27 - Swiss Alpine Music: Alphorns and Yodeling

Two of the most famous features of historic Swiss culture are the Alphorns and yodeling.  Our June 2023 Hiestand-Haston Heritage tour group will enjoy a bit of both types of Alpine Music.

The Swiss Alphorns

Enjoy this brief video example of Swiss Alphorn music.

With the passing of time, the alphorn almost totally disappeared as an instrument used by Swiss shepherds. It was only with the romanticism of the 19th century and the revival of folklore and tourism that the alphorn experienced a renaissance and even became a national symbol.

The alphorn has long been a tool used by shepherds. It was used to call the cows from the pastures and into the barn at milking time. An engraving from 1754 shows a shepherd using the alphorn to motivate the cows to cover the last steep stretch on their big climb up into the Alps. A glass painting from the Emmental Valley dating back to 1595 shows the alphorn being blown, probably to pacify the cows during milking. The blowing of the alphorn in the evening is also a traditional theme in art. This sound served as an evening prayer, and was mainly practiced in the Reformed cantons, while in the German-speaking Catholic cantons in Central Switzerland, the call to prayer was preferred. The main function of the alphorn was, however, for communication with the herdsmen on the neighboring Alps and with the people down in the valley below.

After 1800, as the production of cheese increasingly shifted from the Alps to the dairies in the villages, the alphorn was used less and less. After the alphorn was hardly heard at traditional festivals any more, the Bernese official, Niklaus von Mülinen, began to repair alphorns in the 1820s and distribute them to talented players in Grindelwald. Although the alphorn had more or less lost its original function in the mountains, it now won the hearts of its audiences as a musical instrument – and has become a tourist attraction and a symbol of Switzerland.  —Source of the above background on the Swiss Alphorn

Swiss Yodeling

This video is really cool!

We travel with our eyes, yes, but also with our ears. And some of our favorite places have distinct, unique sounds, sounds that take us back to our experiences there when we hear them. Perhaps no sound is quite as evocative of place as Swiss yodeling. While it is performed for pleasure and entertainment now and has become a well-known folk tradition of Switzerland, the evolution of yodeling was one of rural practicality. 

Yodeling evolved in the central region of Switzerland in rural Alpine communities as a vital form of communication. It was used to call to cow flocks. But more importantly, it was used to communicate from village to village and mountain to mountain, for communities separated by deep Alpine valleys and rugged terrain. Yodelers were calling from hill to hill. 

Of course it has evolved over the centuries to become an art form in the choral tradition. As the pragmatic call turned into an art form, natural yodeling became the norm. A prime singer improvises and others join in the harmonize, sort of riffing off of the leader. Sometimes bells are used.

In the 19th century yodeling morphed into songs that included two, three, and four-part harmony. This is what we know and enjoy today, at festivals and other performances. Songs are normally accompanied by an accordion called a schwyzerörgeli.

Today the Swiss Yodeling Association keeps the practice alive, organizing competitions. Yodeling has evolved into songs that have lyrics mostly in German, some in French, and are performed in regional festivals and cantonal competitions. Vocal styles still vary a little from region to region.  And there is still a happy tradition in the rural communities of the Alps for people to yodel on their own, just for fun.  —Source

Share this with Hastons or related family members who might be interested in the June 14-27, 2023 Hiestand-Haston European Heritage Tour.


2 thoughts on “27 – Swiss Alphorns and Yodeling

Leave a Reply