Viener Sangerkanaben--Vienna Boys' Choir Uniform


Figure 1.--The uniform of the Vienna Choir Boys was a army-like cadet uniform until the disaster of World War I caused many Austrians to view such a uniform as unsuitable for children.

The Vienna Boys' Choir is the most famous boys' choir in the world. The 100 boys which make up the choir frequently travel abroad. They are divided into four separate performing choirs and tours are an important part of their activities. The boys are aged from 10 to 14 years old. They perform sacred works, concerts and opera. The international reputation of the Vienna Boy's Choir is based not only on the outstanding choral standard that gives it its special rank among the choirs of Europe but also on the musical and technical proficiency of its superbly trained members as soloists.

History

The history of the choir goes back over 500 years to 1498, when Maximilian I founded the Hofmusikkapelle to which the choir belonged. Many distinguished Viennese musicians began their careers as members of this choir. We have little information, however, about the early history of the choir or how the choir was dressed at first. We have little information on the choir diring the five centuries in whivh they sang for the Imperial religious services. The Choir since its founding has been an important part of Austria's musical life. Some of the most notables names in Austrian music have been associated with the choir. No choir has has more famous choristers than the Vienna Choir Boys. During World War I the choir had no money to maintain its institute and boarding school and had to resort to public concerts for the first time, at first in Austria only but later elsewhere also. While the Vienna Boys' Choir dates its origins to the 15th century and included the young the modern choir was established only in 1924. In that year, following the breakdown of the Habsburg Austo-Hungarian Empire, the choir was rescued by the last imperial chaplain, rector Josef Schnitt who first called the court singers since the" Vienna Choir Boys".

Founding

The Vienna Boys' Choir is one of the best known symbols of Austria and one of the oldest boys' choirs in the world. The history of the choir goes back over 500 years to 1498, when Maximilian I founded the Hofmusikkapelle to which the choir belonged. A founding document of Maximilian I in 1498 called the first dozen boys to the imperial court as members of the newly formed court music band. Thus he showed his great interest in contemporary musical developments in Burgundy and the Netherlands. Since then the Vienna Boys' Choir has been a fixed attraction in Austrian musical life. Many distinguished Viennese musicians began their careers as members of this choir. We have little information, however, about the early history of the choir or how the choir was costumed at first.

Habsburg era

The Hasburgs emmerged as one of the most poweful dynasties in Europe. And the Hapsburg court was one of the most ilustrious. The small group of choristers was one small part of the court. We have little information on the choir diring the five centuries in whivh they sang for the Imperial religious services. The Choir since its founding has been an important part of Austria's musical life, The Vienna Boys' Choir has enchanted music lovers around the world with angelic tones for 5 centuries. The Choir was founded in 1498 when 12 boys were engaged as members of the orchestra at the court of Emperor Maximillian I. Through the centuries, the Habsburg monarchs encouraged and supported musical life in general and the Boys' Choir in particular. World-class musicians were frequent guests at the Viennese Imperial Court of the Habsburgs. And, some of Austria's most famous musicians and composers received their training in the ranks of this Imperial Choir.

Famous Choristers

No choir has has more famous choristers than the Vienna Choir Boys. The impressive training the boys receieved at an early age has produced numerous highly qualified vocalists, violinists and pianists. Much of what we know about the choir comes from the experiences of its more famous members. Joseph Haydn, who actually belonged to the Cathedral Choir of St Stephan, sang together with the court choir boys in the chapel of the Hofburg and in the newly built palace of Sch–nbrunn. Franz Schubert's first compositions were written when he was with the court choir boys, always in conflict with his teachers, since he was more interested in music than in getting good marks for his school work. Mozart's erstwhile rival, Salieri, noted Schubert's talent in his entry examination, and took him under his wing. The vocal training he received formed the foundation of Schubert's sensitive Lieder. Georg Boyer, Benedikt Randhartinger, Hans Richter, who created the reputation of the philharmonic concerts in Vienna, the operetta composer Karl Zeller ("Der Vogelh”ndler") or the famous Wagner conductor Josef Sucher, Felix Mottl, Clemens Krauss and Lovro von Matacic are former members of the Vienna Boys' Choir, and helped to write the musical history of the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the first choristers, Ludwig Senfl, later rose to be Hof-kapellmeister. The most famous chorister was probably the prodigy Franz Schubert (1797-188), who became a member of the Vienna Boy's Choir in 1808. His successor as soprano soloist was Georg Hellmesberger. Other famous members were Carl Zeller, Hans Richter, Felix Mottl and Clemens Krauss.Some of the world famous musicians of note whose creative years were spent with the choir are: Christopher Gluck (1714-1787), the founder of the modern operatic form; Mozart (1756-1791); and Joseph Hayden (1732-1809)

Composers

Great composers and teachers have repeatedly improved the musical quality of the Vienna Boys' Choir, for instance Isaac, Senfl, Caldara, Fux, Salieri, Joseph and Michael Haydn. Anton Bruckner, too, as court organist, rehearsed his own masses with the Vienna Boys' Choir. If a performance went particularly well, it was his custom to reward the boys with cake.


Figure 2.--The uniform of the Vienna Choir Boys was changed from a army to a sailor suit after World War I. Here the boys are on a trip to London. I think this was the 1935 visit with the London Lord Mayor's Boy Players.

Modern choir

During World War I the choir had no money to maintain its institute and boarding school and had to resort to public concerts for the first time, at first in Austria only but later elsewhere also. While the Vienna Boys' Choir dates its origins to the 15th century and included the young the modern choir was established only in 1924. In that year, following the breakdown of the Habsburg Austo-Hungarian Empire, the choir was rescued by the last imperial chaplain, rector Josef Schnitt who first called the court singers since the" Vienna Choir Boys". With the ending of the monarchy in 1918, the choir gave up its old name and the imperial uniform (to which a sword belonged). As early as 1924 the "Vienna Boys' Choir" - reformed by the rector Joseph Schnitt, with great personal zeal - gave guest performances in the world's most famous concert halls. Even in the days of the First Republic they were regarded as Austria's "singing ambassadors". Since those days the Vienna Boys' Choir have given concerts under nearly all the great conductors of this century: Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Muti and Sir George Solti. And, as ever, every Sunday the Vienna Boys' Choir sing solemn mass in Vienna's Hofburg chapel, continuing a tradition unbroken since 1498. I am not sure what happed to the choir after the 1938 NAZI Anschluss and World War II. A Dutch reader tells us that they continued to operate even during the War. He writes, "The boys just kept on singing. I remember that my parents took us to a performance of the Vienna Boys Choir in 1942. In spite of the German occupation of the Netherlands and ill feelings toward Austrain NAZIs in particular, at that time, many Dutch people went to that concert. I remember that it was sold out." I do not know if the boys joined the Hitler Youth like other Aistrain and German boys. It is likely that the Choir was used for NAZI propaganda. We have no information as to what occurred during late 1944 and especially 1945 when Russian and American Armies entered Austria. A Choir publication states, "Another new start had to be made after the World War II. A new boarding school was set up."

Purpose

Until the 1918 fall of the Habsburg Monarchy, the choristers' chief function was the musical adornment of the services of the Imperial Chapel. After the Austrian monarchy came to an end the choir was reestablished by Josef Schnitt, in order to introduce new life to the Hofmusikkapelle.

Organization

The Vienna Choir Boys are a private organization divided into three destinct sections: the choir; the school and a boarding house. The modern choir is housed in the 16th-century Augarten Palace and provides the boys with a solid musical education. There are about 150 boys between the ages of 10 and 12, split up into four choirs. As the boys develop their talents they are assigned to one of four separate choirs. There are actually four choirs with 25 boys in each. The Vienna Choir boys are based in the beautiful Augartenpalais in Vienna. During their concert tours, the boys visit virtually all European countries, Asia, ustralia, the United States, and Canada. They reportedly especialy like coming to the United States and Canada (I'm not sure why) and visit there almost every year.

Philosophy

The Former director Agnes Grossmann says the secret behind the training of the famous choir is that it is important for the choristers to understand the beauty of what they are singing. "I looked for a new sound--in fact, a new way of making the music come alive."


Figure 3.--One of the most famous boy choirs is the Vienna Choirboys who wear their trade mark sailor suits. Here they wear the blue winter middy blouse. Note the German naval caps.

Music

Their reperetoire includes Renaissance as well as contemporary music. The comprehensive repertoire of the Vienna Boy's Choir extends from Renaissance motets and madrigals to Romantic choral works, both scared and secular and twentieth-century compositions. Special attention is given to contemporary Austrian composers.As the court organist, Anton Bruckner rehearsed the Masses he composed with the Choir. Joseph Haydn sang with the Boys' Choir in the Imperial Chapel in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Franz Schubert's first compositions were written for the "putti di capella" (as the choir boys were called) of the Vienna Court. Georg Boyer, Benedikt Randhartinger, Hans Richter and Karl Zeller as well as the famous Wagnerian conductors Josef Sucher, Felix Mottl, Clemens Krauss and Lovro von Matatic all started their musical careers as members of the Choir. The Choir's repoitoire of ourse was not limited to classical music. Their concerts include a wide variety of other music. They are especially noted for beautiful renditions of Austrian folk music.

Director

Agnes Grossmann replaced Peter Marschik as conductor of the globetrotting singers in 1996. She was the first female director. Her father, Ferdinand Grossmann, conducted the boys' choir from 1939 to 1945, and again from 1956 to 1966.

Performaces

In recent times, The Vienna Boys' Choir has performed around the world under the batons of internationally renowned conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Herbert von Karajan and Sir Georg Solti, among many others. The choirs perform both locally and throughout Austria as well as in other countries. Every sunday (except the summer vacations), the choir sings at Mass in the Imperial Chapel (Hofburgkapelle) as they have done since their founding in 1498. Each choir in turn makes an visiting mainly Switzerland, Germany, Spain, the Benelux countries, Great Britain and Scandinavia. Since 1926, however, the choirs have also been to North America 44 times, the Far East 11 times, Australia and New Zealand nine times, Africa six times and Latin America ten times. The choir usually do skits along with their music when they preform. Often there are elaborate costumes for these skits, often based in historiocal periods. In these skits, some of the boys dress up as girls to preform the female roles.

Reaction

A long list of musical luminaries have been enchanted by the Vienna Choir Boys. Beverly Stills introduced the Vienna Choirs Boys in one television performance. "They are so adorable" she gushed. "I'd like to cuddle every one of them." Their sailor suits are adorable, although they wear longs.

Language

The Choir primarily sings in German. Of course this is understandable as Austrians speak German. They may sing some Austrian folk songs in an Austrian dialect. The choir also sings many songs in foreign languages.


Figure 4.--The trademark sailorsuits of the Vienna Choir Boys is a classically styled suit based on the uniforms worn by the Austrian Navy. (There was an Austrian Navy until the country's defeat in World War I. You may remember that Captain Von Trapp of "Sound of Music" fame was a naval officer.

Uniforms

The Vienna Choir Boys initially wore a army cadet uniform. The uniform was changed after the First World War to the present sailor suit. At the end of the Habsburg monarchy in 1919, the court replaced the boys' regalia of colorful, imperial military uniforms and a dagger. The boys were given a new sailor-style uniform and they continued their centuries of performing with a new name, The Vienna Boys' Choir. I don't have details yet on why they chose the sailor suit. I can only assume that the unpopularity of the military after the disaster of the First World War made the army so unpopular, that it was no longer suitable for choir boys. The sailor suit, however, was so associate with boys' wear that it was apparently more acceptable. Whatever the reason, the uniform worn by the Vienna Boys' Choir since World War II has been the traditional sailor suit long with long pants. They have both blue and white middy blouses. The white middy blouse with black pants is worn during the summer and the blue middy blouse during the winter. The hat is the traditional style worn by the Austrian Navy in the years that Austria still had a navy. Of course in the peace settlement ending World War, Austria-Hungary was dismembered and Austria lost its Adriatic ports. The choir also wears ecumenical robes for religious performances.

Performance Costumes

A HBC reader reports, "I saw Die Wiener Sanger Knaben or The Vienna Boys Choir in the Adelaide Town Hall on August 8, 2002. They wore their sailor suit of white tunic and dark blue trousers. They wore a variety of other outfits for their wonderfull performance. There were lederhosen, knee socks, strap wool shorts, knickerbokkers above the knee with hose, knickers level with the knee, and short length trousers of green or brown and grey made of felt or wool. They had attractive green coats made of felt and wool and the tradition Austrian hats and Oliver Twist styles of Fauntleroy suits and grey shorts with gingham type short sleeve shirts. One pair of shorts were quite short with a shoulder straps crossed at the back like the ones seen in German section of HBC."

Hairstyles

Neither the uniforms orthe hair styles of the Vienna Choir Boys have changed much over the yers. The hairstyles of the boys is seems little changed, making it veryhard to date images. The sides and sideburns are shaved quite short with the top long. Most have long and heavy fringes with the classic side-path and at times coiffed.

Movies

Two movies have been made about the Vienna Choir Boys. One was an Austrian movie made before the NAZI Anchluss and World War II and the other a Disney film made after World War II.





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Created: November 2, 1998
Last updated: 1:55 AM 10/1/2007