The alphorn or alpenhorn is a unique instrument made of wooden natural horn or conical bore with a wooden cup-shaped mouthpiece and was used by mountain dwellers in Switzerland. In the past, a group of more than 500 alphorn players gathered on the Gornergrat ridge near Zermatt and broke the world record for the largest alphorn group to perform.
The alphorn was believed that it had been derived from the Roman-Etruscan lituus, because of their resemblance in shape, and because of the word liti, meaning Alphorn in the dialect of Obwalden. But since there is not documented evidence, it is also believed that the word liti was borrowed from 16th-18th century writings in Latin where the word lituss could describe various wind instruments. Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner used the words lituus alpinum for the first known detailed description of the alphorn. During 17th-19th century collections of alpine myths and legends suggest that alphorn-like instruments had frequently been used as a signal instruments in village communities since medieval times or earlier.
With this historical and beautiful instrument with the spectacular backdrop of the Matterhorn and 28 other peaks above 4000 meters, 508 musicians from Switzerland and abroad dressed in traditional Swiss costume played a specially composed piece by Gilbert Kolly. The gathering of alphorn players beat the previous 2009 record in the same place by 142 participants. And a group of 26 flag throwers provided visual entertainment for the event.
Among the challenges facing orgaizers was trying to find a spot where the conductor could be seen by all the musicians. Some players also had difficulty with their breathing at such a high altitude since they were playing at Gornergrat which is 3089 meters high. At Zermatt, the alphorns were used varied between 16th and 20th centuries. Some herdsmen used it as a tool to communicate across neighbouring Alps and to call their cows back to the farm for miling. It was also played on summer nights in the Alps as a form of prayer in Protestant regions.
If visitors want to hear and experience the beautiful music of this historical instruments, the Swiss national holiday is coming up and at the festival, there will be alphorn playing. Also during summer there is Zermatt Folklore festival where visitors can enjoy the alphorn and Swiss accordian played up close. So if you are planning to visit Zermatt during summer, this is your chance to experience the historical musical instrument with the amazing views of the alpine mountians.