PhD thesis

The professional construction of musical instruments in Athens from the mid-19th century until interwar era.

This thesis attempted a historical-ethnographic study of the evolution of luthiers’ profession in Athens from the mid 19th century until the interwar era. It also attempted to identify those cultural conditions and influences that shaped the musical identity of the Athenian civil society and generated similar needs for the manufacture and trade of specific musical instruments. The manufacture of musical instruments, as a profession and as an artistic activity, was connected to the geopolitical, economic, social and technical frame. In this way the causes that shaped the course, the rise and decline of the profession were sought. The instrument maker was examined as a unit, as a part of a wider professional branch, but also as a body of the local musical culture. Construction was associated with trade and artisanal production was compared to the industrial mass one. The persons who served professionally the art of manufacture and trade of musical instruments were revealed , while their activity was recorded in time and space. This research fills in an important gap in modern Greek music history and displays the diachronic value of luthiers’ profession , who were an important part of greek craftsmanship and one of the key drivers of the local musical culture.

The Athenian professional instrument manufacture, immediately after the proclamation of the city as the capital of Greece, began to accept significant influences from the western instrument manufacture, both on aesthetic and technical level, which is related to the general europeanization of urban centres of the country and generally the region of Eastern Mediterranean. The introduction of the concept of international commercial and industrial exhibitions, some of which were called ‘universal’, raised the issue of comparing the quality of Greek products to their respective European ones, while it also strengthened an informal «competition» on a local level between the craftsmen. In Greece were organised domestic commercial and industrial exhibitions based on the respective ‘universal’ standards. The Greek manufacturers of musical instruments were not indifferent to this challenge and won some distinctions, enhancing their professional image.

Athens, during the period studied, was constantly extending its geographical limits parallel to the rapid population growth. The reconstruction of the population, due to internal migration and refugee populations, created or strengthened different musical genres, influencing accordingly the demand for musical instruments. The luthiers of Athens were operating according to the European standards of free market, without applying earlier forms of professional organisation, such as unions. The manufacture of musical instruments was organised in cooperation with the trading shops of musical products in 1927, when the «Association of Musical Product Traders and Luthiers» was first established. From the decades of 1930-40 on, there are evidence that prove the existence of the «Panhellenic Association of Luthiers.»

The mapping and chronological cataloguing of the local luthiers’ shops and music stores in Athens were two of the most important achievements of this research. Until about the 1910’s mainly luthiers ran the trade of musical instruments, as the purely commercial shops were very few. However, the shops that sold musical instruments were gradually strengthened and became independent. Since late 1920’s, the reduction on demand for indigenous musical instruments’ manufacture in combination with the excessive supply of imported one, led many craftsmen to specialize in repairing. In the early 1930’s the old centre of Athenian instrument manufacture, that resided in the neighbourhood of Kolokotronis street, appears weakened, closing an important cycle in the local history of the profession. Numerous refugees who settled in the suburbs of Athens and Piraeus after the Asia Minor Catastrophe introduced a rich musical culture. They soon gained a very important position in the local music life, while some of them were involved in instrument making, particularly in Piraeus, inaugurating a new era in local history of this art.

Overall, from 1835 till 1957, 62 luthiers and 86 stores of musical instruments were recorded in Athens, Piraeus and the suburbs. The history of Greek instrument-making remains an open field for research which can contribute significantly to the understanding of local musical culture, offering excitement to the researchers who will deal with it.

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Posted 24 Σεπτεμβρίου, 2020 by Πέτρος Μουστάκας

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