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Swiss Folk Music

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Streamed live on Feb 2, 2013

Swiss 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 folk music was the Swiss song Kühreihen, an agricultural Alpine song in the Lydian mode. Traditional instruments included alphorn, hammered dulcimer, fife, hurdy-gurdy, castanets, 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 large social dances. Alongside the brass bands came string instruments like the violin and 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.

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