Traditional Swiss Folklore Music

Though the roots of traditional Swiss folklore music are a little older its typical styles were defined in the 19th century and some of the typical instruments used today were not known in Switzerland before 1800.

Ancient Traditions of Alpine Herdsmen

Among the older traditions developed by the alpine herdsmen the following three must be mentioned here:

Two alphorns played in urban environment

[Traditional Rural Dance Music]

The term Ländlermusic (or short Ländler) is being used in Switzerland both as a generic term for traditional rural music and as a specific term for rural dance music in animated three-four time. Other rhythms often played in traditional rural Swiss dance music are Schottisch and Polka.

Schwyzerörgeli (small Swiss accordion)
Schwyzerörgeli [small Swiss accordion]

Typical instruments played by ländler bands include accordion, clarinet and contrabass. In the German speaking regions, a smaller variant of the accordion, the so-called schwyzerörgeli is very popular. In the prealpine eastern region of Appenzell, string instruments (violin, cello and, as a local speciality, dulcimer play a key role). In southern (Italian speaking) Switzerland, the use of the mandolin shows traditional ties to Italian culture.

There are numerous small bands, most of them amateurs, playing an individual selection out of several hundred titles in Swiss folklore style. A couple of composers is continuing to produce new titles. In general, buoyant style predominates, especially if alpine folklore music is compared to the more melancholic styles of folklore music (as Irish or Slavonian styles).

Some famous 20th century bands Some contemporary ländler bands
More ländler bands

Military Tradition: Brass Bands

There are numerous amateur brass bands especially in central Switzerland. They are playing all sorts of brass band music (arranged classical music, marches, swing and modern compositions for brass bands).

While ländler bands are usually small (three to five members) and often from the same family or just friends, Swiss brass bands are much larger, formally organized with written articles of association and they do have their specific uniforms and flags.

Swiss brass band in Lucerne
Free sunday morning concert in Lucerne
(regional amateur brass band)

So the military roots of brass band music can still be seen. Besides, brass band music is still being furthered by the Swiss Army and there is an official Swiss Army Brass Band consisting of professional and semi-professional musicians serving as reservists in the army.

Brass Band Links

  • 13 etoiles Brass Band, Sion, Valais, southwestern Switzerland
    (winner of the 2005 Swiss Open Champions as well as the European Open Champions title)

Schlager (Lovesongs, Rural Style)

Originally, the German term Schlager is a literal translation of the english word hit. Since the advent of modern rock and pop music in the late 1950's it is increasingly being used in all major German speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) to denote simple lovesongs in German language based on more traditional or only slightly modernized style, as opposed to pop and rock bands using international mainstream styles and often English language (though there is also a lively scene of rock bands singing in Swiss German dialect).

A few well known Swiss schlager singers are:
20th centuryContemporary
  • Lys Assia
  • Vico Torriani
  • Trio Eugster music directory
  • Nella Martinetti (an Italian speaking Swiss artist singing in German language, but using typical melodies and instruments of Southern Switzerland) music directory

Swiss Folklore Associations:

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