Appenzeller Music

The sound of Appenzeller music is distinctive. The dulcimer gives the compositions their rhythm and fills the gaps with sparkling tonal cascades. The classic quintet is composed of two violins, a cello, a hammered dulcimer and a double bass.

The quintet became the standard string music ensemble in 1892, before which quartets, trios or just violin and dulcimer were commonly heard. Parallel to the development of the ensemble, the repertoire also developed with waltzes, schottisches, polkas, marches, country dances, mazurkas and galops. Pieces composed by Appenzeller musicians at the beginning of the 20th century are still played today. Many works contain complex harmonies and use surprising phrases and more often than not unconventional modulations. A typical feature of the «Schlääzig» dances are the rousing closing bars.

A new generation of well-trained musicians gives fresh impetus to today’s Appenzeller music with exciting experiments and fusions of styles. These days you normally only hear the traditional string quintet ensemble in concert performances. For dance music, the accordion is often used instead of the cello and second violin and brings a special lift to the music. Arrangements with a piano or two accordions are also possible. A distinctive feature of all Appenzeller music ensembles is the typical repertoire that they play.

To ensure the future of all facets of the music of Appenzell, the Foundation for Appenzeller Folk Music was formed in 2003. From its headquarters in the «Roothuus» in Gonten, it has been promoting, collecting and documenting this unique cultural heritage since 2007.

Hammered dulcimer
The dulcimer is a type of box zither. The multiple strings, which give a chorus effect, are struck with two mallets or hammers. Depending on the properties of the hammers, the strings can produce bright silvery or velvety soft sounds. The hammered dulcimer has its origins in the mediaeval santur, which found its way to Central Europe from Persia via the Balkans. The Appenzeller hammered dulcimer’s strings are divided in half by a bridge into fifths and sixths and arranged chromatically.

Since about 1950, Appenzeller dances music pieces and rugguusselis have also been played by brass bands. The pieces are not written out, which is why the playing practice is called «Stegräfle». Only the melody is given and all the accompanying parts are played by ear and feeling. The pieces seldom have a title and delight the audience with their melodies and their performance.