Boys have been singing at Vienna’s Imperial Chapel since 1296. In 1498, Emperor Maximilian I (HRR) moved his court to Vienna, thus founding the “Hofmusikkapelle” (Chapel Imperial), and the Vienna Boys Choir. 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. Until 1918, the boys sang exclusively for the imperial court. In 1924, the Choir was reestablished as a private organization.
Today, there are 100 choristers between the ages of 10 and 14, divided into four touring groups. Each spends 11 weeks of the year on tour. Between them, the choirs give around 300 concerts each year, attended by almost half a million spectators around the world. Since 1924, thousands of boys have experienced the joy of making choral music, on over 1000 tours, to 98 different countries. The boys’ first tour of the USA took place in 1931, their first world tour in 1934-35.
On Sundays, the Choir performs with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera Chorus in Vienna’s Imperial Chapel, as it has done for 520 years. In 2012, the Choir opened its own concert hall, “MuTh”, a hugely popular state-of-the-art facility. The repertoire includes everything from medieval to contemporary and experimental works. The Choir also performs with major orchestras, and have been invited to collaborate with such conductors as 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.
Since their first recording in 1907, the boys have recorded 376 shellacks, singles, LPs, and CDs. In 2015, the choir signed a deal with Deutsche Grammophon whose latest release, Strauss For Ever, is composed of music by multiple members of the Strauss family.
Numerous films and TV documentaries attest to the Choir’s international appeal. New York filmmaker Curt Faudon has produced 3 major films about the boys (Silk Road, Bridging the Gap, Songs for Mary), with a fourth, Good Shepherds, currently in production.
300 boys and girls attend the Vienna Boys Choir Schools. The Choir has a primary school, a middle school, and a successful high school program catering to young singers. A quarter of the schools’ alumni go on to become professional musicians. Professor Gerald Wirth, himself a former choirboy, is the President and Artistic Director of the ensemble. The Choir’s education and singing tradition is considered so extraordinary that it is listed by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage in Austria.