Schlager is a type of music enormously popular in the German-speaking world1. Schlager stars are good-looking in a non-threatening sort of way (ie more your Paul McCartney than your Keith Richards type). They are clean-living (they don't seem to be as drawn to the delights of tattooing or piercing as are the pop musicians in our world) and are given to dressing in traditional folk costume. The big Schlager stars in Switzerland range from the 'actually-not-too-bad' Francine Jordi and Monique, through the ubiquitous Leonard ('no way is he gay') to the utterly execrable Hansi Hinterseer, Vreni and Rudi, Die Schurtzenjaeger and, the crowning turd in the waterpipe, Die Kastelruther Spatzen.
Schlager music is based on an up-tempo version of the basic German 'oom-pah' rhythm. Once established, the beat is never varied throughout the song. The main way in which the audience at a Schlager concert shows their appreciation of the music is to clap in unison on the upbeat - an inexplicably sinister reaction. Musical accompaniment is provided by electric guitars (strummed, of course. There is no question of any Schlager guitarist 'rocking out'), and keyboards. The musical highlight of any Schlager song is the trumpet solo. No one knows why, but all Schlager trumpet solos sound the same. The trumpet solo serves to herald the core of every Schlager composition; the chorus. Every Schlager song consists of a totally unmemorable introduction and series of verses before arriving at what is hopefully the killer chorus - which is the bit everyone is supposed to remember and will (hopefully) walk around whistling. Unfortunately, listening to Schlager music is rather like eating fast food; when you're doing it it tastes OK, but ten minutes later you've forgotten what it tasted like and you're hungry again.
Schlager songs are restricted to one of three themes:
The pledging of undying love
Consoling oneself following the break-up of a love affair ('there's plenty more fish in the sea', 'I'm still young', etc)
Expressing one's love for one's Heimat2
Strangely, most of the boys tend to sing about theme one, while the girls mostly choose theme two. Both sexes feel free to expound on theme three, however. Key words to look out for in a Schlager song, other than Heimat, are:
- Sehnsucht ('desire')
- Herz/Schmerz ('heart/pain')
- Für immer und ewig ('for ever and ever')
- Liebe ('love')
- Treu/Scheu' 'faithful/shy'
- Allein ('alone')
- Feuer ('fire')
At least one of these words can be found in every Schlager song. It is rumoured that Francine Jordi's 1998 Schlager classic Die Feuer der Sehnsucht actually managed to fit them all in.
The best place to experience Schlager (for the uninitiated, that is) is on TV. Schlager music is featured prominently in the schedules of national television in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Switzerland, look for programmes called things like Schlag auf Schlager, Musikantenstadl and Musig Plausch. On no account should go into a hard-core Schlager club or dance hall. You can almost feel your IQ and your ability to appreciate music dropping away from you, song after song.