Playing the alphorn and the Büchel


Description

The alphorn is considered the Swiss national instrument and a symbol of the dairy industry. Its shape is derived from the curved trunks of hillside fir trees. Nowadays, the instrument is constructed by carving glued pieces of wood down to the right size and shape, cutting the block of wood in half, hollowing out the halves, gluing them together and then wrapping the resultant pipe in adhesive tape. A wooden mouthpiece makes it easier to produce harmonics. One of these harmonics, known as the 'alphorn fa', is a physically determined partial tone which is often perceived as being 'out of tune'. The sound of the alphorn and the Büchel, an instrument which resembles a trumpet in shape and is popular in Central Switzerland, is warm and resonant.  The alphorn is played by amateurs as a solo instrument, in duos, trios, quartets and with choirs and by professional musicians to accompany symphony orchestras, church organs, pop, jazz and rock music, by groups of natural instrument enthusiasts and in experimental folk music. The Swiss Yodelling Association (EJV) has been running courses to promote the alphorn tradition since 1910.

Image gallery

  • Alphorns awaiting their players © Eidgenössischer Jodlerverband
  • Alphorn performance outside the Culture and Convention Centre (KKL), Lucerne © Susi Garlando/Alphornvereinigung Pilatus, Kriens
  • Alphorns on the move through Lucerne © Susi Garlando/Alphornvereinigung Pilatus, Kriens
  • Alphorn players on parade, Central Switzerland Yodelling Festival, Lachen (SZ), 2012 © Annalies Studer/Zeitschrift Schwingen Hornussen Jodeln
  • Alphorn performance, Central Switzerland Yodelling Festival, 2012 © Annalies Studer/Zeitschrift Schwingen Hornussen Jodeln
  • Alphorn players taking a breather during the Federal Yodelling Festival in Interlaken, 2011 © Annalies Studer/Zeitschrift Schwingen Hornussen Jodeln
  • Alphorn players and flag throwers ("Fahenenschwinger"), Federal Yodelling Festival, 2011 © Annalies Studer/Zeitschrift Schwingen Hornussen Jodeln
  • Tradition meets modernity: alphorn quartet performing in the centre of town
  • Alphorn sextet performing, complete with scenic alpine backdrop © A. Hug, Frutigen
  • Alphorn player performing at the 1924 Swiss Yodelling Festival, Basel.
  • Geysler, jun.: “Der Giessbach und die Sänerfamilie [Kehrli]” (etching from 1830)
  • J. F. Lamy: illustration in “La fête des bergers d'Unspunnen” (Bern/Basel 1805)
  • Daniel Lindtmayer: the art of cheese-making (detail taken from a pen-and-ink drawing, 1602)
  • “Alphornwald” in Mürren © Wolfgang Häuptli, 2011
  • Up until 1970, alphorns were fashioned from a crooked piece of pine wood. Today, they are made from jointed pieces of timber © Peter Studer
  • Foreground: "Doppelbüchel"; right: two "Krummbüchel" © Martine Bally, 2011
  • “Alphorn” by Bruno Weber © Martine Bally/Bruno Weber Skulpturenpark
  • Alphorn playing at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences. It is the only higher education institution in Switzerland to offer a degree course in traditional music © Reflector Visuelle Gestaltung Luzern
  • Alphorns awaiting their players © Eidgenössischer Jodlerverband
  • Alphorn performance outside the Culture and Convention Centre (KKL), Lucerne © Susi Garlando/Alphornvereinigung Pilatus, Kriens
  • Alphorns on the move through Lucerne © Susi Garlando/Alphornvereinigung Pilatus, Kriens
  • Alphorn players on parade, Central Switzerland Yodelling Festival, Lachen (SZ), 2012 © Annalies Studer/Zeitschrift Schwingen Hornussen Jodeln
  • Alphorn performance, Central Switzerland Yodelling Festival, 2012 © Annalies Studer/Zeitschrift Schwingen Hornussen Jodeln
  • Alphorn players taking a breather during the Federal Yodelling Festival in Interlaken, 2011 © Annalies Studer/Zeitschrift Schwingen Hornussen Jodeln
  • Alphorn players and flag throwers ("Fahenenschwinger"), Federal Yodelling Festival, 2011 © Annalies Studer/Zeitschrift Schwingen Hornussen Jodeln
  • Tradition meets modernity: alphorn quartet performing in the centre of town.
  • Alphorn sextet performing, complete with scenic alpine backdrop © A. Hug, Frutigen
  • Alphorn player performing at the 1924 Swiss Yodelling Festival, Basel.
  • Geysler, jun.: “Der Giessbach und die Sänerfamilie [Kehrli]” (etching from 1830)
  • J. F. Lamy: illustration in “La fête des bergers d'Unspunnen” (Bern/Basel 1805)
  • Daniel Lindtmayer: the art of cheese-making (detail taken from a pen-and-ink drawing, 1602)
  • “Alphornwald” in Mürren © Wolfgang Häuptli, 2011
  • Up until 1970, alphorns were fashioned from a crooked piece of pine wood. Today, they are made from jointed pieces of timber © Peter Studer
  • Foreground: "Doppelbüchel"; right: two "Krummbüchel" © Martine Bally, 2011
  • “Alphorn” by Bruno Weber © Martine Bally/Bruno Weber Skulpturenpark
  • Alphorn playing at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences. It is the only higher education institution in Switzerland to offer a degree course in traditional music © Reflector Visuelle Gestaltung Luzern

References and documentation

Publications
  • Brigitte Bachmann-Geiser: Das Alphorn. Vom Lock- zum Rockinstrument. Mit Beiträgen von Hans-Jürg Sommer, Rolphe Fehlmann, Res Margot und Matthias Wetter. Bern, 1999

  • Rudolf Gallati, Christoph Wyss: Unspunnen. Die Geschichte der Alphirtenfeste. Unterseen, Interlaken, 1993

  • Pierre Grandjean: Le Cor des Alpes. Lausanne, 2011

  • Dieter Ringli: Schweizer Volksmusik. Von den Anfängen um 1800 bis zur Gegenwart. Altdorf, 2006

  • Franz Schüssele: Alphorn und Hirtenhorn in Europa. Hölzerne Hörner von der Schweiz bis nach Schweden, von Russland bis Rumänien in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Friesenheim, Buchloe, 2000

  • Hans-Jürg Sommer: S’Büchel-Büechli. Melodien aus der Tradition geschöpft für Büchel, Oensingen 1995

  • Hans-Jürg Sommer: Eine Auswertung und Interpretation historischer Quellen zur Alphornmelodik. Oensingen, 2010

  • Charlotte Vignau: On Swissness in Alphorn Performance. In: Bulletin. Informationsblatt der GVS/SMPS und der CH-EM. Altdorf, 2009, p. 56-71

Multimedia
  • Zur Ehre des Alphorns – A la gloire du cor des Alpes – In Praise of the Alphorn. Mit einem Kommentar von Brigitte Bachmann-Geiser. Pully, 1989 (Compact Disc)

  • Stefan Schwietert: Das Alphorn. Musik der Alpen. Zürich, 2003 (DVD)

  • Grüezi mitenand 
    50 Jahre NWS Alphorn-Vereinigung, mit 24 verschiedenen Alphornformationen
    © Peter Baumann 
    Peter Baumann spielt seine Solo-Komposition «Grüezi mitenand».
    Ref. Swiss National Sound Archives:
    CD42134 T. 9

  • Lioba
    Hornroh: Findling
    In «Lioba» des Ensembles «Hornroh» sind traditionelle Instrumente in ungewohnter Weise zu hören
    Ref. Swiss National Sound Archives:
    CD61370 T. 2

  • La boîte à canards (Alphorntrio Les Muverans)
    Alphorn in Concert, Oensingen 2004, Vol. 2.  
    © Willy Cevey
    Das Ensemble «Les Muverans» präsentiert harmoniereiche Alphornmusik im Stück «La boîte à canards»
    Ref. Swiss National Sound Archives:
    CD30822 T. 3

  • Moos-Ruef
    Klangwurzeln (Alphornduo Emil Frei - Hans-Jürg Sommer), 1996 
    © Hans-Jürg Sommer
    Das Stück «Moos-Ruef» von Hans-Jürg Sommer gilt als Klassiker unter den Alphornstücken
    Ref. Swiss National Sound Archives:
    CD12497 T. 2

Documentation