Music for stringed instruments

In the Appenzellerland, as elsewhere, until the end of the 17th century music was usually played on drums, pipes, bagpipes and shawms. In the 18th century, dancing was initially accompanied by the violin and the hammered dulcimer, and later came the violone (a stringed instrument similar to a double bass) and the double bass itself. Between 1860 and 1896, the Appenzell quartet, consisting of violone, two violins and a dulcimer, became the recognised formation and is regarded as the predecessor to original Appenzell string bands. In 1884, the Urnäsch string band was the first example of a quintet consisting of two violins, a dulcimer, a cello and a double bass.

Original Appenzell string bands: this band consisting of five players is now regarded as the original formation for an Appenzell string band. The “Urnäscher Streichmusik” string band was later renamed “Streichmusik Alder”, which especially in its third generation became world-famous, thanks to international performances by Ulrich Alder, his eldest son Hansueli, Emil Zimmermann, Erwin and Arthur Alder.

In the second half of the 20th century, the composition of the bands began to change. An accordion replaced the second violin and the cello. Nowadays all kinds of other formations are possible. The musicians sing along themselves as they play. In the past, they also used to be accompanied on foreign tours by yodellers.

Cowbell swinging: Appenzell music-making also includes cowbell swinging and “Talerschwingen” – the rolling of coins round a bowl. The cowbell swinging entails two herdsmen making three huge cowbells resound by performing controlled, rhythmic movements.

“Talerschwingen”: “Talerschwingen” has been a tradition in Appenzell and Toggenburg since about 1930. A “Fünfliber”, a 5-franc coin, is rolled into a slightly conical clay milk basin in such a way that, if you slightly rotate your hand, the coin will roll on its edge around the side of the basin and thereby produce a sound. You have to keep turning your hand to keep the coin moving. Often, a group will play three bowls of different sizes, tuned to harmonise together – this is called “Gspil”.

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