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Think of Swiss music and yodelling inevitably comes to mind. But the country’s music extends beyond the traditional to jazz and rap and everything in between.

Although yodelling and Switzerland do go together well, the vocal technique is not exclusively Swiss. In the Alps, it is believed to have developed as a means of long-distance communication between isolated shepherds. 

As elsewhere in the Alps, a distinctive folkloric sound is provided by instruments such as the Schwyzerörgeli (or “Swiss organ”, an accordion), clarinets and double bass and, of course, the alphorn, which is played solo or in groups.

There is a thriving amateur music scene that involves a very large number of people in Switzerland. The Swiss love choral music and there seems to be at least one choir as well as a brass band in every village. Read on to find out more about music in Switzerland.

Classical music

Although Switzerland has not been at the forefront in classical music, it has produced several composers of international renown, such as the 20th-century figures Arthur Honegger, Frank Martin, and Othmar Schoeck.

Under the direction of its founder Ernest Ansermet, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande was at the cutting edge of bringing modern musical culture to Swiss audiences and today major orchestras serve Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Biel, Bern, Basel, Lucerne, Lugano, Winterthur and St Gallen. Charles Dutoit and Mathias Bamert have continued the tradition of international Swiss conductors.

Jazz became popular after the 1930s, and Montreux, Willisau and Lugano hold popular festivals. Bern has a recognised jazz school.

Events

A wide range of open-air pop and folk music events, as well as classical music festivals, are a feature of Switzerland’s summer months.

Switzerland is home to a number of international classical music festivals: the Easter and summer concerts at the Lucerne Culture and Convention Centre, the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad and Snow and Symphony in the resort of St Moritz.

The annual Montreux Jazz Festival attracts a large international audience. There are also numerous American country and western, jazz and pop events throughout the year.

The Paléo Festival also draws tens of thousands to visitors to the shores of Lake Geneva in July. 

The big pop, rock and jazz open-air festivals in the summer are venues for bands ranging from the big international acts to well-known Swiss bands like Sophie Hunger or Stephan Eicher.

DJ BoBo, Gotthard, Yello, Krokus as well as The Young Gods are among the famous Swiss acts internationally.

Music and language

There is a tendency for pop and rock songs to be in English for the international market, but there is also a thriving scene in the Swiss national languages. 

In addition, there are numerous popular Swiss German singers who perform in their own dialect (this is known as “Mundart”).

Indeed, there was already a thriving group of “troubadours” or folk-singers in the 1960s who sang their own songs in dialect to guitar accompaniment. The most famous of these was Mani Matter, who composed and performed his witty and satirical songs in the Bern dialect. His songs are still sung and his recordings are still popular.

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