Schlager music (German: Schlager, loosely translated as "a hit") is a style of popular music prevalent in Central and Northern Europe and the Balkans (in particular Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Flanders, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Switzerland, Turkey, Scandinavia and the Baltic States) and also (to a lesser extent) in France and Poland. In Portugal, it was adapted and became pimba music. Typical schlager tracks are either sweet, highly sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light pop tunes. Lyrics typically center on love, relationships and feelings. The northern variant of schlager (notably in Finland) has taken elements from Nordic and Slavic folk songs, with lyrics tending towards melancholic and elegiac themes. Musically, schlager bears similarities to styles such as easy listening music.
The word schlager is also a loanword in some languages (Hungarian, Russian, Hebrew, Romanian, and Slovenian, for example), where it retained its meaning of a "(musical) hit". The style has been frequently represented at the Eurovision Song Contest and has been popular since it originated in 1956, although it is gradually being replaced by other pop music styles.
Variations by country
Dutch schlager is called levenslied (literally 'life song', i.e. 'song about real life'). It is a sentimental, Dutch-language sub-genre of pop music. Typical levenslied lyrics treat subjects such as love, misery, and nostalgia, besides longing for sunny, exotic holiday places. A typical levenslied has catchy, simple rhythms and melodies (in common with many pop and folk tunes) and is structured in couplets and refrains. Traditional instruments in levenslied music are the accordion and the barrel organ.
The roots of Finnish schlager (Finnish: iskelmä) date back to the interwar period, when popular singers included Georg Malmstén and Matti Jurva. A particularly notable song was opera singer Ture Ara's "Emma" in 1929. Schlager tradition had (and still has) an important place in Finnish popular music, and its melodic language has also influenced Finnish rock. Schlager music shares its audience with Finnish tango music, since both are popular among older and even middle-aged Finns. A particular feature of Finnish schlager music were "translation schlagers" (Finnish: käännösiskelmä). Noteworthy Finnish schlager composers include Juha Vainio. According to the polls conducted among Finnish audiences, "Hopeinen kuu", (originally "Guarda che luna" by Walter Malgoni and Bruno Pallesi), recorded in Finnish by Olavi Virta and "Satulinna" (composed by Jukka Kuoppamäki and sung by Jari Sillanpää) are the most popular Finnish schlagers of all time.
Germany and Austria
The roots of German schlager are old; well-known singers during the 1950s and the early 1960s included Lale Andersen, Freddy Quinn, Ivo Robic, Gerhard Wendland, Caterina Valente, Margot Eskens and Conny Froboess. Schlager reached its peak in popularity in Germany and Austria during the 1960s (featuring Peter Alexander and Roy Black) and the early 1970s. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Schlager was not popular in Germany and Austria. From the mid-to-late 1990s into the early 2000s, however, German-language schlager saw an extensive revival in Germany. Even reputable dance clubs would put in a stretch of schlager titles during the course of an evening, and numerous new bands specializing in 1970s schlager cover versions and "new" material were formed. In Hamburg, schlager fans still (as of 2012) gather annually by the hundreds of thousands and dress in 1970s clothing for a street parade called "Schlager Move". Due to its popularity, the Schlager Move brand is also used for a number of smaller Schlager music parties in several major German cities throughout the year. This revival is associated with kitsch and camp.
Germans view Schlager as their Country Music and in fact American Country and TexMex are both major elements in the Schlager culture.
Popular Schlager singers include Roland Kaiser, Jürgen Drews, Andrea Berg, Helene Fischer, Nicole, Claudia Jung, Andrea Jürgens, Michelle, Kristina Bach, Marianne Rosenberg, Simone Stelzer, Christian Lais, Semino Rossi, Vicky Leandros and Leonard. Stylistically, schlager continues to influence German "party pop": music most often heard in après-ski bars and Majorcan mass discos. Contemporary schlager is often mingled with Volkstümliche Musik. If it is not part of an ironic kitsch revival, a taste for both styles of music is commonly associated with a lower and lower middle class habitus, typically heard in folksy pubs, at fun fairs, and bowling league venues.
In Sweden, schlager has waxed and waned in popularity since at least the 1930s. It still enjoys a large place in Swedish culture, although it is considered to be too "popular and commercial" by many people. Although the original schlager was heavily influenced by operettas, cabaret- and variety-style music and jazz, this started to change during the 1960s and 1970s when schlager music became more pop-oriented. Since the early 1990s, schlager songs began to include elements of rock and techno. Therefore, modern schlager music little resembles that of the 1940s. Despite this, many old schlager tunes are still popular; they are performed by many artists and at the Allsång på Skansen.
The Melodifestival (which selects the Swedish competitor at the Eurovision Song Contest) is popularly called Schlagerfestivalen ("the Schlager Festival"), since it has traditionally been characterized by schlager songs. The amount of schlager has decreased drastically in recent years, but schlager songs are the most likely genre to win the competition ("Evighet" (English: "Invincible" in 2006 by Carola and "Hero" by Charlotte Perrelli in 2008, for example). Melodifestivalen is the most popular TV program in Sweden. It is broadcast annually, and in 2006 an estimated 47 percent of the Swedish population watched the final. In Sweden "schlager" is often used to refer to Eurovision-participating songs (especially those from Malta, known for its schlager entries).
Two characteristics of Swedish schlager are a pronounced key change before the final chorus and their three-minute length (the maximum song length permitted at the Eurovision Song Contest). Some Swedes dispute the meaning of "schlager" with respect to Swedish music; it may be used indiscriminately to describe all popular music, "older-sounding" popular music, Melodifestivalen songs, Eurovision songs, songs with a "catchy" chorus or dansband music.
The first schlager music in the former Yugoslavia began to appear in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The first (and most influential) festival of schlager music was the Zagreb Festival of Popular Music (later known as Zagrebfest), which began in 1953 and still takes place annually in Zagreb. Many schlagers (Croatian: šlager, uspješnica) performed at Zagrebfest over the past five decades are an integral part of the Croatian and Yugoslav pop-music scene. The first schlager singers were Ivo Robić and Rajka Vali, but over time Zagreb school of schlagers came to include such singers as Arsen Dedić, Hrvoje Hegedušić, Ivica Percl, Gabi Novak, Frano Lasić, Jasna Zlokić, Zdravko Čolić, and many others. Main composers of schlagers included Fedor Kopsa, Krešimir Oblak, Ferdo Pomykalo, Miljenko Prohaska, Nikica Kalogjera, Bojan Hohnjec, Vanja Lisak, Zvonko Špišić, Ivica Stamać and Hrvoje Hegedušić. Some Zagrebfest artists (such as Ivo Robić and Tereza Kesovija) would later have successful careers in Germany and France. Other pioneers of schlagers include Darko Kraljić (from Zagreb), who worked in Belgrade. He is best known by his hit "Čamac na Tisi" (sung by Lola Novaković and popular in revolutionary Hungary) and his music for the film Ljubav i moda ("Devojko mala" and "Pod sjajem zvezda", performed by Vokalni kvartet Predraga Ivanovića).
United Kingdom and North America
While at one time schlager was also fairly popular in the UK, Canada and USA, due to the constant change of fashion in popular culture it has generally fallen out of favour since the 1970s. However, for a time during the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s an element of British pop music could be compared to contemporary schlager, although the term is virtually unknown in the UK.
- Schlager and Volksmusik (genre)
- Levenslied, equivalent genre in the Netherlands.
- Pimba, equivalent genre in Portugal.
- Traditional pop music
- Compare: adult contemporary music, mainstream contemporary pop music (on the radio) intended for a mature adult audience
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- Schlager websites