Polyphonic Song

Polyphonic Song

In Greek demotic music the melodies of songs are created on tropic musical scales, with or without minims. The polyphonic song operates melodically with non-minim relations, consequently the scales are non-minims; in their majority they are pentatonic and, sometimes, pre-pentatonic” (Lolis, 2006).P1018093

In various types of polyphonic song either songs’ scales of three sounds or four sounds dominate, which is the case in homophonic, diphone and polyphonic songs without holding the ison, or completed forms of pentatonic scale dominate, which is the case in triphonic (three voices’) and tetraphonic (four voices’) songs. The relations of tonal base with other scale grades can be different; thus other grades can be either found above, or balancing above and under it, or they are developed under the tonal base; in a region however, usually the same way of intervals’ provision is used during singing. Lolis concludes that “the pentatonic scale” (here the pentatonic scale is meant in its entirety of voices and not in each voice separately where the developments take place in pre-pentatonic patterns), “comes from the distant past and prevails in a range of musical cultures in Asia, America and Africa. In Europe it can be found in the musical tradition of the Balkans. In Epirus, the pentatonic scale coexists with the paths of oysak, niabent, chitzaz and other known tropic musical scales in Eastern Mediterranean and hither. In the polyphonic song however, as himself adds, “no other alternative could replace or disturb the style of the ancient pentatonic scale”. With regard to the melodic style of polyphonic songs, we are led to the conclusion that melodic phrases are short, more rhetorical; the melodic movements are more syllabic, while they are expressed better by intermediate voices rather than low or high ones.  Their output in the pentagram is a painful, if not unachievable process, due to the spontaneous singing expression, the sentimental charge and singer’s emotional state. The specific process becomes more difficult due to a large expressive breadth of polyphonic songs. Lolis distinguishes that the harmonious assonances are directly connected with the tropic character of melodies and he distinguishes in three voices’ and four voices’ polyphonic songs assonances at the development of a taking, and assonances in the end of a taking (falls), and he concludes that three voices or four voices, harmonic or non-harmonic, lowering or during the polyphonic development they come in a wide variety and constitute a genuine expression of Greek musical tradition.

The polyphony is developed, according to Lolis, through unwritten musical rules that have been established in the collective conscience of singers through the years, while the traditional technique of polyphonic song is characterized by three fundamental points:

A) the polyphonic lines take shape and are freely moving; the polyphonic development is based historically on improvisations that do not create discords, rhythmical confusion or harmonious instability.

B) Each melodic line has formed its traditional structure that is repeated in interval and time from song to song, from team to team, from generation to generation.

C) Boost in the polyphonic flow is given, amongst others, by the singer’s ability to perform ‘kangelismata’ (i.e. polyphonic idiom) and the heterophonous movement of ‘richtis’ (i.e. the wheeler-dealer if translated) (Lolis 2006).

P1018135During the singing of a polyphonic song and the creation of a polyphonic assonance, melodic relations are developed between the singers that are called ‘partis’, ‘yiristis’ (i.e. the turner if translated), and ‘isokrates’ (i.e. the ones that hold the modal base of the song), that become distinguishable and are conditioned by the rules mentioned above and not only them. The singing of such songs, as Liabas notices, is performed by a team of singers that should consist of at least 4 individuals. Usually the number of singers is 5, but it can reach also 6, 7, 10 or even 12 singers - depending on ‘isokrates’ (isokeepers – the ones that holds the modal base of the song) so as for the song to be considered “complete and ready to go for vrontaria (i.e. loud keeping of the vocal drone)”, while the constitution of forms consists either of purely male participants, or of female ones, or mixed. The one that leads the singing team sings the main melody, i.e. he/she begins to “take” the song and for this reason he/she is called ‘partis’ (i.e. taker) or sikotis (i.e. the one that lifts). The second individual that responds (i.e. returns an answer) or ‘bashes’ the song is called ‘yiristis’ (i.e. turner) while the rest, i.e. the ‘isokrates’, keep the ison, i.e. they hold the modal base or phoneme of the melody. In this team another singer can also be added (as a new member or as a replacement of ‘yiristis’), ‘klostis’ (i.e. the spinner), that makes peculiar yodels with false voice (“falsetto” similar to Tyrol’s yodel (Peristeris, Liabas)), ‘spinning’ the song between tonal and hypotonic of the melody. A technique that brings into mind the hand movement when a person keeps the spindle while spinning the thread. The hand not only puts the spindle in rotary movement but it also pumps it in each disagreement (2nd interval), which is the main characteristic of this polyphonic form and gives it a peculiar hearing (Liabas, 1998). The most usual structural morphology types characterizing the plurality of polyphonic songs in Epirus are three, as reported by Kanellatou, and can be analyzed to the following:

The first type, in the three voices’ category, in a fully developed melodic pattern is developed as follows: ‘Partis’ begins, then ‘yiristis’ enters, then ‘isokrates’ and, in certain parts during the musical plot, ‘klostis’ as well. It is not necessary for ‘klostis’ to be present during the whole song.

During the second type, in the four voices’ category, ‘partis’ begins but in a specific moment ‘richtis’ interposes. After richtis’ interposing, partis, yiristis and isokrates enter, while also klostis can participate at some parts. 

In the third type, in the five voices’ category, the one (called ‘prologistis’) musically reciting the lines to be performed by partis starts. Richtis follows and then the rest follow at the same way as already mentioned.

It is obvious, Kanellatou continues, that the melodic lines of all roles are structured having as a base the melodic line that partis follows and interdependent relations occur from this. This element proves that the polyphonic harmony in Epirus is structured in a “vertical” manner. In general, on the basic melody’s development from partis, the musical plot of remainder phonetic roles is structured (Kanellatou 2010).

The correlation is obvious. Yiristis and klostis cut abruptly the song in the hypotonic of the melody, creating, thus, with partis’ last phoneme one intense.



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