The early part of the 20th century saw Ernest Ansermet's Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, which was the focal point for musical innovation in Switzerland. Other musicians included Ernest Bloch, Frank Martin, Arthur Honegger, and Rolf Liebermann. Prominent contemporary composers of Switzerland include Klaus Huber and Heinz Holliger (who is also an oboe virtuoso).
At the beginning of the 19th century, Swiss folk music was largely performed by ensembles made of itinerant musicians and solo acts using an instrument, with only a few duos. In the 1830s, however, the Swiss military was reorganized, leading to the formation of brass bands that used modern instruments. These instruments, mostly brass or wind, were built much better than those played by itinerants, and musicians brought them back to their villages. Local players joined these ensembles, which played dance music for festivals and other celebrations. Dance styles included schottisch, mazurka, waltz and polka.
In 1829, the accordion was invented in Vienna, and it had spread to Switzerland by 1836. The accordion was popular because it was relatively easy to play and cheap to acquire, and took only one musician to play the melody and accompaniment. By the 1850s, the accordion was an integral part of Swiss folk music, and semi-professional ensembles were appearing to play at the ship lounge. Hi the brass bands came string instruments like violins and a double bass; string bands soon began to displace the older brass bands. The accordion, however, did not make an appearance in these dance bands until about 1903, and it eventually replaced the two violins which had become standard.
Following World War I, Switzerland became more heavily urbanized, and music moved to cities like Zürich. Rural folk music became the most popular style for middle-class audiences, and musicians like Joseph Stocker became renowned across the country. Stocker knew his audience liked the exotic appeal of rural music, and so he bought traditional costumes from Unterwalden for his band. This was the beginning of laendlermusic.
In the urban areas of Switzerland, folk music began to mix with new styles, like jazz and the foxtrot, while the saxophone replaced the clarinet. Beginning in the 1930s, the Swiss government began to encourage a national identity distinct from Germany and other neighbors. Laendlermusic became associated with this identity, and grew even more popular.
Following World War 2, however, laendlermusik quickly grew less popular with the influx of imported styles. The field also grew less diverse, with more standardized band formats and only four or five dances in the repertoire. By the 1960s, trios consisting of two accordions and a double bass were the most common format, and many Swiss people felt it was a civic duty to preserve this tradition and guard it against change. They have largely succeeded in preventing change, but the field has grown much less popular and stagnant. There are still popular performers, such as Res Schmid, Willi Valotti, Markus Flueckiger, Dani Haeusler and Carlo Brunner, but the total fanbase has shrunk enormously.
The rural Appenzell region is a major center of folk music. While other parts of Switzerland adopted the accordion (Langnauerli and Schwyzerörgeli) in the 19th century, Appenzell kept the violin and hammered dulcimer. Appenzell Quartetts were popular throughout Switzerland playing string quartets adding Austrian influences to popular acclaim. More recently, the band Appenzeller Space Schöttl has added psychedelic and other avant-garde influences to the music.
Later in the 20th century, in the 1960s, rock and roll, or beat music, was popular, peaking in 1968 with the release of Les Sauterelles' "Heavenly Club". Swiss Rock popularity began in 1957, when the Hula Hawaiians incorporated rockabilly, setting the stage for the early 1960s boom. The Francophone section of Switzerland soon found itself dominated by French stars like Johnny Hallyday, and soon Swiss artists like Les Aiglons, Larry Greco and Les Faux-Frères became major artists.
1964 saw Beatles-inspired pop take hold on the continent, displacing the earlier instrumental rock and inspired musical battles in Basel, the capital of Swiss rock. Swiss bands in the same mold included The 16 Strings and Pichi, and German-speaking acts soon dominated the field. Zürich then became a center of innovation, drawing on Chris Lange's blues-roots explorations, Heiner Hepp's Bob Dylan-inspired folk and Toni Vescoli's pop fame. Other Swiss artists of the period included R&B act The Nightbirds from Locarno, light rock stars The Wild Gentlemen and pop band Marco Zappa & the Teenagers. In 1967, artists like Mani Matter, Franz Hohler, Sergius Golowin, and Kurt Marti began establishing Swiss-German dialect rock, glorifying their distinct national identities. While others like Roland Zoss and Tinu Heiniger sang on in German. 1973 saw the first commercial release of dialect rock with Rumpelstilz's "Warehuus Blues"; the band broke into the mainstream in 1976 with the release of the reggae-influenced chart-topper Füüf Narre im Charre.
By 1968, Swiss rock was dying, and artists were exploring sonic innovations. Basel's Barry Window, for example, used soul and Indian music to make raga rock, while The Sauterelles explored psychedelia.
Later in the decade, hard rock became popular and Toad soon established a Swiss scene with the debut single, "Stay!", setting the stage for the 1980 explosion of Flame Dream (band)Krokus, the most popular rock band in Swiss history. By this time, punk rock, New Wave and pub rock had become popular, while The Swiss Horns, Red Devil Band and Circus from Basel continued to expand musical boundaries.
The Swiss punk is best represented by pioneers like Kleenex, Dieter Meier, The Nasal Boys, Troppo, Mother's Ruin, TNT, Dogbodys and Sperma, who were inspired by American underground heroes like the New York Dolls and British celebrities like the Sex Pistols. Zürich was Switzerland's capital of punk rock, which soon expanded across the country. Other areas with a punk scene included Bern' Glueams and Lucerne's Crazy and Lucerne's progressive rock Flame Dream. Pioneers Le Beau Lac de Bâle established a Francophone New Wave-influenced punk rock scene based out of Geneva, and bands like the Bastards, Yodler Killers, The Tickets, The Zero Heroes, Technycolor arose.
Later in the 80s, Swiss punk bands began drifting in New Wave and techno, where Vera Kaa soon became the biggest Swiss star. 1983 saw Ex-Trem Normal release Warum and Welcome to Switzerland, which revolutionized Bernese rock by adding distinctive dialect trends. They were followed by Züri West and other bands. More internationally known is The Young Gods. Formed in 1985 by vocalist and sampler Franz Treichler, the group used digital sampling (see sampler (musical instrument)) to create an intense amalgamation of classical and rock music with the help of original members Cesare Pizzi (sampler) and Frank Bagnoud (percussion). The sound of the Young Gods gradually evolved from abrasive industrial music to atmospheric electronica.
Since the 1980s Swiss jazz has continued to form. Notable exponents of the Swiss jazz scene are saxophonist Fritz Renold or trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti. Stephan Eicher is a popular folk rock musician, rising to prominence in the mid 1980s and gaining a popular following across Europe in the 1990s.
One of the most popular Swiss singer and performance artists is DJ Bobo, born René Baumann.
Emerging in the early 90's, the band Gotthard evolved to become the leading Swiss rock group and one of the most acclaimed bands in Europe. With a total of 8 studio albums, 2 compilation albums and 2 live albums (one of which unplugged), they changed their style from hard rock to adult contemporary rock. They are presently very popular in Switzerland, but also in Germany, Austria, Italy and Brazil.