Cretan music is wild and unpredictable. Quite a different thing to the disciplined bouzouki music of the Greek mainland. Endless melodies, one after the other in complicated 7/8 or 9/8 time, sometimes monotonous and archaic, sometimes almost ecstatic. The oriental influence cannot be missed.
The main role is taken by the lyra, the traditional three-stringed instrument made of mulberry wood, supported on the knee. It resembles a violin, but is played by grazing the strings with a fingernail and plays the main melody. A theme is repeated with an infinite number of varitations and embellishments. The laouto (a type of lute, doublestrung, 4 or 6 double strings) and the tambouras (bouzouki) serve as accompanying instruments.
There is often singing, too, with the singer and the lyra leading the melody alternately. The verses mostly consist of Mantinades (or Kondylies), which are 15-syllable couplets with a lot of humour and spirit. They are often created spontaneously and deal with love, nature or worldly affairs, sometimes spoofing members of the audience. There are Mantinades for every occasion, and even children practise them. The pieces of music can be drawn out for as long as desired, by repeating the second half of the stanza together with the first half of the second stanza (A1+A2-A2+B1-B1+B2). The original form of making music is met at most Cretan festivals. Even young peple are mostly interested in it, in spite of the existence of pop music, and there are even complete orchestras of lyras in the cities. The lyra is an exacting instrument to play, and with hard work and talent it can bring a masterful virtuosity to it’s player.
Cretan traditional music is very complex due to the fact that many civilizations, at various periods of time, have intruded and inhabited the island: Venetians, Saracens, Turks…Moreover, after 330 B.C. Greek civilization followed two trends, one following Alexander the Great (in the East) and another following the Roman trends (in the West). Crete was a colony of the Byzantine Empire and occasionally received many refugees.
All kinds of music that the various cultures have introduced to the island have stayed there and created a chaos of sounds. The Cretans have combined and embellished all these kinds of music and created all these beautiful songs we can hear up untill today, like rizitika (‘rebel’ feast music), amanes (popular musical genre originated in Ionia and famous in Smyrna, which includes an instrumental introduction, two lines sung with long melismas on the word aman, and a faster instrumental refrain) and Erotokriti (folk songs based upon the celebrated love poem Erotokritos by the Cretan Poet Vincenzo Cornaros. It contains upwards of 10.000 lines, equal to 5000 verses, composed in the 16th century).