Kind-hearted nationalism

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Aug 04 2013

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Category: Europe, Switzerland

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Swiss alpenhorns are relics of the past. Just like the smoke signals of Red Indians, they once were used to communicate swiftly with inhabitants of nearby valleys and mountain slopes, long before the invention of the telephone. But their main purpose seems to have been for herdsmen to call their free-grazing cattle back to the farm. I would have liked to witness a scene like that. The sound of an alpenhorn suddenly resounds through the mountains; cows, quietly grazing on a far off slope prick up their ears and one by one start moving towards their shed at the farm in the valley. It evokes an image of a harmonious alpine community of people and animals; an image – with corresponding sound – of idyllic beauty.

These days the alpenhorn is part of Swiss folklore. They are brought out on festivals when players in traditional costumes blow their simple tunes on them for the enjoyment of the public. A gathering of a large group of alpenhorn players as in the picture is a rare sight. It’s most likely for a competition, with players coming from far and near.

The 1st of August, the national day of the Confoederatio Helvetica, is a pre-eminent day to see and hear the alpenhorns in action all over the country. Just like the flag tossers for that matter, a sport that demands high concentration and in which one can only excel after long and intensive training.

Vandoeuvres, Switzerland, 1 August 2002

Vandoeuvres, Switzerland, 1 August 2002

At a certain moment in the performance, the big flag is thrown high up in the air and faultlessly caught again when coming down. Vive la Suisse! – as the French speaking part of the population may exclaim.

Photo of the week: gathering of alpenhorn players in Saanen, Switzerland, 2005

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