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Switzerland enjoys a very rich musical life, be it classic or contemporary, popular music or jazz.
Many outstanding symphony orchestras and music ensembles are performing nationally as well as abroad.
A new generation of young contemporary composers has emerged to become internationally well known: Dieter Amman, Geneviève Calamé, Beat Furrer, Eric Gaudibert, Urban Mäder, and Christoph Neidhöfer, to name just a few.
Until the seventeenth century the only real musical tradition in Switzerland - apart from folk music - was church music. In the Middle Ages the abbeys created a liturgical tradition which spread widely and led to the development of popular Passion and mystery plays. The Reformation, with its puritanical streak, then imposed strict control and influence over music, and since Switzerland possessed neither large commercial towns with middle-class patrons nor princely courts, the social background for the development of a thriving musical culture was entirely lacking.
Geneva founded the first conservatory of music, and a choral tradition developed through such festivals as the 'Fete des Vignerons' in Vevey and the work of composers like Hans Georg Naegeli (1773-1836). The Swiss Musicians' Association was founded in 1900, and a little later city symphony orchestras were established. The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969) soon became the focal point of modern musical culture in Switzerland. It was in the twentieth century that composers of international status began to emerge in Swiss musical life: Othmar Schoeck (1866-1957), Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), Frank Martin (1890-1974), Willy Burkhard (1900-1955) and Wladimir Vogel (1896-1984), followed by Rolf Liebermann and Heinrich Sutermeister (both born in 1910). Younger musicians who have a direct influence on musical life in Switzerland today include Eric Gaudibert, Jacques Guyonnet, Francesco Hoch, Heinz Holliger, Klaus Huber, Rudolf Kelterborn, Thomas Kessler, Hans Ulrich Lehmann, Pierre Marigtan, Roland Moser, Rolf Urs Ringger, Urs Peter Schneider, Jacques Wildberger, Hans Wuethrich and Juerg Wyttenbach. Thanks to radio studios, conservatories, and various local concert series, the chances of getting a new piece of music performed have recently improved. Nevertheless, composers are still dependent on performances abroad in order to earn their living as professional musicians. The national professional organization is the Swiss Musicians' Association (Association Suisse des Musiciens, 11 bis, av. du Grammont, CH-1000 Lausanne 13). In addition, Swiss musical life is greatly enriched by international festivals, for example those in Lucerne, Gstaad and Ascona.
Jazz and rock:
Big international jazz festivals are held each year in Willisau and Montreux. Swiss musicians on the international jazz scene include Flavio Ambrosetti, Urs Bloechlinger, Pierre Favre, Georges Gruntz, Irène Schweizer, and Bruno Spoeri. Several small rock festivals and larger concerts take place in Switzerland, on one hand reflecting rock culture as a phenomenon of the international entertainment industry and on the other acting as an important form of expression for Swiss youth.
Further information can be found in the brochure Musical Life in Switzerland, published by Pro Helvetia.
Printed in Switzerland, 1993
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