Museum of Greek folk instruments: bowed

By: | Post date: July 2, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Greece, Music

The dominant instrument of the Greek islands and Asia Minor is the lyra, a bowed instrument played on the knee, and that originated in Byzantium; I don’t have a clear sense whether the Byzantine lyra, or the Arabic rebab came first.

In Turkey and in Pontic Greek, it is called the kemençe, and it is normally in better focus than this:

I was surprised to see this boxy lyra from Cappadocia, with sympathetic strings (i.e. strings not played, but added for resonance):

The musician Ross Daly is pretty proud of his innovation of adding sympathetic strings to the lyra. Sympathetic strings are normally found in Indian music; but he wasn’t the first to think of adding them to the lyra.

The lyra is the main instrument of the Dodecanese, but I seem not to have bothered taking pictures, because the Dodecanesian instances were face-down. The big story with lyra-making though is Crete. What is played in the Dodecanese to this day resembles what the lyra used to look like in Crete a century ago:



—a sleighbell bow, with drone strings (D, e) either side of a single string for the tune (A). (Wikipedia says it’s the other way round: the middle higher string is the drone.) The older Cretan lyra, it is easy to reconstruct, was built for what used to be bagpipe repertoire. But modernity and the demands of the recording industry hit the Cretan lyra early, and transformed it into a violin hybrid. Literally initially, with the viololyra before WWII,

then back to three strings, but in ascending order rather than with drone strings. (The odd man out on the left is the older-fashioned Dodecanesian type.)With a celebrity instance looking quite out of place among the crude folk carvings: the lyra of Nikos Xilouris (1936–1980), greatest of all Cretan musicians in recent memory:

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