Cruising on Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne in central Switzerland has always seemed mysterious to me because of its German name Vierwaldstättersee, which looks as though it ought to mean ‘Four-Woods-Place-Lake.’ But it turns out that Waldstätte is simply an old-fashioned regional word for Canton, and the name Vierwaldstättersee means that the lake used to border on four of the Swiss cantons: Luzern, Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden.

Confusingly, the old canton of Unterwalden has since been divided into the two current cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden, both of which seem to include parts of the lake (assuming the Alpnachersee is considered part of Lake Lucerne), so it could be that Lake Lucerne now actually borders on five cantons instead of four. But never mind, it’s still called Vierwaldstättersee, not Fünf-. In French, it is called Lac des Quatre-Cantons, and in Italian Lago dei Quattro Cantoni.

Tribschen from one of the cruise ships

The dock at Tribschen is quite small, so most of the cruise ships are too large to stop there. But the shipping company SGV also has a “cute little motor vessel” called the Rütli which calls at Tribschen six times a day during the summer months.

After spending several hours at the Richard Wagner Museum up on the hill, I walked down to the dock and by sheer luck happened to get there just as the Rütli was approaching, so I embarked for a “short cruise in the Bay of Lucerne”, calling at several nearby places on the way to Meggenhorn and back.

One of the larger ships going past Tribschen without stopping

The next day, after spending several hours at the Transport Museum, I took a ride on one of the larger ships to a town called Brunnen in Canton Schwyz. I didn’t know anything about Brunnen at the time, but I later looked it up and found that it was one of Richard Wagner’s favorite destinations for excursions from Luzern, when he was living there at various times in the 1850s. According to a regional website: “Wagner first came to Brunnen in 1851 and the beauty of the landscape made a lasting impression on him. He even toyed with the idea of building his festival stage in Brunnen, as we know it from Bayreuth today.”

But he was not impressed by the quality of the local musicians. There was once a bizarre incident in which he was greeted early one morning by a local orchestra attempting to play the overture to his opera The Flying Dutchman, and making a total mess of it. A century later, this inspired the composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) to write a musical parody for string quartet entitled “Overture to the Flying Dutchman as sight-read by a lousy spa orchestra at 7 in the morning by the fountain”. (Aside from being the name of a town in Switzerland, the word Brunnen also means ‘fountain’ or ‘well’ in German.) Hindemith’s parody has been recorded several times, for instance by the Buchberger Quartett.

View from the ship on the way to Brunnen

My photos and text in this post are from 2022.

See more posts on Luzern, Switzerland.
See also: By ship to the opera in Bregenz, Austria.
See also: Operas in Bonn, Germany, and scroll down
for the opera Cardillac by Paul Hindemith.

22 thoughts on “Cruising on Lake Lucerne”

  1. I couldn’t pinpoint any particular element, but this post just tickled me through and through! Somehow, I feel better about the day ahead–perhaps envisionong, at least a little, my next adventure in travel?

  2. Love the title of the parody piece. Also love lakeside locations like this where quaint ferries quietly make their way across the water. Your post brought back memories of the Salzkammergut region in Austria. Now I may have to go off and seek out that parody piece…

  3. I’ve only walked along Lake Lucerne, but never took a boat ride on it. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful lake in a beautiful city– my favorite in Switzerland!

      1. I always enjoy your posts, Don! I just don’t make it over to visit very often … between health issues and trying to keep up with the situation over here these days, I need an extra ten hours in the day!

  4. I just listened to the Buchberger Quartett performance and as it progressed, my husband turned to me aghast and asked, “Who is playing that?” We both had a good laugh when I told him your story of why Bayreuth is in Bayreuth. Fun recording. I hope folks click on the link. Sorry I missed it the first time around.

  5. Looks like a beautiful area. It would be pretty easy to find an amateur orchestra having trouble with much of Wagner’s work. It can be a bit difficult at times. Funny story though. I’ll try to find Hindemith’s parody.

    1. Good question. They were playing for him. The mayor (or the council or someone) had hired the local spa orchestra to welcome their illustrious guest. I used to have a file with the details of this (from one of Wagner’s letters) but can’t find it at the moment.

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