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Ancient Greek Music History

The origins of the Greek folk song can be traced back to the first centuries of Christianity due to the orchestra and pantomimic performances that prevailed after the third century A.D. As early as the first century A.D., ancient Greek tragedy, which at its peak of harmonious unity, incorporated poetry, music and dance, had disintegrated into its component elements.

Greek music history extends far back into Ancient Greece, since music was a major part of ancient Greek theater. Later influences from the Roman Empire, Eastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire changed the form and style of Greek music.


In the 19th century, opera composers, like Nikolaos Mantzaros (1795-1872), Spyridon Xyndas (1812-1896) and Spyridon Samaras (1861-1917) and symphonists, like Dimitris Lialios and Dionysios Rodotheatos revitalized Greek art music.

However, the diverse history of art music in Greece, which extends from the Cretan Renaissance and reaches modern times, exceeds the aims of the present article, which is, in general, limited to the presentation of the musical forms that have become synonymous to 'Greek music' during the last few decades; that is, the 'Greek song' or the 'song in Greek verse'.

The tragic pantomime, however much a product of troubled times and adapted to what the ill-educated masses wanted to see, preserved many elements of Greek poetry. The word paraloghi (narrative song or ballad) probably originates from the ancient Greek parakataloghi, a form of musical recitation somewhere between recitation and ode (pure melody).

Further evidence of the relationship between folk song and ancient Greek poetry and music is the derivations of the folk words traghoudl (song) and traghoutho (to sing) from ancient traghodia (tragedy) and traghodho (to act).

Greek Folk Songs

The Greek folk song can be divided into two cycles, the akritic and klephtic. The akritic was created between the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. and expressed the life and struggles of the akrites (frontier guards) of the Byzantine Empire, the most well known being the stories associated with Digenes Akritas.


The klephtic cycle came into being between the late Byzantine period and the start of the Greek War of Independence struggle in 1821. The klephtic cycle, together with historical songs, paraloghes, love songs, wedding songs, songs of exile and dirges express the life of the Greeks.

There is an indivisible unity between the Greek people's struggles for freedom, their joys and sorrow and attitudes towards love and death. There is, however, a difference between dhimotiko traghoudhi (folk song) and laiko traghoudhi (popular song).

A "folk song" refers to the old songs of a given people; whereas, a "popular song " refers to more recent musical creations. Folk songs refer to all songs created before the 1821 War of Independence, which belong to the akritic and klephtic cycle.

From the point of rhythm, the Greek folk song is divided into the periodical and free rhythmic types. The periodical is characterized by a free flow of various rhythmic patterns (table songs) while the free rhythmic is characterized by the periodic repetition of a given rhythmical formula (dance tunes).

Article about: Music history of ancient Greece

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