Minor Asia

Before the exchange of populations in 1922 (Asia Minor Disaster), there had been Greek villages in Eastern Asia Minor for over three thousand years. Smyrna (Izmir) and Constantinople (Istanbul) were two of the most important centres for economic and social life and the development of Asia Minor. The privileged position of Smyrna made it the crossroads for many peoples, cultures, religions and the centre of important political events based chiefly on trade, due to its connection throughout the Mediterranean with the Aegean Sea. Likewise, Constantinople was always known as the meeting point of east and west, Europe and Asia. The Greek influence in Constantinople and Smyrna remained very strong until the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. These elements make the study of music in Asia Minor and the appearance of the mandolin intermeshed with the historical course.

Smyrna was the centre of the social and economic life of the Asia Minor. Smyrna’s port has always been an ideal place of trade crossing from east to west and in reverse. As a result, apart from the economic growth and the great accumulation of goods from east and west, it also contained people with different ethnic and cultural traditions. The Greeks of Smyrna were the most populous proportion residents. In 1894, out of a population of 229.165, the Greeks made up 96.250, the Turks 57.000, the Armenians 7.628, the Jews 16.450 and the remainder were Europeans and other nationalities. While in 1922, out of a population of 365.000, the Greeks made up 165.000, the Turks 80.000, the Armenians 40.000, 50.000 Jews and another 36.000 Europeans and other nationalities. The Smyrna as a multicultural city was hosting several different peoples and cultures. Nevertheless, each person maintained the elements of the cultural identity and simultaneously participated in the formulation of the multicultural profile of the city. The inhabitants were dispersed depending on their nationality.

The chronological period that we investigate the music life of Smyrna, is from the late 19th century (that the mandolin appears in the orchestras of the city) till the Minor Asia disaster in 1922. The fact that many people with different culture and habits were living in the same city during that period, had, as a result, the bilateral cultural influence and interaction. Of course, that influenced the music of Smyrna. The prime example is the instruments, but also the instrumentation that they used in their music from the late 19th century till 1922. Particularly, that period brought music instruments that belonged to the European musical tradition, such as violins, cellos, but also the mandolin. Moreover, these instruments played an important role in the Smyrneiki kompania (Σμυρναίικη κομπανία, ‘orchestra from Smyrna’) by performing urban – folk songs which were related to the eastern tradition. Equally important is the influence of the Western European music in the melody of the Smyrna songs. To exemplify, we can sometimes detect a lot of similarities between west Europe’s music and the Smyrna’s music. For example, the song Smyrnia is a composition of Eugene Ponsen and recorded in 1909 in Smyrna by the most famous mandolin orchestra of Smyrna. The song is a waltz and sounds more like a Western European song than a Greek.

The arrival of refugees profoundly influenced the musical life in Greece, especially in regards to entertainment music. Several professional musicians from the coast of Asia Minor survived the war and disaster settled in urban centers, notably Athens and Piraeus, with the hope of continuing their activities. They brought popular European and Eastern songs with them, their knowledge in singing, fiddling, santoor, oud, guitar and mandolin and often their knowledge of Western music writing.


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