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Tyrolean national singers on world tour

01-09-2017 05:28 PM CET | Science & Education

Press release from: FWF - Austrian Science Fund

/ PR Agency: PR&D
The "Rainer Family", a Tyrolean group of singers, and their predecessors the Rainer siblings were the first Tyrolean music stars to enjoy success on an international scale. In a project supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, their impact on the history of music and culture was investigated for the first time.

Hailing from Fügen in the Tyrolean Zillertal valley, the Rainer siblings were the first vocal group from the German-speaking area to receive international acclaim. Between 1824 and 1838, a time of surging national awareness, when Tyrol benefited from its image as a freedom-loving region and when Alpine and Tyrolean dress were all the rage, these vocalists toured Germany and Britain, and were even coveted guests at the royal court in London. Their successors, the "Rainer Family", went on to give celebrated concerts in the USA. An unexplored chapter of Austrian music history so far, this phenomenon has now been investigated by the ethnomusicologist Thomas Nußbaumer from the Mozarteum University Salzburg in a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF.

Inventors of folksy mass entertainment
Together with the musicologist Sandra Hupfauf, Nußbaumer studied the inception of what was later to be labelled the "tradition of Tyrolean national singers", which made itself felt as far away as Russia and lasted well up to the more recent past. For a long time, researchers disregarded the 19th-century singing families and their international success, considering them to have been mere fads offering folkloristic music of poor quality. In actual fact, they were something like the inventors of what is still highly popular and successful under the label of folkloristic "Schlager"(1) music today, by skilfully pursuing both musical and commercial interests. With the passage of time, international researchers have turned increasing attention to the Tyrolean singers. "The more recent American research into the development of popular music has been aware of these 'Tyrolese Minstrels' for quite some time, particularly of their most famous representatives, the 'Rainer Family' from the Zillertal valley", explains principal researcher Thomas Nußbaumer.

Setting trends for American popular music
According to Nußbaumer, the "Rainer Family" led by 18-year-old Ludwig Rainer was set up in a casting audition initiated by an American businessman whose background is largely unknown. Between 1839 and 1843, the group gave numerous concerts in large US cities, including New York, Boston and New Orleans. Not only were they tremendously successful, but they also served as models for the development of the "Minstrel Show", a type of musical cabaret, and of "Barbershop" a cappella music for four voices. The Rainers also contributed markedly to making yodelling popular in American musical entertainment.

Original songs gentrified by adaptations
Several songs in their repertoire were composed specifically for the Rainers, others had already been popular in the German and English-speaking areas. Two examples of this latter category still well known today are "Du, du liegst mir im Herzen" and "Ach, du lieber Augustin". Almost every song exists in German and in an English translation, as was shown by the analysis of the Rainers' comprehensive repertoire undertaken by Sandra Hupfauf in the FWF project. The first generation, the Rainer siblings, had their songs translated in London. They were published by the London-based pianist Ignaz Moscheles under the title of "The Tyrolese Melodies" in two languages: Tyrolese dialect and an adapted English translation. "In many cases, the adapted versions were prettied up to cater to an aristocratic and bourgeois audience", notes Nußbaumer. In the process, somewhat risqué ambiguities contained in the original dialect versions were dropped, so as not to destroy the image of the Tyroleans as pious, nature-loving Alpine dwellers, the ethnomusicologist adds.

Exploiting clichés
The many examples of Tyrolese and English versions of the same song reveal the talent of these early Tyrolean vocal groups in communicating their music to foreign audiences and acting as ambassadors of their native regions. "Both generations of Rainers mainly exploited clichés", explains the folksong specialist. This includes yodelling, which is clearly linked to the notion of life in the Alps, and the corresponding type of dress. The Rainers were also open to contemporary trends of the time such as German waltz music and skilfully adapted them for their purposes, as demonstrated by a piece called "Jodeln Waltzes". They also soon renamed their programme: "Tyrolese Singing" was turned into the more opportune "Tyrolese Singing and Waltzing".

Today, the folkloristic popular music scene is still exploiting Alpine clichés. Various elements taken from folk music, pop, and waltzes are still common ingredients of successful popular music. The fact that the Rainers laid the foundation for this iconic music style in the 19th century was comprehensively documented by editor Thomas Nußbaumer and the author Sandra Hupfauf in the book "Die Lieder der Geschwister Rainer und ‘Rainer Family'" which presents the results of the FWF project.

FWF Austrian Science Fund

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is Austria's central funding organization for basic research.

The purpose of the FWF is to support the ongoing development of Austrian science and basic research at a high international level. In this way, the FWF makes a significant contribution to cultural development, to the advancement of our knowledge-based society, and thus to the creation of value and wealth in Austria.

Scientific Contact
ao. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Thomas Nußbaumer
Mozarteum University Salzburg
Innrain 15
6020 Innsbruck, Austria
T +43 / 512 / 560319 6723
M +43 / 676 / 88122345

Austrian Science Fund FWF
Marc Seumenicht
Haus der Forschung
Sensengasse 1
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 67 40 - 8111

PR&D – Public Relations for Research and Education
Mariannengasse 8
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 70 44

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