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Swiss Roots
Swiss Roots


One of the most recognizable symbols of Swiss alpine traditions, the alphorn hasn't changed much since its early days some 2,000 years ago.
It is still a long conical tube, bent at the end like a knee. Until the 1930s, a young pine tree, which had grown curved on a hillside, was used to make an alphorn. 
Today, alphorn-makers prefer better quality than this naturally formed wood. They glue the pieces together and carve the product afterwards into the shape of an alphorn. For at least 100 years the mouthpiece has been made of boxwood.
In 1827, the musicologist Joseph Fétis pronounced the alphorn to be the Swiss national instrument. It was long used for communication with the herdsmen of the neighboring alps and with the people of the village down in the valley.
In the 20th century the alphorn and its smaller cousin, the trumpet-like Büchel, grew popular with amateur musicians. In the 1970s it found its way into the world of art music as a solo instrument, accompanied by symphony orchestra, wind ensemble, piano, harp or organ. It was also used in pop, rock, ethno-jazz, in the so-called natural note movement and in experimental folk music.
To learn more about this Swiss symbol read the Alphorn and Jodel in Switzerland.
William Hopson is one of the world's leading alphorn players. William Hopson teaches every summer at The Swiss Alphorn School in Schönried, Switzerland. The Swiss Center met him at a Saengerfest in Banff several years ago.