Music of Switzerland

Switzerland has long had a distinct cultural identity, despite its diversity of German, French and other ethnicities. Religious and folk music dominated the country until the 17th century, with growth in production of other kinds of music occurring slowly. The first music conservatory in the country was founded in Geneva in 1835. Composers like Hans George Naegeli and festivals like the Fete des Vignerons helped establish a classical music tradition, and the Swiss Musicians Association was founded in 1900.
The early part of the 20th century saw Ernest Ansermet’s Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, which was the focal point for musical innovation in Switzerland. Other musicians included Ernest Bloch, Frank Martin, Arthur Honegger, and Rolf Liebermann. Prominent contemporary composers of Switzerland include Klaus Huber and Heinz Holliger (who is also an oboe virtuoso).
Folk Music – Due to a lack of detailed records, little is known about Swiss folk music prior to the 19th century. Some 16th century lute tablatures have been reconstructed into authentic instrumental arrangements, however, the first major source of information comes from 19th century collections of folk songs, and work done by musicologist Hanny Christen. One of the oldest varieties of Swiss song is Kühreihen, an agricultural Alpine song in the Lydian mode. Traditional instruments included hammered dulcimer, fife, hurdy-gurdy, rebec, bagpipe, cittern and shawm.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Swiss folk music was largely performed by ensembles made of itinerant musicians and solo acts using an instrument, with only a few duos. In the 1830s, however, the Swiss military was reorganized, leading to the formation of brass bands that used modern instruments. These instruments, mostly brass or wind, were built much better than those played by itinerants, and musicians brought them back to their villages. Local players joined these ensembles, which played dance music for festivals and other celebrations. Dance styles included schottisch, mazurka, waltz and polka.
In 1829, the accordion was invented in Vienna, and it had spread to Switzerland by 1836. The accordion was popular because it was relatively easy to play and cheap to acquire, and took only one musician to play the melody and accompaniment. By the 1850s, the accordion was an integral part of Swiss folk music, and semi-professional ensembles were appearing to play at the ship lounge. Hi the brass bands came string instruments like violins and a double bass; string bands soon began to displace the older brass bands. The accordion, however, did not make an appearance in these dance bands until about 1903, and it eventually replaced the two violins which had become standard.
Following World War I, Switzerland became more heavily urbanized, and music moved to cities like Zürich. Rural folk music became the most popular style for middle-class audiences, and musicians like Joseph Stocker became renowned across the country. Stocker knew his audience liked the exotic appeal of rural music, and so he bought traditional costumes from Unterwalden for his band. This was the beginning of laendlermusic.
In the urban areas of Switzerland, folk music began to mix with new styles, like jazz and the foxtrot, while the saxophone replaced the clarinet. Beginning in the 1930s, the Swiss government began to encourage a national identity distinct from Germany and other neighbors. Laendlermusic became associated with this identity, and grew even more popular.
Following World War 2, however, laendlermusik quickly grew less popular with the influx of imported styles. The field also grew less diverse, with more standardized band formats and only four or five dances in the repertoire. By the 1960s, trios consisting of two accordions and a double bass were the most common format, and many Swiss people felt it was a civic duty to preserve this tradition and guard it against change. They have largely succeeded in preventing change, but the field has grown much less popular and stagnant. There are still popular performers, such as Res Schmid, Willi Valotti, Markus Flueckiger, Dani Haeusler and Carlo Brunner, but the total fanbase has shrunk enormously.

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