Name: Cretan Lyra.
Type: Bowed Lute > Chordophone.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.71
Tuning: A / D / G.
Description: The Cretan lyra [in Greek: Κρητική λύρα] is a Greek bowed musical instrument having a pear shaped body and short neck. This particular type of era is played in the Dodecanese and Aegean Archipelago in Greece. The Cretan lyra is considered to be the most popular surviving form of the medieval Byzantine lyra, it is considered an ancestor of many European bowed instruments.
Origins: The lyra has been cited as a typical instrument played in the Byzantine by the 9th century Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih [d. 911] in his lexicographical discussion of musical instruments along with others including urghun [organ], shilyani probably a type of harp or lyre and the salandj [a type of bagpipe]. Margret J. Kartomi, 1990.
The lyra spread westward through Europe with an uncertain evolution. A noticeable example is the Italian Lira da Braccio. A 15th Century bowed instrument and likely candidate for the predecessor of the violin. The descendants of the Cretan lyra are played in post Byzantine areas. This includes the Bulgarian Gadulka, Calabrian Lira and classical Kemence [Classical Kemenche / Turkish: Armudî kemençe / in Greek: Πολίτικη λύρα] in Istanbul, Turkey.
Varieties: Several varieties of this instrument exist. They include the lyraki [Greek: λυράκι] a small model of lyra. The lyraki is almost identical to the Byzantine lyra, used only for the performance of dances [Anoyanakis, 1976] the vrontolyra [Greek: βροντόλυρα], which has a very strong sound, ideal for accompaniment of songs the common lyra [Greek: λύρα κοινή], popular in the island today; designed based on the combination of lyraki with the violin.
The influence of the violin caused the transformation of many features of the old form of Cretan Lyra (lyraki) into the contemporary lyra, including its tuning, performance practice, and repertory. In 1920, the viololyra was developed in an effort by local instrument manufacturers to give the sound and the technical possibilities of the violin to the old Byzantine lyraki. Twenty years later a new combination of lyraki and violin gave birth to the common lyra. Other types include the four-stringed lyra.
Playing Techniques: The Cretan lyra is held upright while resting on the musicians knee. During the performance the musician places the fingers of his left hand to only touch the side of the strings. This allows for rotation of the instrument when bowing while retaining the comfort of playing the instrument in performance. Sometimes small bells are tied onto the bow to create a rhythmic effect during playing. One can see this technique be utilized by Ravanahatha players in India, there are no relations to musical instruments though.