Mani Matter, undated photo, probably from 1972.Image: KEYSTONE
In 1972, Mani Matter was killed in a car accident. He was only 36 years old. The Bernese troubadour has had a lasting influence on Swiss music to this day.
Michael Graber / ch media
A minor, E major, D minor. The school class in one of those suburbs where concrete gray is a little grayer is waiting for me to set the tone. 1, 2, “S’s and two friends in a sports plane…” Everyone sings. The plane rattles and rattles, it crashes, I try to hit the guitar chords. A minor, E major, D minor. The “sophisticated song selection” will be noted later by the mentor in the evaluation. Matter always works.
That was already true in my teacher training shortly after the turn of the millennium and still is. It also didn’t matter that half of the 4th grade class had a migration background and many of them rocked their dialect like the plane in “Alpeflug”. Everyone understood what Mani Matter was singing. It is ingeniously simple. This applies to lyrics and music. A minor, E major, D minor are not rocket science and can be played even with sweaty hands. But anyone who makes music or writes lyrics knows: almost nothing is as difficult as making things seem simple.
They also sing Mani Matter in the football stadium
Mani Matter, born Hans Peter Matter in 1936, once said that the first thing he does after finishing writing one of his songs is “doubt.” There is nothing to hear of all those doubts, quarrels and musings in his texts. He was a “Liedlimacher”, a “Värsli-smith”. A blacksmith needs, with all the necessary strength, also the necessary precision. The precision of the work separates the wheat from the chaff. And Matter, a public defender, spent hours honing his words. He leaves out. compressed. Almost nothing is too much. “Almost all the melodies are written in C major or A minor, because that results in the simplest guitar fingerings,” writes “MM” in the “Us emene lääre Gygechaschte” songbook instructions. The rhymes, puns, and jokes were virtuosic at best, but always in clear, simple language. That’s what makes his songs so timeless.
43 Federal Councilors have been or are in office since 1972. Around 4 million children have been born in Switzerland since then. And if they don’t live in the west or south of Switzerland, they should all have come into contact with the Matter. The “match” as a lullaby, “Dr. Ferdinand isch gstorbe” in the scout and, simply, “Dr. Alpeflug”, intoned by a sweaty trainee teacher.
And if not there, maybe later at the football stadium. Several fan bases in Switzerland now have Matter in their list; interestingly, FCZ fans came up with the idea before YB fans.
The family watches over the inheritance with a strict eye
Other than that, 50 years after his death, Mani Matter is still there. Apart from Stephan Eicher’s “Hemmige” and the important “Matter Rock”, there are only a few versions available. The Matter family closely follows the troubadour’s musical and lyrical legacy. Too strict for some. There is at least something very conservative about the way Mani Matter’s music is handled. Maybe something like a museum. When a Matter song is played, it always smells and sounds a bit like vinyl records and smoky little theaters.
His songs have only been available on streaming services for about two years. Previously, the search for “match” on Spotify came to nothing. The romantics suspect that behind this there is a rejection attitude towards these soulless instant music water heaters, the pragmatists, on the other hand, point to monetary reasons: a sold CD yields much more than one click on the Internet. (Almost) no one knows for sure. And then what Matter has already sung is valid: “Dr Dings verzellt / Dr Dings heig ist gseit”.
Convert the anarchists and sing for redistribution
With his Bernio-German potential, Mani Matter tells stories in his songs. Sometimes there are puns (eg in “Dr. Sidi Abdel Assar vo El Hama”), philosophical considerations about cooking (“Consider about nes Sändwitsch”), but sometimes they can also be read explicitly politically. “They were better, they were better/they were better, they weren’t that good/what didn’t work, without it/less was good” is at least a small call for redeployment.
And when the song’s lead in “Dynamite” verbally prevents the anarchist from blowing up the Bundeshaus, but then begins to reflect on Switzerland itself, at least a little bit of the singer’s attitude comes through.
Matter manages to make long-lasting music. It does not have overly explicit references to contemporary historical events or direct allusions to real people. All of this makes Matter still singable 50 years after her death, without having to add footnotes under the lyrics to explain the timing. In its timelessness, Matter remains always present.
And if you ask current musicians who sing in dialect today (see gallery), it becomes clear what formative influence Matter had on musical socialization.
Interestingly, for many, the connection did not come through the Mani Matter itself, but through performances. Eicher’s “Hemmige” (1991) and the already mentioned “Matter Rock” with Züri West, Polo Hofer, Patent Ochsner and many more appeared in 1992 and connected a new generation to the chansonnier. A new compilation (“Und so blybt no sys song”) was released in 2016 with the blessing of the heirs. This time, Lo & Leduc, Jeans for Jesus and Steff La Cheffe tried to interpret Matter, often brilliantly (Evelinn Trouble’s game tip with “Alls wo mir id Finger chunt”).
The songs are timeless, because they are free from the spirit of the times.
Guitar and voice: Mani Matter did not need more for his art.Image: LUKAS LEHMANN
“Matter Rock” and “And so blybt no sys song” are the gateway drugs into the Matter cosmos for everyone who somehow outgrew the pioneering songbooks. Instead of harsh guitar, a catchy band sound or sparkling rhythms: Matter in cool. However, the following prognosis is bold on this point: while the Materia in A minor, E major, D minor will still be around 50 years from now, all “contemporary” renditions will collect dust over the next five decades. The more zeitgeist there is in songs, the harder it is for them to become timeless.
It would be exciting what Mani Matter would write today. If I would adapt the “match” to the current world situation. Or, much more likely, he simply sang his ditties and let the audience perform them. Hans Peter Matter died in a car accident on November 24, 1972 on the way to a concert in Rapperswil. (aargauerzeitung.ch)
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