Now everything is clear again: La Suiza exista!

Now everything is clear again: La Suiza exista!

“Alphorns instead of halberds” – the Expo Milano hit

by Heini Hofmann

At the World Expo 2015 in Milan the alp-horn record concert was the biggest highlight with far most intensive media coverage, where the nest-fouling on the Expo in Seville was clearly corrected: La Suisse existe – yesterday, today and tomorrow!
Who ever could witness the event on site, was fascinated: In brightest sunshine first an appearance of 425 alphorn blowers (a surprising number of women among them) at the Swiss Pavillion of the Milano Expo and then the exploit on the majestic Piazza della Madonnina of the Duomo, adorned by flag-wavers, drummers and (unarmed) halberds, all in costume – a monster concert of superlatives with an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Switzerland crowned the Expo 2015 with a highlight of greatest public appeal.

A psychedelic sound experience

A sound-technically more suitable open-air stage than the Duomo Square in Milan would have been hard to find: In front the sky-striving facade of the Gothic construction wonder as well as the magnificent monumental buildings arranged in a rectangular manner around the square. In this open-air concert hall, open only to the sky, the 425 cult instruments from the Swiss mountains produced a literally archaic-psychedelic sound column never before experienced in such concentration.
Hence, a similar outdoor sound effect as in Switzerland – not in its tonality, but with respect to its intensity – can probably only be experienced on one event, namely, when all lights are extinguished at four o’clock in the morning of the Basel Fasnacht and the word is: “Morgestraich – vorwärts marsch!”, and the drumbeats and sound of many Piccolo flutes are simultaneously sounded from all streets and roads throughout the entire city centre in a thick skyward sound column. The highest enjoyment of such concentrated sound experiences would probably be possible only from a captive balloon high above.
In Milan, opposite the cathedral, from a colossal equestrian statue King Vittorio Emanuele II overlooked the events. The only reason probably why he, the Re cacciatore looked down with magnanimous benevolence on the many Swiss whose ancestors had stolen three steinbuck fawns from the royal hunting grounds of his successor in 1906 is that the ibex remained preserved until today all over the Alps. Thus, the offense mutated into a good deed retrospectively…

Positive signals with impact

Now, on 26 September 2015, 500 years after the lost Battle of Marignano a Swiss contingent has again invaded the Lombardy. This time, however, with peaceful intention, with alphorns instead of halberds, with music instead of weapons. Never before has there been a concert abroad with that many alp- horn blowers. Since our national instrument works not only distinctively, but also long-established and thus genuine and familiar, it generates sympathy and goodwill for our country, a welcome effect in the difficult times of the presence.
With this gigantic alphorn event organisers at the Expo Milano did not only want to draw Italy’s attention, but that of the whole world onto four important milestones of the Confederation: 500 years of neutrality (Marignano/Milan, 1515) 200 years of peace and independence (Congress of Vienna, 1815), and – looking ahead to the future – 725 years Switzerland (2016) and the opening of the 57-km-long railway tunnel, the longest in the world (Gotthard, 2016).

“Tü-ta-too” – “Post-au-too”

Both concerts – the one at the Expo and the one on Cathedral Square – began with the overture to the opera “William Tell” by Gioachino Rossini, one of the greatest Italian composers who first performed several of his works at La Scala in Milan. The famous triad originates from the Andante of this overture with the sound sequence cis-e-a in A major;  since 1923 it has been known as “Tü-ta-too” – the catchy-tune from the signal horn of the yellow Swiss post buses.
In addition to Rossini’s “San Gottardo” two more pieces were first performed, namely “Expo Milano” and “The Battle of Marignano”. The entry into the Guinness Book of World Records that only has to overcome some formal hurdles should be guaranteed. But this is less important to the entire alphorn family than the personal pride of every individual to have contributed to the success.

Performance of logistical tour de force

The crazy thing is that all 425 alphorn blowers could never rehearse together before the two Milan concerts. However, there were mandatory rehearsals in the different parts of the country for all participants in larger organisations. But the two concerts in Milan therefore were a crucial test and live performance in one. But it worked perfectly well because everybody gave their best, disciplined in appearance and strong in tone.
And equally amazing the organisation: motley traditional people from all cantons of Switzerland, accompanied by Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer in “Kühermutz”, showed the world what a nation established by the will of the people is capable of at its very basis. Together with the Swiss icons alphorn, SBB and PostAuto they had traveled in one day (some had had to start off at four o‘clock in the morning) with a lot of goodwill and a sponsored “Znünisäckli” to participate in the monster concert in Milan and get happily home again with public transportation in the evening – without incident.

Counterfait recommended

The idea for this simple but very efficient event of value creation did not originate on tourism management floors, but came from the people. Initiator was the Alphorn Ensemble Engiadina St. Moritz with Hans Peter Danuser, the former health resort  director of St. Moritz.
The patronage rested on Karin Niederberger from Malix, the President of the Swiss Yodeling Association. Christian Durisch from Chur, conversant with foreign expedition (2008 “Grisons in Berlin” – with more than 300 alp goats) was responsible for the project management. That the Assessore alla Cultura (Councillor for Culture), who welcomed the Swiss buglers in Milan, was called Filippo del Corno, was probably just the icing on the cake of a well-conceived brand management ...
In short: This peaceful Swiss demo “Alphorns instead of halberds”, initiated from the Engadin, at the World Expo in Milan has drawn by far the biggest media coverage at minimal cost and broad-based volunteerism worldwide. It might be a hint at reflecting our own fundamental values again – even at future regional and world exhibitions. It is more sustainable than many intellectually contrived suction luddism. Instead of “La Suiza no exista” the word is now again internationally, “La Suisse existe – more than ever!”     •

(Translation Current Concerns)

From a calling- to a musical instrument

HH. Before the alphorn became a music instrument and tourist attraction, it served as a calling instrument to fetch the cows from the pasture and to guide them to the barn. Old craftsmanship is needed to produce it: The alphorn makers look for a fir on a hillside that has grown in a curved way. It is peeled and cut into halves, then the two halves are hollowed out with a carpenter’s plane and gouge until a wall thickness of about three millimeters is attained. Afterwards, the two sides are glued together and wrapped with rattan cane.A wooden trumpet mouthpiece facilitates the transfer of vibrations of the lips to the air trapped in the tube of the alphorn. Slow oscillation causes a low tone. The faster the vibration of the lips, the higher the sound of the horn. The audible range of the alphorn is – you will be amazed – 8 km. In order to transport the horn with a length of more than 3 m and a weight of 2-3 kg it can be dissected into three pieces. Most recently, there is the production of greyish black and lightweight carbon horns (10 parts and nearly ½ kg); but they lack the homely effect of timber.

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