swissinfo trumpets alpine music website

Musicians carry alphorns on the way to the Nendaz music festival Keystone

swissinfo is inviting readers to delve into the world of Swiss alpine music – both old and new – by means of a special multimedia website and double CD.

This content was published on October 13, 2006 - 11:58

"Swiss Alpine Music, alphorn and yodel in Switzerland" features a wide range of the country's folk music and includes popular favourites as well as more contemporary artists.

www.swissalpinemusic.chExternal link is available in English as well as in German, French, Italian, Japanese and Chinese.

Apart from offering comprehensive information on alphorn music and yodelling, and on alpine traditions, the site also offers several interactive features.

One of these is the Alphorn Tune Composer allowing fans – and the curious - to create their own tunes electronically. All this without having to attempt the challenging instrument themselves.

"The Composer allows the users to write their own melodies, save them and send them to friends and acquaintances," said Christian Strickler, editor of swissmusic, swissinfo's music site.

The Composer is made up of 17 notes – all the tones possible on the alphorn – as played by André Scheurer, music editor at Radio Swiss Classic.

Alphorn art

"The art of the alphorn does not first and foremost consist of trying to get as much air into the horn as possible," explained Scheurer, who is a trained trumpeter.

"Alphorns don't have valves. The pitch of the notes varies depending on the tension of the lips and the air pressure."

Further elements on the special include alphorn videos and a map of Switzerland, which shows the regional differences in alpine music.

"We wanted preferably to incorporate all areas of the country," said Strickler. "Of course the German-speaking part of Switzerland is represented more strongly, but we have managed to find examples from all 26 cantons."

Musical samples can be found on the site and a collection of music is also available on the double CD.

Styles range from the more traditional sounds, to pop and rock, jazz and more contemporary music. "We wanted to highlight the whole spectrum and the wealth of the art form," said Strickler.


Users can also access a variety of background information, including how the alphorn, once the traditional instrument of alpine cowherds, almost fell into disuse.

"The alphorn was dying out after 1800 because it was no longer necessary as a communication tool of the alpine cowherds," writes music expert, Brigitte Bachmann-Geiser.

"Increasingly, the individual dairies in the alpine chalets were replaced by big cooperative cheese-making companies in the villages. The whole tradition of alpine dairy production was breaking down; on many alpine pastures beef cows had replaced dairy cows."

Bachmann-Geiser shows how the alphorn underwent a revival and how from the 1930s a rich alphorn music scene developed.

The section on yodelling traces its origins as a form of communication across mountain peaks, highlights its spreading popularity in the 19th century and finishes with techno-yodelling, which the site notes, "was not appreciated by everybody".


The alphorn

The alphorn and yodelling were originally the traditional way of communicating across mountain peaks.

In 1827 music expert Joseph Fétis designated the alphorn the Swiss national instrument. But in reality the alphorn was declining during this period.

It later became a tourist attraction and was also promoted by traditional music associations. Since the 1970s it has become a solo instrument in its own right.

It is now the subject of more than 50 compositions, accompanied by an orchestra, wind ensemble, organ, piano or harp.

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