This choir of
altos and trebles was established by Maximilian I on 7th July
1498. Its founding coincided
with the relocation of his court to Vienna
from Innsbruck. At first, there were only six boys
in the choir, and two bass singers fleshed out the ensemble’s
sound. Eventually, its numbers
grew to twelve, then fourteen, and then twenty. The choir’s role was to
provide music in the church mass.
As a perquisite, the boys received a musical education, and many of
them became professional musicians as adults.
One of those
boys was Franz Schubert, who penned his early works while still a member of
the choir, although he allowed the rest of his studies to slide, which did not
go over well with his teachers.
Other famous musicians who collaborated with the choir include
Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Anton
Bruckner, Franz Joseph Haydn, Michael Haydn, Herbert von Karajan, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Seiji Ozawa,
Antonio Salieri, and Sir George Solti.
In 1918, the
Habsburg Empire crumbled and the court’s adult singers, opera and
orchestra were taken over by the Austrian government. This did not include the choir boys,
however. Josef Schnitt, a rector and Dean of the Imperial Chapel,
ensured their continuation as a vocal ensemble by dubbing them Wiener Sangerknaben, or Vienna Boys Choir, and turning them
into a private, professional enterprise.
In addition to
performing in church, they expanded their audience by appearing in concert
halls throughout the world.
Their repertoire ranged from children’s operas to motets to
secular songs. Some of the
operas they performed in the 1920s include Franz Joseph Haydn’s Der Apotheker,
Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne,
und Carl Maria van Weber’s Abu
Hassan. They became an
international sensation, conquering Athens
and Riga in 1928, Denmark,
France, Norway, Spain
and Sweden in 1929, the United States in 1932, Australia in 1934, and South
America in 1936.
into the film, radio, recording and television industries. One of their early recordings was
1960’s Frohe Weihnacht. They appeared in the Walt Disney
feature film, Almost Angels, in
1962. In 1967, they issued Die Wiener Sangerknaben
und ihre Schonsten… They performed music for the 1968 TV
special, The Little Drummer Boy. In the ‘70s, they covered the Fab Four in a series of a cappella arrangements of
famous Beatles songs.
caught them out in 1978, when it was decreed that performing on Christmas
Eve and other holidays was a violation of child labor laws. It didn’t keep them from
recording on non-holidays, however.
They released a spate of albums in the ‘80s and ‘90s,
such as Christmas in Vienna/Heiligste Nacht, Christmas
with the Vienna Boy’s Choir, London Symphony Orchestra, Merry Christmas from the Vienna Choir
Boys, Orff: Carmina Burana, und Weihnacht mit den
Gerald Wirth was hired as Artistic Director, and he managed to keep them in
the public eye by recording pop songs by Celine Dion, Madonna, and Robbie
Williams, releasing I Am from Austria,
Goes Christmas and Wiener Sangerknaben Goes Pop, performing the
children’s operas, Marchen-Matrix
and Moby Dick, and featuring them
in their own documentary film, Silk
Schlosser took over as music director in 2008. The Vienna Boys’ Choir
released the CD, I Am Not a Humanbeing, in 2010.
Placido Domingo recordings
Oakeley/John Francis Wade)
RCA Red Seal
53835 (CD: Placido Domingo & The Vienna Boys Choir)
Conductor – Helmuth
Ensembles – Vienna Boys’ Choir/Vienna Symphony