Corfu Music and Musicians
In Corfu there is a long musical tradition going back to the time when the Seven Islands were under Venetian domination. The Venetians introduced opera to Corfu. They converted the local "Loggia" into a theatre (the first on Greek soil in modern times) where opera performances started in 1733 and continued for several years after the union with Greece. This theatre was called the San Giacomo. In 1903 it was converted into the present Town Hall and a larger theatre was built - this was bombed and destroyed in World War II.
During the British Protectorate, the musical tradition was carried on by Nikolaos Chalikiopoulos-Mantzaros who founded the first modern school of music on Greek soil. A large number of musicians were trained by Mantzaros. Among them was Spyros Xyndas who composed the first Greek opera.
Nikolaos Chalikiopoulos-Mantzaros is the composer of the Greek National Anthem, setting to music in 1830 the "Hymn to Liberty" by the poet Dionysios Solomos. Mantzaros composed 24 symphonies and other religious and secular music but he devoted most of his time to teaching. The house where Mantzaros lived still stands on St. Basil street in Corfu Town.
Another distinguished Corfiot composer was Spyros Samaras. He is considered one of the founders of the contemporary School of Italian opera and wrote nine operas. He composed the Olympic Hymn to lines by the poet Kostis Palamas. The Hymn was first performed at the Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens.
The two brothers Napoleon and George Lambelet hold a strong position among Corfiot composers. Napoleon Lambelet composed Greek popular songs and helped in promoting Greek opera. George Lambelet was inspired by Greek national folk-songs and composed both songs and works for orchestra.
Among the Corfiot composers of the 19th century we should also mention Leonidas Albanas, the brothers Anthony and Joseph Liberali (both pupils of Mantzaros) and Joseph and Spyridon Kaisaris who were the first to organise military brass bands in Greece.
It is popular for boys (and more recently girls) to learn to play musical instruments if their family can afford it. They often participate in marching bands in Corfu playing wind and percussion instruments. The bands participate in parades in Corfu to celebrate festivals such as Independence Day, Ochi Day, Easter and St. Spyridon Day. The musicians wear very elaborate band uniforms.
The first music institution in Corfu and in the whole Greece was founded in 1840 under the name of the Philharmonic Society of Corfu. The society was established during the British Protectorate and the band made its first appearance at the procession of St. Spiridon in November 1841.
The Philharmonic Society of Corfu is called the "Old Philharmonic" to distinguish it from a more recent one founded in 1890 and called the "Mantzaros Philharmonic Society". A third Philharmonic Society under the name "Capodistrias Philharmonic Union" was founded in 1980 in Corfu Town. Also several villages on the island set up their own brass bands. Corfu has a School of Music founded in 1894 where classical instruments are taught. There are also three choral societies.