2015-04-21 00:48:00

Cretan lyra

Our Erasmus+ programme  student, Dimitrios Xilouris,  from Crete is reporting about the Cretan lyra – a fabulous instrument from Byzantine times. Dimitris' family has a long tradition of keeping and using this instrument.

The main instrument of Cretan Music is the Cretan lyra, a small three stringed fiddle held upright on the knee, bowed horizontally with a lyra bow. The Cretan lyra is distinctive and inspiring. Its origins are a big mystery although it seems that it comes from the Persian instrument called rebab. These types of bowed instruments were very common during the Byzantine Empire but later, when the Crusaders invaded the Greek islands and the Venetians built  their empire in Crete and other parts of Greece,  a new type of lyra was introduced called Lyra da Braccio. The Lyra da Braccio sounds and looks like the Cretan lyra.


 

The Cretan lyra is the most  famous musical instrument for Cretan traditional music . It is central to the traditional music of Crete and other islands in the Dodecanese and the Aegean Archipelagos. The Cretan lyra is considered as the most popular surviving  form  of  the medieval Byzantine lyra, an ancestor of most European bowed instruments and equivalent to the rebab found in Islamic empires of that time.

The Byzantine lyra spread westward through Europe with uncertain evolution. A notable example is the Italian lira da Braccio, a 15th century bowed instrument and possibly the predecessor of the modern violin. Bowed instruments similar to the Cretan lyra and direct descendants of the Byzantine lyra have continued to be played in many post Byzantine regions until the present day with small changes.  For example  the Gadulka in Bulgaria the bowed Calabrian lyra in Italy and the Classical Kemenche in Instanbul Turkey.

The lyra has a body with a pear sharped soundboard or one which is essentially oval in shape with two small semi circular soundholes. The body and neck are carved out of one piece of aged wood.

The Cretans use the lyra to accompany their melodious citations and they improvise a lot both verbally and musically, creating mind blowing songs and verses mostly known as ''mantinades''. The lyra is not played like the violin despite the use of the bow. The player does not press the strings but  touches them with the tip of the nail a technique used only in the Cretan Lyra. In the old days the performers would hang small bells on the bow called ''gerakokoudouna''.

 

There are three major types of Cretan Lyras
1.The Lyraki, a small model of lyra almost identical to the Byzantine Lyra devoted only to the performance of dances.
2.The Vrontolyra, which gives a very strong sound ideal for accommpaniment  for songs.
3.The common lyra, popular in the island today, was designed via a combination of lyraki with the violin.

My family has a long tradition in Cretan music.The name Xylouris in Cretan is linked directly with performing with a lyra.
Nikos Xylouris, perhaps the most famous Cretan musician and singer, was my grandfather's first cousin. He was a composer and singer from the village Anogia in Crete. He was part of the movement that brought down the military Junta of 1967. His songs and music captured and described the Greek psyche and demeanor gaining him the title of the archangel of Crete.

 

His brother Antonis Xylouris known as Psarantonis,  is considered to be one of the greatest lyra players alive. He is known for the special timbre of his voice and his unique lyra playing style. He is one of the few Cretan lyra performers who have played in major festivals around the world such as in New York,the United Kingdom and Sydney.

 


Literature:

http://www.greeksongs-greekmusic.com/cretan-lyra/
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