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‘Funky’ alphorn player Eliana Burki dies aged 39

Eliana Burki
Eliana Burki did not fit the typical image of an alphorn player Dave Honegger

Swiss musician Eliana Burki, who greatly expanded the repertoire for Alpine horn, has died of a malignant brain tumour at the age of 39, her label announced.

Burki, who was also a singer and composer, made a name for herself by anchoring the alphorn in various genres including funk, pop, jazz, world music and classical music. She coined the term “funky Swiss alphorn”.

Burki was just four years old when an alphorn ensemble playing at the finishing line of a bicycle race sparked her passion for the instrument, according to her website. Two years later she convinced Hansjürg Sommer, known as the “pope of the alpine horn”, to take her on as his only pupil.

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Alphorn players break ranks to hit new notes

This content was published on The alphorn was used by shepherds in the 18th century to communicate across the Alps. Burki, aged 25 and from Bern, became fixated by the traditional instrument at the age of five and was performing in concerts alongside adults from the age of nine. Daily practice allowed her to go beyond the 12-note range of…

Read more: Alphorn players break ranks to hit new notes

Concert tours took Burki beyond Europe to the US, South America and the Middle and Far East, among other places, making her “the most sought-after ambassador for the Swiss national instrument in jazz, classical and world music”, her label said in a statementExternal link on Wednesday.

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During the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of relations between Switzerland and Japan in 2014, she performed at the “Swiss Days” event in Tokyo with singer Bastian Baker and pianist Thierry Lang.

She performed with her band I Alpinisti and as a soloist and also worked with classical orchestras such as the Stuttgart Philharmonic and the Munich Radio Orchestra. For world music, she incorporated influences from the folk music of the countries she had visited.

In addition to her concert activities, Burki worked as a sound therapist and graduated from the Beverly Hills Playhouse acting school in Los Angeles.

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Thomas Eichenberger works on an Alphorn at his carpentry workshop in the canton of Lucerne.

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The alphorn maker

This content was published on Photographer Gaëtan Bally documented some of the 150 steps needed to build an Alphorn in the workshop of Thomas Eichenberger.

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