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The largest and most populous of the Greek islands. Its traditional music (kritiki paradosiaki mousiki) constitutes one of the richest and most distinctive oral repertories in Greece, well differentiated from mainland and other island idioms, and well supported by a long-established music industry.

Historical references indicate that Cretan music comprises differing and endemic traditions with distinct instrumentation, dances, and repertory. The existence of a multicultural Cretan population up until the beginning of the 20th century also indicates the existence of many and perhaps substantially diverse—but inadequately documented—urban and rural musical traditions. The first solid references in the history of Cretan music are available through the introduction of commercial recordings in Crete and the diaspora in the first decades of the 20th century. These recordings registered internal differences of idiom across the island and they were followed by a gradual pan-Cretanization of the local repertory and performance style. Eventually, they favoured the development of professional standards for the performing and recording musicians.

Some notable examples of local musicians are Charilaos Piperakis (1894/95–1978), Kostas Mountakis (1926–91), and Athanasios Skordalos (1920–98). They all contributed to the development of the local repertory and style. Also they became important figures of local identity and were popular in both Crete and the diaspora. Nikos Xylouris (also found as Xilouris; 1936–80) with his collaborations with entehno composers revealed new perspectives and increased the popularity of Cretan music with audiences from all over Greece.

Cretan music has been established as the music of the lyra, a three- or, less often, four-string upright fiddle held between the performer’s knee and chest. The lyra is usually accompanied by the Cretan laouto, a four double-course fretted lute assigned with keeping the rhythmic patterns and soloing either in unison or heterophonically with the lyra. Together they constitute the zygia (literally ‘two together’) that is the most recognizable ensemble of Cretan music. Less known but equally important for the local traditions of the island are also instruments such as the violin, the mandolin, the boulgari (or mpoulgari; long neck plucked lute), and the askomantoura (bagpipe).

Dance is considered a very important aspect of Cretan music. In fact categorizations of the repertory are based on different local dances. Some relatively small, non-danceable parts of the repertory are often referred to as tragoudiaor amanedes. Another, also non-danceable and predominantly vocal genre is that of rizitika originating from regions in the Chania municipality. Among the most popular dances are the syrtos, pentozali (or pentozalis), soústa,maleviziotis (also kastrinos), and siganos. All dances are in 2/4 metre. Cretan musicians make use of both Western scales and modes (dromoi). However, they rarely employ any terminology describing the modes unless for major or minor scales or chordal harmonies. Microtones are not in general use in Cretan music even though they sometimes occur, especially in the lyra performance.

Lyrics comprise an important facet of the Cretan repertory. They are essentially couplets of 15 syllables (8 + 7) called mantinades. The lyricists are referred to as mantinadologoi. Mantinades are employed in most of the Cretan repertory. Some parts of the repertory are focused on lyrical singing either through established lyrical compositions or improvisations. One of the most important references to mantinades composition is Erotokritos, a 17th-century chivalric romance.

With the recent foundation of music schools and workshops Cretan music has developed a music-educational canon. Notably, Kostas Mountakis founded music schools in both Crete and Athens allowing children to learn Cretan instruments through a structured educational programme. The Irish musician Ross Daly (b 1952) was the founder of the Labyrinth workshop in the village of Houdetsi, Heraklion, though the repertory here is by no means exclusively Cretan, and ranges widely including many and different musical cultures with a focus on the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean musical traditions. It was founded in the 1980s and since then it has hosted seminars with teachers from many regions around the world including some prominent Cretan musicians. Cultural associations have also proven very active in disseminating and preserving elements of the local culture in the island and the diaspora. Their activities have included both dance and music lessons for young children.


E.L. Ball: ‘Where Are the Folk? The Cretan “Mantinada” as Placed Literature’, Journal of Folklore Research, vol.39/2–3 (1973), 147–72

S. Koufopoulou: ‘ Muslim Cretans in Turkey, the Reformulation of Ethnic Identity in an Aegean Community’, Crossing the Aegean, ed. R. Hirschon (New York, 2003), 209–19

C. Williams: ‘ The Cretan Muslims and the Music of Crete’, Greece and the Balkans: Identities, Perceptions and Cultural Encounters since the Enlightenment, ed. D. Tziovas (Aldershot, 2003), 208–19

S. Baud-Bovy: Mousiki katagrafi stin Kriti (Athens, 2006)

K. Dawe: Music and Musicians in Crete: Performance and Ethnography in a Mediterranean Island Society (Lanham, 2007)

E. Kallimopoulou: Paradosiaká: Music, Meaning and Identity in Modern Greece (Aldershot, 2009)

V. Sykäri: Words as Events: Cretan Mantinádes in Performance and Composition (Helsinki, 2011)


Nikos Xylouris Axechastes Epitychies, Columbia 14C 045 712752 (1994)

The Masters 1920–1955, Aerakis Cretan Musical Workshop S.A. 540 (1994)

Ioannis Papadatos

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