Trude Mally: Singer who championed Vienna's working-class music

Viennese culture isn't all high-class konditorei (patisserie or cake shops) and Klimt, Mozart and waltzes round the Prater. The singer Trude Mally brought that home with her mastery of two of the city's working-class folk-music traditions. Without Schrammelmusik (the waltz's working-class counterpart), Weanalieder (songs sung in the Viennese dialect) and dudler (the Viennese variant of yodel), there could be no Vienna as non-tourists know it. Trude Mally was renowned for her Weanalieder - and most especially for her dudler.

These three musical traditions can still be heard in Vienna's drinking haunts and heurigen – the wine taverns named after the dialect word for this year's wine. Music and wine have helped define modern-day Vienna, with both continually updated and reinterpreted (notably, in the case of Schrammel, by the punk rock band Roland Neuwirth und die Extremschrammeln).

Born in the south-east of Vienna in Neukettenhof – nowadays Schwechat and absorbed into greater Vienna – in 1928, Trude Mally took easily to singing and playing the piano. She was something of a child prodigy and by the age of 10 she was performing on stage with her dudlerin aunt Ady Rothmayer (1893–1975). Starting in 1943, Rothmayer took her niece with her to perform morale-boosting shows of Austrian folk and Viennese songs for Axis armed forces as far apart as Norway and the Eastern Front, though towards the end of the war she sang for the wounded in hospitals.

The child star went on to perform on radio – notably on the US-controlled station Rot-Weiss-Rot (Red-White-Red). Given the duration of her career and her influence, she recorded comparatively little. In part, this was because she gave up making music professionally to concentrate on the hotel trade. Nevertheless, she still sang when the occasion arose – notably with her brother-in-law Pepi Matauschek, and with Karl Nagl.

Christina Zurbrügg's 1996 book Orvuse on Oanwe – Dudlerinnen in Wien concentrated on the lives of Viennese yodelling's three greatest living female exponents – Poldi Debeljak, Mally and Luise Wagner. It led to Zurbrügg and Michael Hudecek's documentary film called Orvuse On Oanwe – Die letzten Dudlerinnen Wiens. The title of that 1998 film alludes to the trio as the last of the last, with a command of this "almost forgotten art".

If dudler survives, and it looks as if it will, contrary to premature gloomy forecasts, it will be thanks to a new generation of singers inspired by Mally – such as Agnes Palmisano (who describes herself as a koloraturjodler or a "coloratura yodeller") and Doris Windhager (the sometime singer with Die Extremschrammeln). Posterity will lay much at Mally's feet. She was more passionate about this tradition – and its survival– than anyone else. Thanks to her, the baton has been handed on.

Ken Hunt

Gertrud Barbara Mally (Trude Mally), singer: born Neukettenhof, near Vienna, Austria 21 January 1928; married Fritz Matauschek; died Vienna 4 June 2009.

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