Alphorn fest brings sound of music to Swiss mountains

AFP - [email protected]
Alphorn fest brings sound of music to Swiss mountains
Approximately one hundred Alphorn players perform together on the final day of the 22nd International Alphorn Festival up in the Swiss Alps. Photo by Robin MILLARD / AFP

High up in the Swiss Alps, a hundred alphorn players assembled on a windswept pasture Sunday to make the mountains ring in gentle harmonies at the 22nd International Alphorn Festival.


The players formed a wide semi-circle at Tracouet above the ski resort of Haute Nendaz in Valais for the country's annual alphorn competition, which celebrates the musical instrument in its native landscape.

Several hundred spectators made the cable car trip or trekked up the mountainside to sit amongst the wildflowers at 2,200 metres above sea level
and hear the country's top players en masse.

The alphorn is a straight wooden instrument around 3.4 metres long with a cup-shaped mouthpiece. It was first documented in the 16th century and was reputedly used for communication in the mountains, with the clear sound echoing through the valleys.

"It's easy to play it but it's difficult to play it well," explained participant Marcel Henchoz, 85.

A team of giant cowbell ringers paraded onto the pasture to start Sunday's festivities. Many of the alphorn players dressed in traditional costume,
wearing hats adorned with badges, while flag twirlers performed to the music.

Soft, velvety sound 

The cool mountain breeze blew the sound of horns and the smell of grilled cheese down the slopes.

"The sound is round, it's soft, it's velvety when there are a lot of horns. The music envelops us," said participant Francoise Dillon, 66, from Bulle,
next to the cheese village of Gruyère."There are more and more young people and women and girls who play folk music. It was very masculine 50 years ago," she added.

Fabien Crausaz, musical director of the Swiss Alphorn Academy, said the instrument was historically used to warn of dangers such as wolves or call for help if an animal was injured.

"You have to vibrate your lips; the alphorn amplifies that," he said, explaining how to master the necessary skills. "Technically you need the right attack, the notes have to be clean; physically you have to support the note with the diaphragm. And then you actually have to say something."


'Play it with feeling' 

In the competition, the players, identified by a number, are judged by a four-person jury screened off inside a tent so they do not know who is playing.

"The jury works a lot on the interpretation, the musicality, the accuracy, the rhythm," festival founder Antoine Devenes told AFP. "When it's groups, it's how they play together, the balance of sounds."

Besides Swiss competitors, nine French, two German, six American and one Canadian player took part. The youngest participant was 11, while a third of the players were women.


Around 100 horn players entered the first round of competition on Saturday, with the adjudged best 10 called back to compete for the title on Sunday.

The grand finale was won once again by Adolf Zobrist, 58, from Brienz in central Switzerland. He claimed the title in 2016, 2019 and 2021.

"It's my hobby and it's my passion. I've been playing since I was 12. My father passed it on to me," he told AFP.

"It's a special, natural instrument and it's important to play it with feeling. For me it's really important that you are one: the instrument and
yourself. "It's the sound of the mountains."



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