Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Home > About Crete > Cretan Tradition > Cretan Musical Tradition

Cretan Musical Tradition

Crete is one of the few Greek regions that still nourishes a rich and robust musical tradition. Its tradition evolved from classical antiquity to modern times, having gone through such historic events on the island as the Byzantine influence, the Venetian dominion, and the Turkish occupation. There are numerous testimonies in ancient Greek as well as in Latin texts with conclusive evidence to the fact that Crete was the cradle of music and dance. In addition, Crete exerted a strong influence on the musical tradition of other regions in Greece.

Cretan folk music is deeply rooted in the rich musical tradition of antiquity. The information that we have about its evolution (from early Christian times to Venetian domination), as Mr. Nikos Panayiotakis notes, gives us the right to hold fast to the above assumption. In addition, some archaic elements found in its corpus -credited to Mr. Samuel Baud Bony- provide further support to the claim.

Furthermore, it is historically documented that the presence of Greek speaking inhabitants in Crete, as part of the Venetian dominion, experienced significant cultural growth. Schools of church music were established both in catholic and in orthodox churches. Church music developed in parallel with secular music, which was heard at parades, litanies and ceremonies at the courts of the Dodges, as well as at festivities of the common folk. The songs of that era were either traditional or popular ones from abroad (e.g. madrigalia, napolitaines, and other kinds of light music). The latter were probably introduced in Crete with some delay. However, on certain occasions musicians from Venice would come to Crete to shoe off their talents to the inhabitants of Candia (today's Heraklion).

The leading Cretan composer Fragiskos Leontaridis (1581 - 1672) was born and raised in that particular cultural environment. Mr. N. Panayiotakis claims that the Cretan composer is a true representative of modern Greek music. This claim, if true, transposes the roots of modern Greek music four centuries earlier. After the fall of Constantinople a significant number of eminent teachers of church music, e.g. Manouil Chrissafis, Acacios Chalkiadopoulos and others, took refuge to Crete, where they established schools and taught Byzantine music. Thus, from mid-16th to mid-17th century new composers appear, e.g. the Episkopouli brothers, Kosmas Varanis, Dimitrios Damia and others. Their work not only sustained but also rejuvenated church music.

Following the occupation of Crete by the Turks in 1669, a lot of Cretans took refuge in the Ionian islands where they transplanted the elements of their musical tradition, witch later developed as "Cretan - Ionian" music. Traditional folk music emerged in those days and, to date, it evolves quite satisfactory.

Crete is divided into four administrative areas. However, owing to its singular terrain characteristics, the division is also natural. Each administrative area of Crete is characterized by particular socio-economic conditions. This fact contributed to the development of the wide variety of instrumental melodies and songs reflecting the particular social and spiritual needs of the people of each area. These songs are not only of local range. They have been disseminated all over Crete. In the first category we have the "rizitika" songs of western Crete. Research has indicated that they are a unique class of Greek folk songs, which is an amalgam of all types of folk songs from all regions of Greece, excepting the "kleftika" type. The "acritic" (heroic) elements, which are evident in a significant number of these songs, indicate their Byzantine origin. The realistic elements of others, however, indicate Venetian influences. Besides those there is a third sub-category of folk songs which dates back to the years of Turkish occupation, while a fourth sub-category consists of songs related the events of the 20th century (The Battle of Crete, German occupation and resistance, Civil war, Cypriot strife, etc.).

To the second main category belong the rhymes, particularly the mantinades, one of the most significant means of popular expression, as well as the music of folk dances. As for dances, the most popular are: "Syrtos", also known as "Chanioticos syrtos", "Kastrinos pidihtos or Maleviziotikos", "Sousta" and "Pentozalis" (fast or slow). These are the basic dances performed all over Crete. In addition, there are other dances, however of local significance and range. For the orchestration of dance music two main stringed instruments are utilized: the lyre and the violin, while popular accompaniments are the lute and the guitar. The melodies of these dances however, have no distinct structure. They comprise short, autonomous and simple nuclear motifs, "kontylies", which are open to improvisation and combination. In addition to the above instruments, dances are also performed in the company of the mandolin, the boulgari, the flute and others.

This short review makes it clear that Crete is endowed with a rich and uninterrupted musical tradition. The contribution of eminent musicians, creators, instrumentalists of the 1920 - 1955 period shall remain a landmark in the history of Cretan music.

Let us hope that the influx of changes taking place on the island will have little influence on the traditional way of living, that the torrents of tourists pouring in every year will not stifle our musical tradition.

Georges Amarianakis
Professor of Musicology University of Athens


Search Property

See Also