Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Viennese Tuning and Playing Technique for the Zither

Applicant: Cornelia Mayer, Univ. Ass. Mag. Katharina Pecher-Havers
Province: Upper Austria, Styria, Vienna
Domain: Performing arts
Year of inclusion: 2017

Both the stringing and the playing technique associated with the Viennese tuning of the zither arose in mid-19th-century Vienna and were first described in Carl Ignaz Umlauf’s zither treatise of 1859. Viennese zither-tuning and playing technique quickly spread, and with the numerous zither treatises and associations that arose, the Viennese zither eventually became an instrument with a widespread presence among members of the working class. Playing together was conducive to social cohesion and cultural identity. And with the theme to the movie The Third Man, Viennese zither-tuning and playing technique became known the world over. Its tuning and technique are still used today in Vienna, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, and Styria.

Viennese zither-tuning and playing technique are used mostly by amateurs in solo contexts and ensembles, and they are taught at a small number of music schools. Knowledge of composing techniques, instrument-making, and playing techniques is mutually influential and results in an unmistakable sound. With the rising average age of practitioners and an insufficient number of young players, Viennese zither-tuning and playing technique threaten to disappear. And some aspects of the associated knowledge, such as about the construction and playing technique of the bowed zither (which represent a special aspect of Viennese zither tuning and playing technique as a whole), have already been lost.