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Swiss craftsmanship The alphorn maker

Thomas Eichenberger started playing an alphorn in 1996. Its natural tones fascinated him; soon he dreamt of making one himself. In 2012, the trained cabinetmaker had the opportunity to learn the art from retired alphorn maker Walter Lussi.

The alphorn was for a long time a tool for shepherds, who used it to call for the cows to return from the pasture to the stable when it was time for milking. 

The Alphorn was first mentioned in writing in 1527. It was played for an evening prayer, a practice mainly seen in Protestant cantons, while in the Catholic cantons of central Switzerland it was accompanied by a song for prayer. Its main function, however, was for communication between people living up in the Alps and those farther down the valley.

In the 18th century, the alphorn almost fell into oblivion. Impoverished shepherds played in the cities and the instrument fell into disrepute, mocked as something only used by beggars. But the romance of the instrumentexternal link and the tourists flocking to the Swiss Alps brought folklore and the alphorn back to the mainstream in the 19th century. 

Today, the alphorn – like cheese, chocolate and edelweiss – is a national symbol.

Photographer Gaëtan Ballyexternal link has documented some of the 150 or so steps needed to build an alphorn in the workshop of Thomas Eichenberger. It takes about 60 hours to complete an instrument.

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