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Love and Strife

Ionian Music
(Kefalonia, Corfu, Zakynthos)

Scents of jasmine on Zakynthos, of iris on Corfu, of night-flower on Kefalonia under a full moon and street singing of romantic lyrics of serenades, accompanied by guitars and mandolins on the Ionian alleyways or the sound of traditional love songs in taverns compose the usual dreamy musical landscape of the Ionian islands.

On Board on a Boat
On board on a boat
All on board on a boat
They made us embark on a boat.
They made us sail on Corfu, they made us sail on Corfu
they made us go on Corfu to be on trial
but we would sing, and we would sing
and we would sing until we get there.
Corfu, Zakynthos
I won’t see you again
Zakynthos, Kefalonia I won’t see you again.
(Folk song of Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Corfu)

Most people, judging from the later Athenian serenades, primarily associate the Ionian music with the four-voice choirs of loving songs of kantades and serenades. Yet the Ionian songs reveal also multiple scenes of everyday toil, of immigration and social struggle, disguised in lyrics of satirical smirk. Sprang both from the cultural tradition of Western Europe and its long-recorded cultural history, the Ionian music is the fruit of a long cultural diffusion between East and West.

I Don’t Have Shoes on
Don’t get me wrong that I don’t have shoes on,
For last night some mice were fed on them.
So the candle I promised, My Virgin Lady, to light,
I'll bring it to you next time for my welfare.
Fortunate, and born under a lucky star
They who have to Eat
But I don’t have anything to be fed on
Since last Epiphany.
(Serenade of Corfu and Zakynthos)

Ionian Music Tradition

The Ionian music, mainly, of Kefalonia, Corfu and Zakynthos, flourishing in the early 19th to the early 20th century, is the outcome of a fruitful cultural diffusion of Western, Eastern and local tradition. The Ionians, carrying a long music tradition which goes back to the Homeric age, were greatly influenced by Western Europe due to their long occupation by the Venetians, French and English (1386-1864). Besides their Western heritage, after 1669, when Heraklion, on Crete, fell to the Ottomans, the influx of Cretans who found shelter on Zakynthos and the other Ionian Islands brought with them elements and traits of the Cretan-Byzantine music tradition.

The traditional Ionian songs are called ariettes, arekies and kantades or serenades. Arietta is a traditional song of Lixouri, with roots in the everyday toil and hardships or the rural life of the poor, dated back to the 16th century. It’s defined as a short song (aria = song), and it’s considered to be the ancestor of arekia, kantada and serenade. Its major traits are polyphony, where every voice is performed by several singers, as well as elements of Byzantine chanting and Western music.

Arekia, is a folk song native to Zakynthos, but it is also encountered on other Ionian Islands. Its name comes from the Italian phrase a orecchio (i.e. by ear), suggesting a song sung 'by ear' without reading a musical score of any kind. Its harmony is different from that of arietta. Arekia starts as a solo, and, then, more singers join its singing, while sometimes musical instruments accompany the performers. Its lyrics usually reveal inner thoughts of men about women.

Kantada is the most popular type of Ionian traditional music with origins in Italian and German choral songs. It’s named after the Italian verb cantare (i.e. to sing). When it’s sung in the evening or at night in the open air, it’s also called serenade. Kantada is usually a nostalgic polyphonic song, sung in harmony, with lyrics that reveal everyday scenes of toil and hard work of commoners but also more often in later years of passionate love. Usually a kantada or a serenade is accompanied by mandolins. Although this type of song gave form and shape to the ‘scholarly Athenian serenade,’ on the Ionian Islands kantades maintained the folk element to its fullest.

On Corfu, kantada is a particularly simple and jolly song of Italian style, sung with 4 voices (canto, seconde, tertsa, bass) that greatly resembles the Venetian barcarole (i.e. the gondolier's song). On Zakynthos, Kantada is also a 4-voice song as on Corfu, but on this island one could also encounter sad or even pessimistic kantades adapted from the music and lyrics of Italian melodrama. As for the arekia songs of Zakynthos, they are classified as folk kantades with no music, sharing common elements with the traditional Cretan songs known as mantinades. On Zakynthos, serenades are also very popular, sung in tenor-baritone duets with instrumental accompaniment. Chanting is another special part of Zakynthos’ music tradition. It’s unique since it artistically combines the polyphonic chanting of Cretan-Byzantine music with folk Ionian music tradition. On Kefalonia, kantades reveal a supreme originality and artistry, while one enjoys a greater variety, complexity and technique in singing.

When the Ionian kantada is sung with three voices and combines 1 to 2 tenors and 4 to 5 baritones, then it is defined as a folk choir, a music tradition which also flourished on the Ionian Islands. The instruments which usually accompany all this polyphonic singing of the Ionians are guitars and mandolins, but also accordions and sometimes a violin bass. The serenade as we know it owns its origins to the Ionian genre, having more urban characteristics and a love confession as its theme. Yet the traditional Ionian songs until the beginning of the 20th century had rural folk traits, and when they didn’t sing about the hardships of the poor, they made use of Greek poetry, like the poems of D. Solomos, Greece’s National Poet, offering the incentive to broader parts of society, especially to labourers and farmers of the lower class, to come into contact with and to love poetry.

The Little Blonde Girl
After sail and kerchief
Were lost on the sea,
Her friends shed tears
And I also did.
I don’t lament the boat,
Neither do I lament the sail,
But I do lament Xanthula
Who goes to foreign lands.
(Poetry: D. Salmon,
Music: N. Mantzaros)

Ionian Islands Philharmonics Schools and Companies

The Ionian Islands’ strong musical tradition is also revealed through their Philharmonic Societies. Corfu alone has 18 such Societies with a tradition that goes back to almost 200 years ago. Membership in these is freely available to both children and adults, while its primary aim was and still is to teach music to all people regardless of their social class or age. Wind bands, music groups playing combinations of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments, following the tradition of symphonic bands and orchestras, are the most important part of the Philharmonic Societies of the Ionians.

In Lixouri, Kefalonia, in 1936, the oldest probably Philharmonic band of the Ionian was founded by the composer and music teacher Petros Scarlatos. This was the first attempt of the newly formed Greek world back in the 19th century to set up a School free of charge and open to all citizens, regardless of their class, status or age, aiming at the citizens’ cultural elevation. On Corfu, the first wind band was the marching band of the British army back in the period of its British rule (1816-1864). The first Philharmonic Society on the island, known as the Corfu Philharmonic Society (Philharmoniki Etairia Kerkyras) and today called the Old Philharmonic Society, was founded in 1840. N. H. Mantzaros, the composer of the Greek national anthem, was the mastermind of Corfu’s first Society, playing a primary role in its foundation, and serving as a teacher as well as an artistic director. To honour him, in 1890 the people of Corfu named their second Philharmonic Society after him (the Mantzaros Philharmonic Society). Finally, in 1843, F. Karvelas (1794-1849) founded the Philharmonic Society of Zakynthos, while there was an early attempt to form a wind band on the island on Mayday in 1816 by M. Battagel, but it was short-lived.

Ionian Music Theatre

The period the Venetians ruled the Ionians (mid 14th c. – late 18th c.) was instrumental in the shaping of the Ionian melodrama, since this sprang from the Italian opera. It seems, though, that from the 17th century on, the Ionian music theatre takes its own shape, having assimilated only few of the traits of the Cretan theatre, and having a completely different cultural background of the National School (Ethniki Sxoli), which had its route primarily in traditional and Byzantine music. The artistic style of the Ionian School was inspired by Italian composers such as N.A. Zingarelli, V. Bellini and G. Verdi, yet several operas were also inspired by contemporary historical events, such as the Greek Revolution in 1821. The first Greek opera was the “MP Candidate” (1867), composed by S. Xyndas (1812-1896) Among the surviving Greek operas are ones composed by N. Mantzaros (1795-1872), P. Karrer (1829-1896), S. Samaras (1861-1917) and D. Lavragkas (1860- 1941).

Theater seems to sprout on Zakynthos during the Venetian rule. In 1571, at the celebrations for the victory of the sea Battle of Lepanto (Battle of Nafpaktos) young men from Zakynthos performed Aeschylus’ ”Persae” in Italian, at the Castle. Yet it was 150 years later, in 1728, at the same site that a theatre was constructed to seat an audience of 300 people, with an open admission to both the Noble and the Popolari (plebeians). At the same time a new kind of popular theatre, the so-called Speeches (Omilies), written in the local dialect, flourishes on the island, having adapted traits of the Cretan tradition as well as of the Italian Comedia dell’ Arte. These were theatrical talks in decapentasyllabic verse (verses of 15 syllables), performed in public squares or where three streets were crossing (tristrata), especially during the Carnival season, aiming at mocking and sending up their rulers, nobles and lords as well as trying to support the fight of the plebeians Popolari and later of the Radicals (Rizospastes). To avoid prosecution, the names of the authors of these Speeches were not publicly known and so we don’t know them, while the actors were covering their faces with masks to ensure their anonymity. Among the most important and well-known playwrights from Zakynthos are A. Gouzelis and A. Matesis. Of particular importance was also the foundation of the Noble Philodramatic Society of Zakynthos (Nobile Societa Fillodrammatica del Zante), which served the purposes of the Greek Revolution. Here there was the first instance that a woman took part as an actress in a performance. Also, on Zakynthos in 1836, the Italian Guiseppe Camilieri founded the prestigious theatre “Apollo,” where there was a local troupe of performers, playing original operas and melodramas composed by P. Karrer.

At the same time, in 1729 the Nobles Club of Corfu (Loggia dei Nobili) becomes the Noble Theatre of St. James (Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo), where at the end of the 18th century there is open admission to all social classes, probably as an outcome of the more democratic rule of Corfu by the French (1797-1799, 1807-1814). Throughout the 19th century, Corfu’s music-theatre flourishes, while in 1893 the famous Public Theatre of Corfu is founded, modeled on the Italian ‘La Scala’ of Milano. This rise of Corfu into a music and cultural centre may be linked to the political upheavals in Europe and the neighbouring Italian City-States (from the French Revolution in 1789 until the Social Revolutions of 1848), when many Italian musicians and music teachers fled from Italy and settled on Corfu, carrying their knowledge as well as their and socio-political beliefs with them to be adapted and diffused in a sophisticated and fruitful manner by the locals.

Finally, on Kefalonia, in 1838 the judge A. Solomos turns his house into a theatre with a seating capacity of 300 people. Meanwhile, the foundation and operation of the theatre "Kefalos," in 1858 brings about the heyday of musical theater on the island, where for the next 50 years they mainly perform melodramas.

The Ionian music tradition doesn’t stand out alone. It has been interwoven within the literary tradition of the Ionian School (late 18th c. – late 19th c.) of D. Solomos, A. Kalvos, D. Gouzelis, N. Coutouzis, C. Tertsetis, I. Polylas, C. Markoras, I. Tipaldos, F. Xrysomallis, A. Valaoritis A. Laskaratos, L. Mavilis etc.); it has also gone along with the founding and works of the Ionian Academy (1824-1864) as well as with the long cultural tradition of the people of the Ionians.

Eirene Ragousi

Special Thanks to Nikos for his drawings!

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