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 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 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 followed (1928), 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 to 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 since 1498. The choir has often participated in the New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons. Members of the choir also frequently perform in productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, most recently at the Salzburg Festival.
The choir’s repertoire includes everything from medieval to contemporary and experimental music. Motets and lieder for boys’ choir form the core of the touring repertoire, as do the choir’s own arrangements of quintessentially Viennese music like waltzes and polkas by Lanner, Lehár, and Strauss.
The Vienna Boys Choir performs major choral and symphonic works as part of the Hofmusikkapelle, and with other orchestras and adult choirs. They are regularly asked to supply soloists for large choral and orchestral works, such as Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Both the choir and the Chapel Imperial have a long tradition of commissioning new works, going back to Imperial times, when composers like Mozart, Haydn, and Bruckner wrote for the ensemble. Benjamin Britten penned a vaudeville which could be performed on tours, and Austrian composers Heinz Kratochwil, Balduin Sulzer, Wolfram Wagner, and Gerald Wirth have written works for today’s boys, along with Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin, who wrote her Land of Sweeping Plains for them. Over the last century, the choir has worked with some of the greatest conductors of the genre, for example Böhm, Furtwängler, Karajan, Mitropoulos, Toscanini, Walter, Bernstein, Boulez, and Harnoncourt. In more recent times, the boys have been invited to collaborate with Mariss Jansons, Zubin Mehta, Marc Minkowski, Riccardo Muti, Kent Nagano, Seiji Ozawa, Christian Thielemann, Michael Tilson Thomas, Franz Welser-Möst, Simone Young, and many others. The choir also regularly takes part in opera performances at the Vienna State Opera, the Vienna Volksoper, and the Salzburg Festival.
Doors open at 7:00pm for this reserved seating show. The estimated length of the event is 2 hours. Wearing a mask is required indoors in Monroe County. Vaccine verification or negative COVID test results within 48 hours required to enter the venue.