The chamois that was a cow
You may have asked yourself "Gemshorn, is that one of those brass instruments? Or do they actually sell the horns of the chamois (German: Gämse)?" The answer is, "Yes, we are actually selling chamois horns!" Or at least almost, as gemshorns are capped flutes, that is, they are ocarinas, which are made from cow horns - real ones. For this reason, no one instrument resembles the other, rather each is genuinely unique. We have tried to persuade the cattle to produce uniform horns, but that didn't really work.
"Why are they called gemshorns, if they are made from cow horns?" That's a good question. This is not exactly known, as historically gemshorns were also mostly made from cattle horns or even clay, as discoveries as well as comtemporary images show. Fundamentally, there is nothing to prevent the use of actual chamois horns, since any animal horn which is large enough can be used. The reason may be its prevalence in the Alpine area, where the instrument was played mainly in the 15th century (possibly often by shepherds) before it disappeared from the scene at the end of the 16th century. The gemshorn has survived as a part of the pipe organ register with the same name, which is modeled after the sound of the gemshorn.
Construction and Perfromance
A gemshorn consists of a horn which is shortened from the lower end, depending on the desired pitch, so that the tip is retained. The opening is sealed with wood or clay except for a narrow gap for blowing. Modern versions often receive a beak-shaped mouthpiece of wood or clay, but the historical illustrations do not show this. The tone holes as well as the labium are drilled directly into the horn.
The fingering of a gemshorn is like a recorder and is usually built with the tuning C/F, but can not be overblown. Thus, the range of sounds is very limited. This is due to the closed construction, which brings the advantage of a warm sound. In addition, this way, instruments can also be built in a very low pitch, which in turn allows for a wide ensemble of gemshorns.
Those who would like to buy a gemshorn, will find gemshorns in all available tunings from sopranino to the contrabass. Just pop on by!