This song is in the dialect of Arpitan called patois gruérien from the Gruyère region that's well known for its cheese. It's about cowherds trying to get their cattle home, but there is flooded ground. So 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.

This cowherds' anthem can be found in print as early as the 16th century. The version below has outshined all the other versions (both lyrics and tune variants) from all the other regions of Switzerland. Some musicians such as Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Liszt, Wagner and others used the tune in their compositions, as well as André Ernest Modeste Grétry and Friedrich Schiller in "William Tell", in 1791 and 1804 respectively. The present version was arranged by the abbot Joseph Bovet (1879 - 1951).

The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau even spread the legend that this song would have the power to get Swiss soldiers to desert when they were abroad by striking them with "delirium melancholicum" (homesickness).

It's been proposed as the anthem for the Canton (i.e. district) of Fribourg, but the Council of State rejected it since claiming their regional anthem as Le ranz des vaches "would hurt the rest of the Swiss who also identify themselves in its values and melody."

Notes

(1) "The 'armailli' (from the Gruyère dialect 'armaye', cow) is the typical cowherd in the Fribourg and Vaud Alps." -translated from (French Wikipedia).
(2) Les Colombettes is a city in the Gruyere district of Switzerland. It's about 32 miles southwest of the capital of Bern.
(3)"Lyôba" is said to come from the verb ayôbâ / alyôbâ which means "to call the cattle". Cows are called "Lobe" in Alemannic Switzerland. In English the phrase "coboss" is used to call in the cattle.
(4) Literally "low waters" or low tide.

"Ranz des vaches" doesn't actually translate to "The Cows Song". "Ranz" is said to mean "rank", "line" or "row". So literally it should be something like "The Line of Cows" (called to go to the cowshed to be milked).

This transcription is by Albert Bovigny.

Comments

Patrick Rapin from Switzerland wrote to us the following about the song...

"Here are some miscellaneous remarks:

Structure: The 'Ranz des vaches' musical structure is complicated and unusual. I tried to explain it on the sheet music but it'd be better to give an example. After each verse, there's a 'Lyôba' part, then a chorus (chorus 1 for the even verses and chorus 2 for the odd ones), then a new 'Lyôba' part. In short, it goes: Verse 1 – Lyôba - Chorus 1 – Lyôba – Verse 2 – Lyôba - Chorus 2 – Lyôba – Verse 3 -Lyôba – Chorus 1 – Lyôba - … [I included the 'lyôba' parts in the choruses to make it easier to understand. – Monique]

Note: The song is never sung entirely as it'd last around 30 minutes. During the Fêtes des Vignerons (Winegrowers Festival), different strategies were set. In 1977, only one verse was sung but the choruses were sung many times. In 1999, all the verses were sung but some of them very fast, singing only the verses and even speaking some. In 2019 I counted that 6 verses were sung (1, 2, 3, 16, 3 again and 19).

Key: 'Le Ranz des vaches' is normally sung in B flat, at least it was the key used in the last performances of the Fête des Vignerons. But it's too high for most people so Planète Musique published it in G and the attached sheet music is also in G. The alphorns play it in F sharp to match the native key of this instrument. In my recording, I sung it in F.

Language: The lyrics used nowadays are in 'patois gruérin'. In Switzerland, the word 'patois' is not derogatory at all. It's a Franco-Provençal [aka Arpitan] dialect. Long ago, the 'Ranz des vaches' was also sung in other Romand dialects and even in Swiss-German, but no longer nowadays.

Lyrics: The 'patois' is an oral language so there's no spelling to reference. I wrote the lyrics using the spelling of the PDF document 'Ranz+des+vaches_dossier_WEB_fr.pdf"' [in French and German] that is somewhat official. In Planète Musique, it was fairly different even if the pronunciation is approximately the same. In the PDF document, there are the 19 verses of the song along with a French translation. I suggest you copy and paste on your site the full lyrics and translation (it doesn't need much space because the verses are very short) because though this song is very well-known, I had a hard time finding the whole set of lyrics on the internet. I also notice that almost nobody knows the story told by the song.

Fête des Vignerons (Winegrowers Festival): The Fête des Vignerons in Vevey is a very peculiar festival. It takes place only once every 20 odd years since 1797. Its initial goal is to reward the best winegrowing workers (the vineyard employees) by the Confrérie des Vignerons (Winegrowers Brotherhood - the vineyard owners). But above all it's the opportunity to set up a gigantic show. The last festivals were in 1955, 1977, 1999 and 2019. I was in the 2019 festival as an extra! I wasn't the only one, here are some figures: 6000 extras, 20 performances, 355,000 spectators, € 100 M budget and unfortunately ~€13M deficit. Since 1819, the Ranz des vaches is always part of the show and even is its climax. I suggest you link to this Youtube on your site [the 1st video below], it's from 1977 when it was sung by Bernard Romanens (1947-1984). In the Romands' minds and still today, he's the singer who embodies the 'Ranz des vaches'. In 1999, the audience was very disappointed because the harmonization was far too modern. In 2019, the harmonization was more classical but sung in turns by 11 tenor soloists, probably to avoid the effect of turning somebody into a star.

Description: There would be much to write about the 'Ranz des vaches'. I think it's good to mention the legend that pretends that the song was forbidden in the French legion and that many take for an historical fact..." -Patrick

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More Resources about the Song for French Speakers:

-You can read a very well documented PDF about the song here.
-More notes and comments in Le conservateur suisse, ou Recueil complet des Étrennes helvétiennes from 1813.
-Different versions (lyrics and scores), notes and comments in "Recherches sur les ranz des vaches…" by George Tarenne (1813).

Listen

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Many thanks to Patrick for singing the first two verses and chorus for us.

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In the video below they sing the first two verses with respective chorus and a give a summary of the story in French at the beginning.
Please let us know if you think this video has been taken down by YouTube.
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Please let us know if you think this video has been taken down by YouTube.
Thanks!

Sheet Music

Sheet Music - Le ranz des vaches

Thanks and Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Patrick Rapin for contributing this song, for his notes and comments, sheet music and other documents and for singing the first two verses and chorus for us. Translated to English by Monique Palomares and Lisa Yannucci.