πολίτικη λύρα) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Following the Crusades, however, the Franks[citation needed], Venetians and Genoese[citation needed] dominated[citation needed] the island and introduced new instruments and styles of music. In particular the three-stringed lira da braccio was introduced. By the end of the 14th century, a poetic form called mantinada became popular, a rhyming couplet of fifteen syllables.

Post-Byzantine era[edit]

After the fall of Constantinople, many Byzantine and Venetian musicians took refuge on Crete and established schools of music. A French physician in 1547 (Pierre Belon) reported warrior-like dances on Crete, and an English traveler in 1599 reported the wild dances performed late at night.

The oldest transcription of folk songs in all of Greece can be traced to the 17th century, when songs in the rizitika type (see below) were "recorded" by monks at Iviron and Xyropotamos Monasteries on Mount Athos. Recording secular folk songs was almost certainly forbidden by the monks' 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. It was during this period, when modern Cretan folk music was formed, that Francisco Leontaritis was active. Leontaritis is said to be the father of modern Greek music. The explicit musical connection between Cretan music and Byzantine chant was documented in the seminal study "La chanson grecque", by Swiss musicologist and archivist Samuel Baud-Bovy.

By the early 20th century, the violin was playing a more prominent role in Cretan folk music, and was preferred in Eastern Crete, while the lyra was preferred in Western Crete. The West Cretan highlands also features rizitika; these are heroic ballads without instrumental accompaniment.

A combination of the violin and lyre, the viololyra, was created in 1920. Twenty years later, the modern form of the lyra appeared when a lyraki and violin were combined replacing the lyra drone strings with three strings in succession (d-a-e'). As a result, the range of the lyra was increased, and the lyra could start playing dances from the violin repertoire as well. Replacing the falcon bells which had traditionally been used to keep the rhythm was the boulgari (which was used in Tabachaniotika). Nowadays the laouto is used in this role.


The "tabachaniotika" ([tabaxaˈɲotika]; sing.: tabachaniotiko – Greek: ταμπαχανιώτικο) songs are a Cretan urban musical repertory which belongs to the wide family of musics.

The most exactly coming of the word tambahaniotika is that they come from the eponymous district area of Greek city of Patras Ταμπαχανιώτικα. Also, various conjectures are advanced to explain the meaning and origin of the term tabachaniotika. Kostas Papadakis believes that it comes from tabakaniotikes (*ταμπακανιώτικες), which may mean places where hashish (Greek: ταμπάκο 'tobacco') is smoked while music is performed, as was the case with the tekédes (τεκέδες; pl. of tekés) of Piraeus. This kind of genre found in Crete and Smyrna, too and played with the Greek musical instruments lyre and laouto.

Major features of the tabachaniotika songs are Dromoi (sing:in Greek dromosδρόμος) and musical instruments like Laouto, boulgarí (μπουλγκαρί, the Cretan orelse Mantinada, and local Cretan music.

The rebetiko like the tabachaniotika often share the political verse, that is, fifteen syllable lines divided into two hemistichs – ημιστίχια (8+7), generally realized as couplets. In Crete such couplets are called mandinádes (μαντινάδες), as are extemporary texts sung to the music of dances, mainly the syrtós, and the kondyliés (οι κοντυλιές). They focus mainly on the themes of existential grief and lost love, also common to the rebetiko.

Unlike rebetiko (which is described below), the tabachaniotika did not considered underground music and was only sung, not danced,[3] according to Nikolaos Sarimanolis, the last living performer of this repertory in Chania. Only a few musicians played the tabachaniotika, the most famous being the boulgarí (a mandolin like instrument) player Stelios Foustalieris (1911–1992) from Réthymnon. Foustalieris bought his first boulgarí in 1924. In 1979, he said that in Réthymnon, the boulgarí had been widespread during the 1920s.

Notwithstanding the dearth of performers, tabachaniotika songs were widespread and could also be performed at domestic gatherings. Notable artists of this genre who were originally refugees from Asia Minor include the bouzouki player Nikolaos "Nikolis" Sarimanolis (Νικολής Σαριμανώλης; born in Nea Ephesos in 1919) as a member of a folk-group founded by Kostas Papadakis in Chaniá in 1945, Antonis Katinaris (also based in Chaniá), and the Rethymnon-based Mihalis Arabatzoglou and Nikos Gialidis.[4]


Mandinadas (Greek: μαντινάδα) are the most common form that the lyrics of Cretan music take. They are rhyming couplets in two fifteen-syllable lines, a form that originated in Medieval and Renaissance Cretan poetry. Often, they are improvised by the singer, but they are also taken from poems---particularly the Erotokritos---or from the preexisting canon of couplets written by modern singers. Traditionally, they are divided into two hemistichs (Greek: ημιστιχί), the first of eight syllables and the second of seven, and separated by a caesura. For this reason, sometimes when mantinadas are transcribed, they are broken into four shorter lines in a rhyme scheme of ABCB as opposed to the traditional form of a couplet. The metrical rhythm of mantinadas usually falls into eight successive iambs followed by an unstressed syllable. However, the meter, the length of lines, and the division of the hemistichs are not at all precise, in the same manner as English blank verse. Mantinadas are written about a variety of subjects, but usually focus on love and nature due to their origins in Romantic poetry.


The First Lines of the Erotokritos[edit]

Του Κύκλου τα γυρίσματα, που ανεβοκατεβαίνουν,
και του Τροχού, που ώρες ψηλά κι ώρες στα βάθη πηαίνουν

Tou Kiklou ta girismata, pou anevokatevainoun,
kai tou Trochou, pou ores psila ki ores sta bathi piainoun

Of the great revolving cycle on which they travel,
and of the wheel, on which hours run high and low


Cretan Musicians[edit]

Some of the earliest popular music stars from Crete were Andreas Rodinos, Yiannis Bernidakis, Stelios Koutsourelis, Stelios Foustalieris, Efstratios Kalogeridis, Kostas Papadakis, Michalis Kounelis, Kostas Mountakis, Leonidas Klados and Thanassis Skordalos. Later, in the 1960s, musicians like Nikos Xylouris (Psaronikos) and Yannis Markopoulos combined Cretan folk music with classical techniques. For the above choices, Nikos Xylouris received the negative criticism of conservative fans of the Cretan music but he remained popular, as did similarly styled performers like Charalambos Garganourakis and Vasilis Skoulas. Nowadays, prominent performers include Antonis Xylouris (Psarantonis), Giorgos Xylouris (Psarogiorgis), Ross Daly, Loudovikos ton Anogeion, Stelios Petrakis, Vasilis Stavrakakis, the group Chainides, Zacharias Spyridakis, Michalis Stavrakakis, Mitsos Stavrakakis, Dimitrios Vakakis, Georgios Tsantakis, Michalis Tzouganakis, Elias Horeftakis, Giannis Charoulis, Giorgis Pantermakis, Giorgos Skordalos, Mihalis Tzouganakis, Kostas Kallergis, Giorgis Fasoulas, Giorgos Manolakis, Iakovos Paterakis, etc.

As Magrini (1997) has argued, modern marketing of Cretan music has concentrated on the lyra as the most distinctive Cretan instrument, to the extent that other instruments are seldom heard. This includes the violin, as well as the bagpipes (askomandoura).


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