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Alphorn

From Academic Kids

Alpenhorn or alphorn, a wind instrument, consisting of a natural wooden horn of conical bore, having a cup-shaped mouthpiece, used by mountain dwellers in Switzerland and elsewhere.

The alphorn is carved from solid softwood, generally spruce but sometimes pine. In former times the alphorn maker would find a tree bent at the base in the shape of an alphorn, but modern makers piece the wood together at the base. A cup-shaped mouthpiece carved out of a block of hard wood is added and the instrument is complete.

The alpenhorn has no lateral openings and therefore gives the pure natural harmonic series of the open pipe. The harmonics are the more readily obtained by reason of the small diameter of the bore in relation to the length. An alpenhorn made at Rigi-Kulm, Schwytz, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, measures 8 ft. in length and has a straight tube.

A Swiss playing alphorn near a mountain lake
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A Swiss playing alphorn near a mountain lake

The well-known Ranz des Vaches is the traditional melody of the alpenhorn from French Switzerland. The song describes the time of bringing the cows to the high country at cheese making time. Rossini has introduced the melody into his opera William Tell. Brahms, was clear that the inspiration for the great melody that opens the last movement of his First Symphony (played in the orchestra by the French Horn) was an alphorn melody he heard in the Rigi area of Switzerland.

The Swiss alpenhorn varies in shape according to the locality, being curved near the bell in the Bernese Oberland. Michael Praetorius mentions the alpenhorn under the name of holzerni trummet in Syntagma Musicum (Wittenberg, 1615-1619).


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