Repertories and identities of a musician from Crete (Magrini)

The Cretan lyra and the influence of violin

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Old lyraki and new lyra
The Cretan lyra is a small, pear-shaped, three-string fiddle, (7) held upright and played by stopping the strings from the side with fingernails, widespread in Crete and the Dodecanese. (8) The island of Crete has been the center of the transformation of the old lyraki, a small model of lyra devoted only to the performance of dances, into the modern lyra, commonly found today throughout the island (Anoyanakis 1976: 259). This transformation took place long ago under the influence of the violin, even if it would be difficult to say when and why. According to Papadakis, the violin seems to have been the main musical instrument in the province of Chaniá in the nineteenth century, while until the second half of the twentieth century in Western Crete, the lyra was played mainly in the province of Rethymnon (map).

The violin exerted its influence on the lyra both under the organological and musical aspect: it caused the transformation of many features of the instrument and, above all, of its tuning, performance practice, and repertory.

Organology and musical language The old lyra, or lyraki, was tuned 5-1-4. The performer played melody on the first string, i.e, first on player's left (psilí or kandí or kandini) and third string (vourgara), using the second string (mesakí) as a drone. The player always played on two of strings (the first + the second, or the second + the third) at the same time and could easily perform the melody on the first and third strings while holding the second one. While the second and third strings were played only as open strings, the lyrist played the first one by touching his nails from the left side, obtaining five tones (one tone on the open string plus four stopped tones). With the addition of the unstopped tone of the third string, the melodic range of the old lyra was a sixth. A musical selection displays five of the six-tone melodic range of a sousta recorded in Chalki and performed by V. Sfiriou on the old type of lyra, or lyraki.
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Sousta recorded in Chalki. V. Sfiriou, lyraki
Score 1:

Dances like this, which combine the melodic range of a sixth, the drone, and a type of melody arranged in sequences of two-measures in 2/4, seem related to the musical language of the askomadoura (the Cretan bagpipe) (Magrini 1982: 69-73, 138-141). These dances were generally accompanied by a drum.

Score 2

Music like this (for instance, dances such as the sousta, the traditional dance of Rethymnon, and maleviziotis, the traditional dance of Iraklion) are still performed in Crete with the modern lyra, but performance practice as well as some musical details are different, because of the different organological aspects.

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Sousta. Gheorghios Zimakis, voice and lyra; Jakovos Fotiadis, laouto
The modern lyra is tuned in fifths, like the violin, uses no drone string, and all strings (the space between which has become wider) may be fingered and used as melody strings. This results in a different way of performing old dance melodies, the player now using the first and second strings (new lyra) for the melody instead of first and third (old lyra). The accompaniment of the laouto (which spread after World War II) has taken the place of the drum and compensates for the loss of the drone.

score 3

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Syrtós Stou touphekiou ti moira. Kostas Moudakis, lyra
But, besides the old repertory, the new lyra, thanks to its new organological characteristics, can perform a new and different repertory of dances, namely the broad violin repertory of syrtós, already performed by the lyra in the 1920s, as documented in Signell's article. The syrtós is currently the predominant dance in Crete and its musical language differs from that of sousta or maleviziotis. The melodies of the syrtós have longer phrases, generally of wider ambitus, their performance requires fingering all strings, in most cases, as in the syrtós musical example played by Moudakis

When playing syrtós, the lyra adopts sometimes violin virtuosic technique, as shown in this transcription fragment:

Syrtos (fragment)

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imitation of the violin. Silver Star. Gheorghios Zimakis, lyra
It may also overtly and ironically imitate the sound and repertoire of the violin, as in Silver Star recording, performed by Zimakis.

Influence of the violin brought about profound changes in the Cretan lyra, an instrument now far removed from the old lyraki in its repertory, musical language, performance practice, and organology. The adoption of the contemporary lyra as the musical emblem of Crete to connect its present musical culture to its remote past, overlooks the transformation of the lyra and its many debts to Crete's violin tradition. As often happens, nationalism has fostered this process of transformation, instead of recovering an "uncontaminated" tradition.

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