The alphorn is a very long wind instrument with a conical bore stretching up to a meter in length. This wooden instrument has traditional and symbolic origins in central alpine Europe and primarily consists of one to two natural pieces of wood with a cup mouthpiece. This aerophone has been used for centuries and even had practical purposes for mountain dwellers in countries like Switzerland.
History of the Alphorn
The alphorn is a wooden wind instrument that has several similar ancestors in the didgeridoo and wooden trumpet but probably developed all of its own as a method of communication for mountain dwellers in central Europe. The first known written records that mention an alphorn describe shepherds using it as a way to round up animals and also beg on the streets when times were difficult. The alphorn was made entirely of two pieces of wood bound together with a curved bell at the end of a very long air chamber. The alphorn became a symbol of folk festivals and alpine traditions, particularly during the overthrowing of Napoleon at the turn of the 17th and 18th century. German composer Johannes Brahms famously heard an alphorn being blown and used some notes of the melody in his Symphony No 1. Referring to the instrument as a “shepherd’s horn”. The instrument fell out of popularity soon after but experienced a renaissance in the 19th century as Switzerland and other alpine areas in Europe sought to revive the instrument and connect with their traditional heritage. Nowadays, there are contests and gatherings of alphorn players in these regions.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£1,000 - £3,000

Hear the Alphorn

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How to Play

A brass instrument that is played by blowing air through a mouthpiece while holding the instrument vertically. It is typically played outdoors in the Swiss Alps and produces a deep, resonant tone.

In Popular Music

Given its geographical heritate you would be unsurprised to hear that the alphorn was briefly featured in 'The Sound Of Music' score by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Its powerful and dramatic presence has also featured in 'Ride of the Valkyries' by Richard Wagner and interestingly in 'My Heart Will Go On' by Celine Dion.

Famous Players

Fritz Frautschi, Willi Valotti

Close Relations

Didgeridoo, Hornpipe
Video Credit: RTS - Radio Télévision Suisse
Understanding the Alphorn
Very Large




16th century






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