The Swiss Alphorn

It has been quite a rocky journey for the Swiss Alphorn to be nominated a national instrument. Once the use as a communication tool subsided in the Alps, it almost disappeared in Switzerland. The first Unspunnen festival in 1805, a traditional herdsmen event, aimed to revive the Swiss Alphorn, albeit with not much success. Only two players attended.

Swiss Alphorn Event in Haute Nenday Alphorn blowers in Haute Nendaz

The Alpine horn is not uniquely Swiss. Herdsmen and mountain dwellers all over the World used the Alphorn and similar instruments since primeval times to communicate with humans over long distances and call animals back to the farm. In protestant alpine regions it was often used to call prayers in the evenings.

Switzerland's National Instrument

The revival of the Swiss Alphorn came into fruition around 1820 when courses were offered to learn to blow the horn, initiated by Niklaus von Mülinen. The emblem of farmers and alpine life become a national symbol in 1827 and consequently a tourist attraction.

However, the ups and downs continued for another hundert years. Nowadays, approx. 1800 Swiss Aphorn blowers are members of the Swiss Yodeling Association.

The regular conical Alpine horn or Alphorn is up to 3.9 metres in lengths and has no valves or flaps. The notes are breath-controlled since there are no keys that correspond with pitches. Josef Stocker, an Alpine horn maker in Kriens near Lucerne built the World's largest Swiss Alphorn that measures 47 meters - still playable.

The Swiss Alphorn even made history outside of Switzerland. 420 Swiss players - the largest group ever - performed the Rossini overture Wilhelm Tell in front of the Milan Duomo during the Milan Expo 2015.

The price for a regular Alpine horn is anywhere between CHF 2500 and CHF 4600.

Where can I listen to the Swiss Alphorn?

Swiss Alphorn players show off their talents on almost every folk festival, on mountain tops, village celebrations, alpine events and descents, and even in classical concerts. No National Day celebration or wrestling event without the Alpine horn.

Following a list of the largest events where the Alpine horn is celebrated:

Haute Nendaz International Festival

This is one of the largest gatherings of Alphorn players from around the world, a competition really. It also includes a parade of folk costumes, dance performances, village parties and several alpine concerts, one of them performed by a band of over 150 Alphorn players.

  • Where: Haute Nendaz in the Canton Valais
  • When: 24 - 26 July 2020

Details see here

Federal Yodel Fest in Basel

The "Eidgenössisches Jodlerfest" (Federal Yodel Fest) takes place every three years, and alphorn concerts are part of the largest yodel fest in Switzerland.

  • Where: Basel
  • When: 26 - 28 June 2020

Details see here

Alphorn Days in Kandersteg

Each year mid-August, Kandersteg hosts alpine horn concerts and if interested, you can even learn how to blow the alphorn.

  • Where: Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland
  • When: 19 - 22 August 2020

Details see here

Mount Männlichen

The sounds of Alphorns fill the mountain air in a sublime alpine setting.

  • Where: Mount Männlichen above Grindelwald and Wengen
  • Spring Festival: 28 June 2020 - 9:45am to 2:30pm
  • National Costume Festival: 26 July 2020 starting at 11am (only in good weather)

Details see here

Intercultural Celebration of the Mountain Culture

This event is held every two years in a picturesque Valais village, celebrating mountain culture from around the World with concerts, parades, traditional costumes and dances.

  • Where: Evolène in the Canton Valais
  • When: August 2021

Details see here

Folklore Festival Zermatt

Zermatt celebrates with a large parade featuring traditional costumes, dancers and music, including the Swiss Alphorn.

  • Where: Zermatt in the Canton Valais
  • When: 8 August 2020 - 10:30am to 9pm

Details see here

Unspunnen Fest

Displaying a magnificent palette of Swiss culture with a history spanning more than 200 years; this large and unique event takes place approx. every 12 years.

  • Where: Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland
  • When: September 2029

Details see here

Schynige Platte

You can listen to the haunting tone of the alpine horn daily during the summer months surrounded by fabulous alpine vistas.

  • Where: In front of the Hotel Schynige Platte above Wilderswil (Interlaken area)
  • When: May to October
  • Time: Between 11 am and 2 pm

Details see here

Mount Pilatus
Once a month the "Alphorn Vereinigung Kriens" blows their horns on Mount Pilatus.
  • Where: Pilatus Kulm above Lucerne/Kriens
  • When: 2020: June 21, July 26, August 23, September 13, October 17, December 24 starting at 9:30 am

Details see here

Mount Rigi

Meeting of the Alphorns

  • Sunrise on Mount Rigi with breakfast, accompanied by the sound of the Alphorn. Dates see here.
  • Hotel Edelwaiss on Rigi Kaltbad: Always on the 3rd Sunday in July - 19 July 2020. Details see here.

Want to Listen to the Sound of the Swiss Alphorn Now?

Traditional Swiss Alphorn players on Mount Männlichen:

Lisa Stoll is probably Switzerland's best known alphorn player:

Enrico Lenzin is a multitalented musician:

Eliana Bürki travels the world with her funky Alhorn sound. Here in Venice Beach:

Stefan Schwietert shows in his film "The Alphorn" how amazingly diverse the sound of the Alphorn can be:

Further Information about the Swiss Alphorn:

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