Kritiki Lyra


The Cretan lyra is a small, pear-shaped, three-string fiddle, held upright and played by stopping the strings from the side with fingernails, widespread in Crete and the Dodecanese. 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. 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.

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.

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.


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.


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