Telluride's Palm Theatre Presents Vienna Boys Choir, 3/27

Telluride’s Palm Theatre presents the Vienna Boys Choir in a live concert Saturday, March 27, 7 p.m.

Vienna 11x17 More than half a millennium ago, in 1498, Emperor Maximilian I moved his court – and his court musicians – from Innsbruck to Vienna, giving specific instructions there were to be six boys among the musicians. For want of a foundation charter, historians have settled on 1498 as the official foundation date of the Vienna Hofmusikkapelle and – in consequence – the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Until 1918, the choir sang exclusively for the court, at mass, at private concerts and functions and on state occasions.

Musicians such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Caldara, Antonio Salieri and Anton Bruckner worked with the choir. Composers Jacobus Gallus, Franz Schubert, and conductors Hans Richter, Felix Mottl and Clemens Krauss were themselves choristers. Brothers Joseph and Michael Haydn were members of the choir of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and sang frequently with the imperial boys’ choir.


After the breakdown of the Habsburg empire in 1918, the Austrian government took over the court opera (i.e. opera,  orchestra and adult singers), but not the choir boys. The Choir owes its survival to the initiative of Josef Schnitt, who became Dean of the Imperial Chapel in 1921. Schnitt established the boys’ choir as a private institution: the former court choir boys became the Wiener Sängerknaben, the imperial uniform was replaced by the sailor suit, then the height of boys’ fashion. Funding was not enough to pay for the boys’ upkeep, and in 1926 the choir started to give concerts outside of the chapel, performing motets, secular works, and – at the boys’ request – children’s operas. Within a year, the Wiener Sängerknaben was performing in Berlin, 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).

Today there are about 100 choristers age 1- – 14 divided into four touring choirs, each of which gives around 300 concerts a year to reach almost half a million people. They visit virtually all European countries, and are frequent guests in Asia, Australia, and the Americas.

With members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera Chorus, the Wiener Sängerknaben maintains the tradition of the imperial musicians: as Hofmusikkapelle, it provides music for Sunday Mass in Vienna’s Imperial Chapel, as the Choir has done since 1498.

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 waltzes and polkas by Strauss.

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