Hunting horn players recognised as cultural heritage by Unesco
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Hunting horn players recognised as cultural heritage by Unesco

© Belga

The tradition of playing the hunting horn, common in the Benelux and France, has been recognised by the UN cultural organisation Unesco as Intangible Cultural Heritage.

As the name suggests, the tradition of playing the hunting horn originated in the margins of the hunt, but has since become a thing in itself. The distinctive post-horn, which has no keys, remains, as does the striking uniform, but most groups nowadays do not take part in hunting.

The tradition originated in France, and is now spread across the Benelux and as far as northern Italy. Belgium has 23 groups, 14 in Wallonia and Brussels and nine in Flanders.

The repertoire of the players originally consisted of fanfares composed in 6/8 time – the cadence of a galloping horse – but has more recently expanded to include classical themes and even popular music.

The announcement was made by Unesco yesterday, at a congress which is sitting to consider other applications.

Unesco itself explains the core importance of the tradition:

“Playing the horn is a performative art open to musical creativity and practised on festive occasions. Drawn together by their shared fascination for this instrumental music, players come from all backgrounds. This great social mix is one of the hallmarks of current horn practice.

Education in the practice is traditionally oral and imitative. Players rarely learn alone, however musical practice is often acquired in horn schools. Horn music maintains a vast, lively musical repertoire constantly enriched since the seventeenth century. A great sense of belonging and continuity stems from interpreting this common repertoire, encouraging intercultural and international dialogue.”

The list of practices recognised an intangible cultural heritage falls into five main domains: oral traditions, performing arts, social practices and rituals, practices relating to nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship.

Examples include tango music and dance, Maghreb cuisine including couscous, horsemanship at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, making and sharing flatbread in Central Asia and falconry.

The annual Carnival celebrations in Aalst were added to the list in 2010, but the city withdrew itself last year after repeated accusations of anti-Semitism in the parade floats.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times