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Cultural Traces Around the World

Traditional Musical Instrument: The Swiss Alphorn

2020-04-29
Language:English
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Also known as the alpenhorn or alpine horn, the alphorn is a traditional wooden wind instrument that delivers natural tones. Historically it is known as a means of communication among shepherds, who often play it in the evening to call their cows to return home, as its resonating sound can travel for miles, ushering in the falling dusk. The instrument has no lateral openings, making the sound it produces a pure natural harmonic series. In Switzerland, the length of an alphorn is set at 3.5 meters, which corresponds to the key of F sharp/G flat. And, despite its original, simple form, it is a difficult instrument to play. The distinctive sound of the alphorn offers listeners the richness of a brass instrument, and the softness of a woodwind. The famous traditional Swiss song, “Ranz des Vaches” or “Kuhreihen” is often heard played on the alphorn. It is a herdsman’s song that describes alpine cowherds singing to call their cows home from the pasture. The song’s simple melody often evokes nostalgic feelings in the hearts of the Swiss people. The sound of the alphorn belongs not only to the mountains of Switzerland, but also to the words of jazz, funk, and rock music.
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