The Haupeschbléiser were inscribed into UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List three years ago. They have been filling the air with the sounds of their hunting horns since the 1970s and, as a national association, are playing a pivotal role in preserving a three-centuries-old tradition. But what is the story behind this musical art form in Luxembourg that dates back to the French royal court?
Community, nature and culture: Luxembourg's Haupeschbléiser
The Haupeschbléiser (St. Hubert Hunting Horn Players of Luxembourg) are Luxembourgish musicians dedicated to preserving a centuries-old tradition: playing the French hunting horn. The instrument was originally used as a communication tool by hunters. That's because its sound carries far and can reach up to 100 dB – comparable to the volume of an electrically amplified concert. For the Haupeschbléiser, however, the main focus is on the music itself and on making music together with the other horn players, while hunting takes a back seat.
Dressed in traditional riding coats in the colours of Luxembourg's royal house – navy blue and orange – they perform classical fanfare and compose new pieces that pay homage to Luxembourg. Conviviality and being at one with nature are central to their ethos. Founded by Guy Wagner with fellow musicians in 1973, after he had bought his first hunting horn a year earlier, the Haupeschbléiser have nurtured this art form over the decades. In 2020, they were recognised as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, along with France, Belgium and Italy. This year, they loudly celebrated their 50th anniversary at the Mersch church in front of over 500 spectators and thus the ongoing preservation of an age-old tradition.
Brilliant breathing technique of the hunting horn players
The hunting horn was developed 300 years ago in France, during the reign of Louis XIV and Louis XV, and was originally intended as a communication tool for hunters. Later improvements expanded the musical capabilities of the hunting horn, meaning it could also be used to play musical pieces for entertainment. Just like their traditional attire, the horn played by the Haupeschbléiser today has remained true to its roots. This triple-coiled instrument measures an impressive 4.5 meters when fully extended and has neither buttons nor valves. Because of this, the 18 members of the Haupeschbléiser rely purely on breathing technique and physical effort to play it. Given this complexity, singing plays an important role for the Haupeschbléiser. It is used during practice to help memorise songs, and it also facilitates social bonding within the group, since not all members can read music.
Interview with the founder and president of the Haupeschbléiser: Guy Wagner
How has the entry on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List affected the Haupeschbléiser?
Being inscribed as an intangible cultural heritage has brought us an entirely new level of recognition in Luxembourg. Our cultural presence has increased, and both UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture have asked us to perform concerts. I think people are happy that this art and tradition are being preserved.
What types of events do the Haupeschbléiser perform at?
We regularly play at masses, such as the St Hubertus masses in the Berdorf caves. We've held concerts all over the country and even had the honour of performing for Grand Duke Jean in 2009. We have a performance coming up at Neumünster Abbey, and we're also planning a concert at the cathedral next year. We also get a lot of bookings for events like weddings and other celebrations.
What is your next big event?
Our next concert is being organised with the support of the Ministry of Culture. We're performing with the Harmonie Kleinbettingen to celebrate the European Heritage Days. The concert will take place on 30 September at 3 p.m. in the courtyard of Neumünster Abbey, located in the Grund district.
Two UNESCO intangible cultural heritage listings
The Haupeschbléiser were honoured to become Luxembourg's second intangible cultural heritage on the UNESCO list, after the Echternach Hopping Procession had already been inscribed in 2010.
Are there any criteria for joining the Haupeschbléiser?
The main things we look for are enthusiasm and an interest in learning the natural horn. Reading sheet music is optional. Of course, you also have to enjoy making music, and it can help to have a musical ear as well. But it's important to bear in mind that learning takes time.
Do the Haupeschbléiser have their own music school?
Yes, we have our own school. Lessons are held twice a month in the evenings, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the church in Kopstal. Hunting horns can be provided on request. In the summer, we often rehearse outdoors, and we usually spend some more time together after the lesson. So there's a real spirit of community here, too. That's exactly how it should be.