The alpenhorn is one of the world’s biggest musical instruments, sometimes more than 12 feet long. Alpenhorns are made of wood, with a hardwood mouthpiece at the small end and a bell shape at the far end.
They are true horns, with a quite wide range of sounds that sound something like big migrating vees of Canada geese, or a fanfare of great whales. There are a number of different types of Alpenhorns. What they have in common is that they originated in the mountainous areas of Europe, particularly the Alps in France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, but also in other rugged mountain regions.
In past centuries, the extremely rough landscape made travel from village to village quite difficult, even if the villages were not very far apart. Travel from one village to another often meant climbing down steep terrain and then climbing up the other side, just as steep and difficult.
The Alpenhorns were designed to carry sound over considerable distances in the mountains. Shepherds could communicate with their villages and villages could communicate with each other.
The alpenhorns were a kind of musical telegraph system, with particular meanings attached to particular sounds. Newer technologies have conquered the problem of communications in the difficult terrain, but alpenhorns remain part of the traditions. Playing one takes skill—and a good set of lungs.
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