Short History of the Alpine Horn
8 April 2023
Like cheese, chocolate and fondue, the Alpine horn belongs to Switzerland (and Austria and southern Germany). The horn must have a minimum length and a corresponding maximum diameter to blow a musically useful (interesting) range in this scale.
Only one or two notes of different pitches can be blown on short horns (e.g. a hollow animal horn). There is no clear separation between the pitches with long horns, such as the alpine horn. An “alphorn” means a long, straight wooden horn bent at the bottom.
Some writings refer to “alphorns” already in use before 1500. However, these accounts and stories were often only written down two- or three hundred years later. Names such as bucina, tuba, litui, lituum alpinum, cornua alpinum and other indications were used for these ‘alphorns’. It is not certain whether these names referred to the Alpine horn.
The account book of 1527 of the former monastery St. Urban (canton of Lucerne) is the oldest known written source, “Einem Walliser mit Alphorn”.
Conrad Gessner (1516-1565) describes the Alphorn in his “De raris et ad-mirandis herbis” from 1556. He writes that the instruments consist of two curved and hollowed-out pieces of wood firmly connected with willow poles. They are 330-340 cm long.
The altarpiece of the chapel of Rohrmoos near Tiefenbach (Allgäu, Bavaria) from 1568 shows an “alpine horn player” with a length that corresponds to that mentioned by Gessner.
Basel, 1 August 2023
Swiss alpine horn players were conscripted as musicians in foreign military service in the seventeenth century. In the winter, alpine shepherds entered the cities to earn money as street musicians on alpine or shepherd horns.
Alpine horns are made in different ways. In the past, the alphorn was cut from a pine tree with a curve at the end. Nowadays, they are made in special workshops. The latest manufacturing processes use computer-controlled machines.
(Bron: Hans-Jürg Sommer, Die Geschichte des Alphorns, www.alphornmusik.ch).