The music of Crete is a traditional form of Greek folk music called κρητικά (kritika). The lyra is the dominant folk instrument on the island; there are three-stringed and four-stringed versions of this bowed string instrument, closely related to the medieval Byzantine lyra. It is often accompanied by the Cretan lute (laoúto), which is similar to both an oud and a mandolin. Thanassis Skordalos and Kostas Moundakis are the most renowned players of the lyra.

The earliest documented music on Crete comes from Ancient Greece. Cretan music like most traditional Greek began as product of ancient, Byzantine, western and eastern inspirations. The main instrument lyra, is closely related to the bowed Byzantine lyra. The Persian geographer Ibn Khordadbeh (d. 911) of the 9th Century, in his lexicographical discussion of instruments, cited the Byzantine lyra (Greek: λύρα - lūrā), as similar to the Arabic rebab and a typical Byzantine instrument along with the urghun (organ), shilyani (probably a type of harp or lyre) and the salandj. Bowed instruments descendants of the Byzantine bowed lyra (lūrā) have continued to be played in post-Byzantine regions until the present day with few changes, for example the Calabrian Lira in Italy, the Cretan Lyra, the Gadulka in Bulgaria, and the Armudî kemençe (or πολίτικη λύρα) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Following the Crusades, however, the Franks, Venetians and Genoese dominated the island and introduced new instruments and genres and in particular the three-stringed lira da braccio. By the end of the 14th century, a poetic form called mantinada became popular; it was a rhyming couplet of fifteen syllables. The introduction of the violin by the end of 17th century was especially important.

Cretan Man



Post-Byzantine era

After the fall of Constantinople, many Byzantine musicians took refuge on Crete and established schools of Byzantine music, as did numerous Venetians. A French physician in 1547 (Pierre Belon) reported warrior-like dances on Crete, and Sherley, an English traveler, reported in 1599 of wild dances performed late at night.

Crete Music 01


The oldest surviving folk songs in all of Greece can be traced to the 17th century, when songs in the rizitika type (see below) were "recorded" by monks at Iviron and Xyropotamos at Mount Athos. Recording secular folk songs was almost certainly forbidden by the monk's code of conduct. However, the connection between music and religion continues in modern Crete; priests are said to be excellent folk singers, including the rizitiko singer Aggelos Psilakis. It was during this period, when modern Cretan folk music was formed, that Francisco Leontaritis was active. Leontaritis is said to be the father of modern Greek music.

After the Turks conquered Crete in 1669, a distinct Cretan Muslim musical tradition developed, tabachaniotika, similar to rebetiko. In the 1810s, Georgios the Cretan helped to revive Byzantine music traditions. Today, most Cretan songs and music have strong eastern influences; some tabachaniotika songs have passed into the contemporary repertoire.

By the early 20th century, the violin was playing a more prominent role in Cretan folk music, and was preferred in Eastern Crete, while the lyra was preferred in Western Crete. The West Cretan highlands also features rizitika; these are heroic ballads without instrumental accompaniment.

A combination of the violin and lyre, the viololyra, was created in 1920. Twenty years later, the modern form of the lyra appeared when a lyraki and violin were combined replacing the lyra drone strings with three strings in succession (d-a-e'). As a result the range of the lyra was increased, and the lyra could start playing dances from the violin repertoire as well. Replacing the falcon bells which had traditionally been used to keep the rhythm was the boulgari (which was used in Tabachaniotika). Nowadays the laouto is used in this role.

Modern music

Some of the earliest popular music stars from Crete were Andreas Rodinos, Yiannis Bernidakis (Baxevanis), Stelios Koutsourelis, Stelios Foustalieris, Efstratios Kalogeridis, Kostas Papadakis, Michalis Kounelis, Kostas Mountakis and Thanassis Skordalos. Later, in the 1960s, musicians like Nikos Xylouris and Yiannis Markopoulos combined Cretan folk music with classical techniques. For the above choices, Nikos Xylouris received the negative criticism of conservative fans of the Cretan music but he remained popular, as did similarly-styled performers like Charalambos Garganourakis and Vasilis Skoulas. Nowadays, prominent performers include Antonis Xylouris or Psarantonis, Giorgis Xylouris, Ross Daly, Stelios Petrakis, Vasilis Stavrakakis, the group Chainides, Zacharias Spyridakis, Michalis Stavrakakis, Mitsos Stavrakakis, Dimitrios Vakakis, Georgios Tsantakis, Michalis Tzouganakis, Elias Horeftakis, Giannis Charoulis, etc.

Go Back