Vienna Boys Choir
February 13th, 2024
Boys have been singing at the Viennese court since the 14th century, and in 1498 - more than half a millennium ago - Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I moved his court and his court musicians to Vienna. Historians have settled on 1498 as the foundation date of the Vienna Chapel Imperial (Hofmusikkapelle) and thus the Vienna Boys Choir. Until 1918, the choir sang exclusively for the imperial court, at mass, concerts, private functions, and on state occasions.
Throughout history, such noted composers as Heinrich Isaac, Philippe de Monte, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Johann Joseph Fux, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Caldara, Antonio Salieri, Christoph Willibald Gluck, and Anton Bruckner have worked with the choir. Jacobus Gallus and Franz Schubert were themselves choristers, and brothers Franz Joseph and brother Michael Haydn were members of the choir of St. Stephen's Cathedral, but frequently sang with the imperial boys choir as well.
In 1918, after the breakdown of the Habsburg Empire, the Austrian government took over the court opera, its orchestra and the adult singers, but not the boys'choir. Josef Schnitt, who became Dean of the Imperial Chapel in 1921, turned the Vienna Boys Choir into a private institution. The former court choir boys became the Wiener Sängerknaben (Vienna Boys Choir); the imperial uniform was replaced by the sailor suit, then the height of boys' fashion. The choir started to give concerts outside of the chapel in 1926, performing motets, secular works - and at the boys' request - children's operas. The impact was amazing. Within a year, the choir had performed in Berlin (led by Erich Kleiber), Prague, and Zurich. Athens and Riga (1928) followed, then Spain, France, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (1929), the United States (1932), Australia (1934), and South America (1936). Since 1926, the choir has gone on more than 1000 tours in 100 different countries.
Today, the Vienna Boys Choir consists of 100 boys between the ages of ten and fourteen, from dozens of nations, divided into four touring groups. Each group spends nine to eleven weeks of the school year on tour. Between them, the four choirs give 300 concerts and performances each year before almost half a million people. They visit virtually all European countries, and are frequent guests in Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
The Vienna Boys Choir has a close association with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Together with members of the orchestra and the men of the Vienna State Opera Chorus, the choir maintains the tradition of the imperial musicians: as Hofmusikkapelle (Chapel Imperial) they provide the music for the Sunday Mass in Vienna's Imperial Chapel, as they have done since 1498. In 2016, the choir participated for the sixth time in the New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons.