Sunday, April 14, 2013

Swiss Traditions - The Alphorn

Alphorn – the sound of natural tones.

With the passing of time, the alphorn almost totally disappeared as an instrument used by Swiss shepherds. It was only with the romanticism of the 19th century and the revival of folklore and tourism that the alphorn experienced a renaissance and even became a national symbol.

Like the didgeridoo, the Indian bamboo or wooden trumpet and the African horn, the alphorn is one of the original wooden wind instruments. The alphorn in Switzerland was first documented in the mid-16th century by natural scientist Conrad Gesner.

Communication with humans and animals

The alphorn has long been a tool used by shepherds. It was used to callthe cows from the pastures and into the barn at milking time. An engraving from 1754 shows a shepherd using the alphorn to motivate the cows to cover the last steep stretch on their big climb up into the Alps. A glass painting from the Emmental Valley dating back to 1595 shows the alphorn being blown, probably to pacify the cows during milking. The blowing of the alphorn in the evening is also a traditional theme in art. This sound served as an evening prayer, and was mainly practiced in the Reformed cantons, while in the German-speaking Catholic cantons in Central Switzerland, the call to prayer was preferred. The main function of the alphorn was, however, for communication with the herdsmen on the neighboring Alps and with the people down in the valley below.

From a shadowy existence to the national symbol

After 1800, as the production of cheese increasingly shifted from the Alps to the dairies in the villages, the alphorn was used less and less. After the alphorn was hardly heard at traditional festivals any more, the Bernese official, Niklaus von Mülinen, began to repair alphorns in the 1820s and distribute them to talented players in Grindelwald. Although the alphorn had more or less lost its original function in the mountains, it now won the hearts of its audiences as a musical instrument – and has become a tourist attraction and a symbol of Switzerland.

Brass wind instrument made of wood

The key in which an alphorn can be played depends on its length. In Switzerland, the Fis/Ges (F sharp/G flat) alphorn is used, which is 3.5 metres long. Despite or indeed because of its simple design, the alphorn is a difficult instrument to play. This is because all other wind instruments have undergone technical advancements over time (finger holes, valves) while the alphorn has retained its original form. Musicians regard instruments made of wood as being brass instruments because the tones are produced by the same blowing techniques. The distinctive sound of the alphorn, however, combines the richness of a brass wind instrumentwith the softness of a woodwind instrument. Text and Photos are sources from the link included - read more about there!
There is still a lot of interesting things to read and to learn from the typical SWISS traditions - yodeling included! I'm sure you'll enjoy it! 
HAPPY SUNDAY to everyone :-) 

Photography Prints


richies said...

I would love to hear an alphorn being played sometime. I have only heard recordings.
An Arkies Musings

S-V-H said...

it's beautiful, Richies - and not to forget the entire ambiance is beautiful too, together with all the magnificent mountains in the background and the people dressed up in their traditional clothes.

I will do some photographs and videos then when I will be back in Switzerland - again. Hopefully soon....! :-)

Thanks for the comment, Richies!


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