CHAPTER 5: Dulcimers in other countries since 1800 > Eastern Europe

Greece - 5 of 9: Dimitris B. Kofterós, Santouri of Lesbos, 1997

The Music of Lesbos

The origin of the Lesbians' love for music is a tale lost between myth and reality. According to mythology, the waves of the Aegean washed up the lyre and head of Orpheus on the shore of Lesbos, after he was decapitated by the Maenads and disposed of in the river Evros. The inhabitants buried his head on Mt. Lepetymnos and offered the lyre to the unrivalled poet and musician Terpandros who 'became an expert in music'. Some of the most important representatives of the Eolian school of lyric poetry were Alkaios, Sapfo, Anon, Frini, Aghinor, etc.

Musical creativity was not hindered when the island lost its political independence. In times of Roman occupation the prytaneum, the theatre and the conservatory were so grand and glamorous, that the Roman Pompius, when returning to Rome after the war against Mithridatis, attended the poetry contest of Lesbos and was so impressed, that he copied the plans and built a similar theatre in Rome.

During the Byzantine and the post-Byzantine era, the great musical tradition was continued by Christophoros Patrikios, Georgios o Lesvios, Nikolaos Paganas and many others.

Music and song run in the veins of Lesbians. They transform their sorrow and joy into songs and sing them night and day. There is always a tune on the tip of their tongues, which is suitable for every social event, for every particular occasion. Some songs are to be sung solo, while others are to be accompanied by musical instruments.

Lesbos traditionally developed sea trade and held very close contacts with the nearby coastal towns in Asia Minor, and with Eastern European countries around the Black Sea. Culture and merchandise alike, came and went continuously. Tunes and songs from Smyrna, Istanbul and other commercial centres, were sung in houses of nouveau-riche Lesbians.

Every village had at least one small orchestra. The main instruments were the violin, the santouri and the wind instruments which were being imported by the end of last century. When the ensemble was complete it included a trombone, a cornet, a clarinet, a violin, a santouri, euphonium and a snare drum with a hi-hat. Some orchestras replaced the euphonium with a cello. In certain areas they used 'ziyias' of a shaum (or bag-pipe) and drum.

The repertoire was varied and rich, from traditional karsilama, zeibekiko, syrto, ballos, kalamatiano and chasaposerviko dances, to marches, polkas and mazurkas.

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