Various Artists

Rough Guide to the Music of the Alps

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The prevailing international image of Alpine music seems to involve grown men in short pants slapping out rhythms on each others' buttocks while dirndl-clad frauleins revolve nearby. Or beer hall oom-pah-pah bands, the mysterious zither of Anton Karras, The Sound of Music, yodeling, and the whale-like moan of a huge alphorn resonating through a mountain pass. These time-honored, if touristy, clichés still exist, but it is important to note that the Alps pass through France and Italy and Slovenia as well as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The populations who live in these far-flung and culturally varied towns and villages are overwhelmingly Catholic, so most local music styles were originally meant to accompany church festivals, plus weddings and such. Other than inevitable modern touches like mild pop influences, electrification, and some topical lyrics, the French, Italians, and Slovenians have retained this focus, and their music has considerable rural charm. Modal fiddles, polyphonic voices, and singing combs(!) abound, and early music fanciers would find some of these tracks very familiar sounding. But among German-speaking groups, older styles like the ländler (and polka) had become inextricably associated with Nazi propaganda, falling from favor until younger musicians stopped rolling their eyes and reclaimed what was theirs, often via uproarious satire. Austria's Klaus Trabitsch has used a scythe as a percussion instrument, Georg Ringsgwandl dresses in women's clothing and sings about touring Bavaria in a RV, while Munich-based guitarist Wolfgang Netzer's band, BavaRio, performs a lunatic blend of Alpine and Brazilian sounds, mixing cavaquinho sand zithers with unexpectedly felicitous results.

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