Büchel – Central Swiss musical instrument

Customs Lake Lucerne Region

The “Büchel” is a musical instrument similar to the alphorn, but smaller in size. In many Alpine regions the Büchel has almost disappeared, but in Schwyz its tradition is particularly intensively cultivated. The conical pipes of the Büchel are usually tuned in the keys of Bb or C, while in Muotathal the unusual key of D predominates, which gives the instrument a characteristically high tone. Making music with the instrument Büchel is called “Bücheln”.

Bücheln - Original Swiss wooden trumpet - Bernhard Betschart

Büchel – Original Swiss wooden trumpet – Photo by Bernhard Betschart

Originally, the Büchel, also known as the “winding alphorn”, was a faithful companion of the herdsmen. The instrument was space-saving, lightweight and could easily be carried over the shoulder. Similar to the Prayer Call or Apine Blessing, the Büchel also served as a greeting and exchange of vital signs between neighboring alpine herdsmen. The shepherds also used the sound of the Büchel as a lure to call their animals back to the hut. Nowadays, the Büchel can still be found on many alpine pastures and delights people with its traditional sound.

The original form of the Büchel was played as a solo instrument at the beginning of the 20th century. Because it was made by hand, each Büchel was unique and had its own characteristic timbre. Over time, the instrument was further developed by giving it a more even construction and adding adjustable leadpipes. This allowed the unique sound of the Büchel to be controlled somewhat and made it possible to play together with other Büchels. The body of the instrument is often wrapped in light or dark pedigree cane.

The simple Büchel are often decorated with painted illustrations of Central Swiss flowers or ornaments, and sometimes a cord adorns the instrument, giving it an additional cultural touch. Despite the passing of time, the Büchel remains a symbol of alpine tradition and the connection between people and nature in the Swiss mountains. The Büchel is often used in folklore events.

Video To our culture: Bücheln Portrait

The Büchel instrument comes from the alphorn family. However, the Büchel is not elongated in its shape, but is twisted twice. Central Swiss Büchel instruments are narrow and produce a brighter, edgier and sharper sound than the alphorn. Büchel pieces originate from the natural tone series, a series of tones arranged in ascending order of frequency, which are produced by blowing with varying intensity.

Technically demanding to play, this rustic instrument allows for characteristic and unmistakable melodies. The lively Büchel melodies are also known as “Bücheljützli” or “Büchelgsätzli”.

Auf unsere Kultur: Bücheln Porträt

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