Over the centuries the alphorn has been blown to call and calm the cattle or to give signals to the people of the neighbouring alps and in the valley. In the function of a herdman's tool, the alphorn was always played as a solo instrument. The mendicant alphorn-blowers of the 19th century were playing alone and the reports of the first competitions never mention polyphonic tunes.
Describing the first alphorn courses in 1826 and 1827, the composer Ferdinand Fürchtegott Huber mentioned for the first time the polyphonic blowing of the alphorn. In his autobiography he wrote: "Alle freuten sich auf das Alphornblasenlernen. In Zeit von 14 Tagen hatte ich sie so weit gebracht, dass sie ein-, zwei- und dreistimmige Sätze (...) rhythmisch und rein blasen konnten."
But the most famous collection of old and new alphorn pieces, the "Alphornbüechli" published by Alfred Leonz Gassmann in 1938, contains eight duos and trios for two or three alphorns of the same ground tone. With a modest collection published in the composer's own edition in 1972, Johann Aregger contributed alphorn tunes for three and four voices under the title "Das mehrstimmige Alphornblasen". In the same year Martin Christen taught the polyphonic playing at Stans, Canton Nidwalden.
The ensemble blowers need instruments of the same ground tone and the ability to read notes. Only in 1975 polyphonic alphorn tunes played at a Swiss national yodelling festival were presented and accepted by the jury.
At today's alphorn blowing competitions, alphorn duos, trios, quartets and choirs are as welcome as solo pieces.
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