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Intangible cultural heritage

Traditions, knoweldge, craftsmanship techniques  
Photo: © UNESCO/James Muriuki

Viennese Tuning and Playing Technique for the Zither
Performing arts in Styria, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Vienna, inscribed 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. Its tuning and playing technique are still used today in Vienna, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, and Styria.

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.
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. But with the average age of practitioners rising and an insufficient number of young players, Viennese zither-tuning and playing technique are threatened with extinction. Moreover, some aspects of the associated knowledge, such as regarding 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.

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