Ranz des vaches/lyôba

Jo reminded me earlier of the Ranz des Vaches (or Lyôba), a classical Swiss alpine song which has stirred the hearts of many Swiss for years. It’s said that the song made those Swiss living abroad so homesick, that singing and playing it was banned amongst Swiss mercenaries in the eighteenth century, so as not to cause desertion.

For those of us who either don’t understand the lyrics or who have adopted Switzerland, the moving nature of the music is more about the melody than the words. The song is in an alpine dialect called patois gruérien, from the Gruyère region most well known for its cheese. It’s about cowherds trying to get their cattle home; when their way becomes blocked by flooded ground, they go to a priest and ask him to pray for the waters to recede. He agrees to saying a Hail Mary in exchange for some cheese.

(Ranz des vaches translates as “The line of cows” – coming in for milking – and lyôba is said to be an old Alemannic verb, meaning “to call the cattle”.)

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