Fine Arts Column: Swiss land is your land


Not long ago, an instance of note to this present column occurred as I sat inside Antonian Hall, that illustrious purveyor of bodily sustenance which towers benevolently over the heart of our campus. I was having a meal with two of my friends, and in the course of our conversation, the topic of Switzerland was brought up. I had not for some time given thought to the place, but as I reflected, I was reminded of the stories my high school piano teacher would tell about her visits to Switzerland.

One day I hope to visit Switzerland myself, but until such times as we may travel somewhere, we must content ourselves with studying other countries from afar. I will confess that though I normally attempt to write about topics I am somewhat more familiar with, I have gone into this present work almost completely blind. I shall now attempt to examine the fine art of the great country of Switzerland for the enjoyment of my readers which I hope will follow as a result.

Take a quick glance at a map and you’ll find that Switzerland is neatly surrounded by a handful of “big name” countries, if you will: France, Germany, Italy and Austria. (Look closer and you’ll see it also borders Liechtenstein. If you’re like me, you probably forgot that was a country and probably won’t think about it again for a while. Fun fact though, right?) While Switzerland has its own style of art, there exists a decided impression of Switzerland as a melting pot of different cultures. This is not inaccurate, and for a country with four official languages, also not surprising.

Throughout its different linguistic regions, the Alps serve as a recurring theme and setting for Swiss art, especially in its well-preserved folk-art tradition. Anyone who has seen a commercial for Ricola cough drops may already be familiar with the alphorn, a several-yards-long horn played with one end resting on the ground. Once upon a time, these were used for long-distance communication in mountainous areas; now, they are used as musical instruments.

Another Alpine art which grew out of a need for long distance communication with flocks of livestock (and other people) is yodeling. Here in the States, yodeling found more of a home in blues, and by extension Western movies, but it is not widespread in Switzerland. Nonetheless, the Alps are where it finds its home.

Switzerland also has a strong architectural legacy. Cathedrals of various historical styles can be found throughout the country. Several of these churches attached to monasteries are particularly significant for us Catholics. Specifically, those of St. Gall and Einsiedeln have been instrumental in the preservation and restoration of Gregorian chant. An entire style of chant notation is named for the abbey at St. Gall, and Einsiedeln is known for a collection of chant manuscripts that now serve as sources for recent editions of Catholic chant repertoire.

As I sit here pondering Swiss art and culture, I wonder a bit if chocolate-making can be considered art. Because if so, then it is my favorite Swiss art. I shall leave you with this parting suggestion: get yourself some Swiss chocolate as soon as possible. Maybe say a prayer of thanks for the cool dudes who wrote all those Gregorian chants back in the day. Yodel a little, if you’re feeling feisty (but not during quiet hours). And be thankful for the Swiss.