Swiss Alphorns. Image by Ton Zijlstra

Swiss Alphorns. Image by Ton Zijlstra


Alphorn has an ancient history in Europe but its exact origin is not known. This majestic musical instrument was made with the wood of spruce and pine trees that grew on the mountainsides. The herders of Alps used this large mouth piece to alarm or communicate with other far away dwellers especially for signaling each other. Perhaps the main purpose could be intimating for a social gathering, festival or about any danger. The alphorns were sometimes played during milking of cows by the milkmen to harmonize them or to call their cattle back to the farmhouses and to make them settle down in the night.

An Alphorn Band during the National Day Celebrations - Image  by Nicolas Fleury
An Alphorn Band during the National Day Celebrations – Image by Nicolas Fleury

This gigantic mouth piece was although used by the shepherds of mountainous European countries but it is particularly associated with the culture of Switzerland. In Switzerland, the usage of Alphorns was common in the ancient times but with the passage of time it was gradually vanished.  During the romantic period in Europe, the traditional alphorn of Switzerland was again revived and it became symbolic in the Swiss culture and folklore. Today, Alphorn has become a major tourist attraction in Switzerland and there are thousands of Alphorn players who amuse the tourists by this music.

Swiss Alphorns. Image by Ton Zijlstra
Swiss Alphorns. Image by Ton Zijlstra

The traditional Swiss alphorn is engraved from sturdy and young wood of spruce and pine trees. The makers piece the wood together at the base and after this a cup-shaped mouthpiece molded with comparatively harder wood is also added to this and the instrument is complete.

Swiss alphorn players - A splendid view - Photo by Kosala BandaraSwiss alphorn players - A splendid view - Photo by Kosala Bandara
Swiss alphorn players – A splendid view – Photo by Kosala Bandara

The Swiss made alphorns are usually 3.5 meters long. It is not easy to play this majestic musical instrument and a skillful composer is needed to blow its music. The well-known “Ranz des Vaches”  is a traditional Swiss melody often heard on the alphorn.


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