Having just signed off a short piece of music for four horns (for the Richard III Reinterment service) I travelled to Saltria, a tiny hamlet in Alto Adige, the German-speaking province of Italy which was once part of Austria. It turned out to be Horn City (pictured). Heard in the open air, these alphorns had a surprisingly chamber-like and cultured sound, with nothing of the brassy rasp which we expect from their orchestral equivalents. Fifteen minutes into the recital however, stuck in the same harmonic series with nowhere else to go, it became clear that valves and extra lengths of tubing are on the whole a welcome development in horn music.
Hearing a group of four horns noodling for a long time around wide open tonal intervals inevitably brought to mind the music of Mahler, significant parts of which were written during the composer’s summer visits to Toblach (Dobiacco) in this very region. Consulting the internet to see if I could easily get there – I could not- I found this rather gloomy update from 2011 about the decrepit state of Mahler’s Komponierhaüschen, seemingly stranded in the middle of a small domestic zoo. Below the video, someone had added the comment, “this would never have happened if Toblach was still in Austria”. And indeed , wherever we saw political graffiti (ie not in the snow) it was on behalf of the One Tyrol movement which advocates the unification of the Italian and Austrian halves of the Tyrol, no longer under the auspices of the Italian Government.