In many cultures lamentation has found expression in art, and is often associated with song. There are instances, however, where the grief is unleashed by means of music alone and the haunting presence of human voice is replaced by musical instruments that assume the role of mourners.
The violin’s lament
The region of Epirus, in the northwest of Greece, is renowned for its long musical tradition associated with skilled local musicians and various distinctive (mostly pentatonic and polyphonic) folk songs. Among these, lament songs (mirolóyia) occupy a prominent place, having been sung for centuries beside grave sites and during mourning rituals.
One such lament from Epirus (“Epirotiko Mirologi”) was recorded on September 20, 1926 by Greek violinist Alexis Zoumbas, who was born in the hinterlands of Epirus in 1883 and immigrated to New York City in 1910. In this highly emotive recording, one can feel through Zoumbas’s emotionally charged playing an intense grief, no doubt sparked by the deep yearning for his home soil.
Moreover, from a musical standpoint, it is interesting to trace the direct influence of such instrumental treatments on subsequent non-folk Greek music, as in the case of Socrates and their popular song Mountains.
The clarinet’s mourning
In neighboring Turkey, the song “Yemen Türküsü” mourns the death of Turkish soldiers in Yemen during the First World War. The well known folk song can be found in several different versions, and it has been also performed by Taksim Trio, a band of accomplished instrumentalists (Hüsnü Şenlendirici – clarinet, Aytaç Doğan – qanun, İsmail Tunçbilek – baglama) that has been part of Istanbul’s diverse and vibrant music scene.
The guitar’s outcry
One of the oldest and most despondent forms of flamenco music, siguiriyas is characterized by its profound, expressive style and tragic nature. When sung, the lyrics reflect the suffering of human relationships, love and death; however, it is also encountered as an instrumental piece with great potential for emotional outlet in the hands of the capable and sensitive artist – as in this performance by flamenco composer and guitarist Manolo Sanlúcar.