Dr Elena Theodoulou-Charalambous
Music as an art innate in humankind may be associated with the visions, socio-political struggles, the historical course and the self-awareness of a people. Through this perspective music appears as a dynamic and composite phenomenon which "potentially" absorbs all the influences and effects of cultural co-existence and interaction of people, thus nurturing the promotion of cultural specificity, diversity and intercultural dialogue.
Due to its unrivalled geopolitical and strategic position, Cyprus was subject to a number of conquerors and came under the influence of many foreign cultures and civilisations, something which is reflected in the musical tradition of the country. Indeed, in the music of Cyprus, ancient and primordial sounds meet within the lyrical intensity and depth; thus, the island's musical wealth incorporates elements and influences from the island's centuries-long and turbulent history as well as the Mediterranean temperament and collective identity. As it appears through various historical sources and writings, from antiquity, the musical influence of mainland Greece was not only obvious but also of substantial significance. As Plutarch notes, the kings of Cyprus sponsored the organisation of musical contests of circular dances and songs with actors and singers whom they brought from mainland Greece1. Moreover, from the representations on the various vases and from other historical sources, it appears that both in Cyprus and in the mainland Greek space the same musical instruments were used. Another very characteristic element was the fact that music was indissolubly interwoven with all aspects and manifestations of both private and public life2.
Apart from the above musical influences, one can discern in the musical wealth of the island the existence of elements that refer to the space of the wider Mediterranean basin; in most cases, indeed, these influences concern some musical "borrowing back" of ancient Greek music3.
In the Medieval period, even though the existing sources on musical life in Cyprus are not many, there are, nonetheless, two very important works which give us valuable information. The one is a major work by Guillaume de Machaut (La Prise d'Alexandrie)4 and the other is the "Manuscript of Cyprus" of the fifteenth century (Manuscript Torino J.ii.9)5 which is considered to be a work of fundamental artistic worth and constitutes living evidence of the music which the Lusignan rulers of Cyprus were accustomed to present in their daily life. Moreover this work stands out for its uniqueness since no part of it appears in any other manuscript. The manuscript is in the National Library of Turin and was miraculously saved with very little damage from the fire which broke out in the library in 1904.
During the period of Ottoman rule, because of poverty and oppression, the island was cut off from the rest of Europe and thus the artistic and cultural currents of Europe did not have any effect in Cyprus. The main genres of music which appear in this period are Byzantine ecclesiastical music and the traditional folk music of Cyprus.
During the same period the systematic study and performance of ecclesiastical music began. Among the pioneer teachers, Stylianos Hourmouzios was the one whose work as regards the interpretation of Byzantine music had an important influence all over Cyprus. From the start of the decade of the 1920s, a significant turn is observed to the systematic study, research and preservation of our Cypriot musical tradition by the most important researchers of the great wealth of traditional music: Theodoulos Kallinikos, who published his very well-known book "Cypriot Muse" in 1951, and Sozos Tompolis. In 1967 Sozos Tompolis' book "Cypriot Rhythms and Melodies" was awarded a prize by the Academy of Athens.
From the end of the 1920s the first schools of music, conservatoires, made their appearance through which a more systematic approach to the dissemination of musical knowledge was attempted.
Within the framework of the intense musical activity comes the projection of the work of important Cypriot composers who laid the foundations for the creation of classical music in Cyprus.
Moreover, between 1920 and 1939 there appears a very dynamic and intense musical development, and the foundations and groundwork were laid for the subsequent promotion of artistic music in Cyprus with the staging of Cypriot musical productions including operas and oratorios. The intense musical activity of this period created the conditions and the preconditions for the formation of the first orchestras (the Bedelian Symphony Orchestra, the "Olympiakos" String Orchestra in 1934, the "Olympiakos" Symphony Orchestra in 1935 and the Mozart Orchestra in 1938). The Mozart Orchestra was an important nucleus of musical development till 1963.
Reference to another musical genre which began to appear at about 1920, the revue, also merits reference in this short account.
The first Cypriot orchestras which began to be created from the late 1920s are a worthy successor in the continuation of the orchestral musical tradition in the State Orchestra of Cyprus and the State Youth Orchestra which were founded in 1987. Throughout all these years, the State Orchestra of Cyprus has played an invaluable role in the cultural revival of the island. It has served not only the needs of the community but was at the same time an important factor in the creation of professional opportunities. Furthermore, it functioned as an incentive for talented young people who wished to pursue professional training and a career in music. The State Youth Orchestra, which from the beginning functioned within the framework of the State Orchestra of Cyprus, was a nursery for the promotion of talented young musicians. From its foundation, the State Orchestra of Cyprus functioned within the structure of the Ministry of Education and Culture. However, in accordance with a decision of the Council of Ministers, the operational status of the State Orchestra and the Youth Orchestra have changed since 1 January 2007. The State Orchestra of Cyprus has been turned into an independent organisation and renamed the "Symphony Orchestra of Cyprus".
Contemporary Cypriot musical creation is characterised by a variety of expression and styles. More specifically, it includes all the genres of music (contemporary classical, jazz, Greek entechnon songs, pop, rock and others). Influences from the international milieu as well as from the musical currents prevailing in the wider European area are evident. Because of its geopolitical position, Cyprus has been at the crossroads of civilisations, a fact which has affected and still affects the musical process. All the influences, currents and trends are assimilated creatively through the contemporary reality of the Cypriot temperament, thus making the music of Cyprus a free sounding highlight in the intercultural vastness....
1 Plutarch, Moralia, 334E
2 K.P. Hadjioannou, Ancient Cyprus in Greek Sources, Vol.I, Nicosia 1971.
3 Beaton R. (1980) "Modes and Roads: Factors of change and continuity in Greek musical
tradition", Annual of the British School at Athens, 75:1-11
4 Palmer, R.Barton (Transl) (2002) Introduction to La Prise d'Alexandrie (The Taking of Alexandria), by Guillaume de Machaut. New York: Routledge.
5 LMI [Libreria Musicale Italiana] (ed.) (1999) Codice J.II.9 / The Codex J.II.9 Facsimile Edition. Printed in Italy.