German Boy Choir Costumes


Figure 1.--The Munchner Chorbuben (literally "Munich choir babies) who despite the name are aged 8 to 18 wore short pants and white knee socks.

Many countries of Western and Central Europe have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the medevil era. Germany has like, neigboring countries, has an important choral tradition. Some of the most beautiful choral music has been written by German composers, for choirs--including many pieces for boy choirs. A great deal of music scholarsip exists on this music. Much less information exists on the choirs and boys who sang this music.

Catholic and Protestant Traditions

Germany includes formerly independent states with both protestant and catholic populations. The choral tradition in Germany is associated with both catholic and protestant churches. Protestant churches dominate the north while catholic churches are diominate in Bavaria and other southern areas near Austria. The Lutheran Church In Germany, from the 17th century, delighted in having such exceptional composers as Praetorius, Schutz or Bach. These were under contract to the towns and cities and were required to supply the churches with quality music. Thus, Bach wrote a cantata for each Sunday and feast day. This music was written to be sung by men and boys. For much of the history of the Christian Church, including early Protestant hurches, women and girls did not sing during services. Bach for example used a boy for cantata BWV 51. Use of women in Church music was completely forbidden. The first performance of a woman in a Hamburg church, and Hamburg was noted for it's lack of orthodoxy, took place behind a curtain, in order not to disquiet the congregation. Leipzig definitely was much more orthodox than Hamburg. It should be noted that generally speaking a boys voice, at the time Bach composed his music, normally didn't break before the age of 18. It is now common for boys' voices to break at age 12-13 years. [Bakker] HBC notes, however, that there is considrable debate about this. We believe that it is tru that boys' voices did break earlier in early ears. That does not mean, however, that the boys singing at age 18 had voices that had not broken. [Beet] The choral tradition was impaired by the NAZI assault on Christianity and the disorders of World War II. Dedicated muscicians since the War have sought to reinvigorate German choirs. The tradition has thus continued after World War II by both democratic West Germany and Communist East Germany. The East Germans of course were hostile to the Church, but supported some choirs as an imprtant aspect of the German cultural traditiion.

Kurrunde Street Singers

A historic tradition in Germany was for children from poor families who were students or choristers to go from home to home in their districts singing hynns. The people would given them a few coins. They were called Kurrende singers. We have little information on this, including the chronology of this tradition. It seems to have been a tradition in England and other countries as well. We note a photograph from Germany, probably in the early 1930s. We see a group of German boy singers in traditional cloaks singinging in the Berlin suburbs. The portrait is undated, but looks to have been taken in the early 1930s. Given the propsperity in Germany, this custom probably no longer exists, but we have no current information.


Figure 2.--Since the end of World War I, the sailor suit has been a popular costume for German choir boys. Several choirs adopted very forms of the sailor suit. HBC does not know, however, what choir this was. We would be interested if a HBC reader can identify what choir is pictured here.

Costume Development

I have little historical information on German choirs. Some choirs before World War I may have worn army-style uniforms like the Vienna Choir Boys in Austria. This entirely disappeared after the war, presumably because the War has so descredited the army. Instead German choirs turned more to sailor suits. Presumably sailor suits were more acceptable because they had been so widely worn by boys since the mid-19th century. As a result, they had the image of boys' clothes as much as a military uniform. One choir wore Hitler Youth uniforms during the NAZI era. After World War II, many German choirs had simpler uniforms of sweaters, short pants, and kneesocks. The Munchner Chorbuben wore, for example, red sweaters, black shorts, and white kneesocks. The white kneesocks were commonly worn by choirs in several European countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Poland, and especially France). This was quite distinct from England where almost all English choirs wore grey kneesocks. In recent years, many German choirs have adopted long pants uniforms.

Cathedral Association

German choirs, both Catholic and Protestant, like other European boys choirs play an important role in providing music to the great cathedrals of Western Europe. This was why the choirs were founded and for centuries the main reason for therir existence. After the Reformation, Protestant churches continued the tradition of cathedral boy choirs. Many of the German choirs are still associated with the country's cathedrals. The Catholic Dresdner Kapellknaben, the Boys choir of the Dresden Cathedral, pictured here is just one example. Other examples include the Regensburger Domspatzen and the Solothurner Singknaben. These choirs are linked to their cities and places they ususally do service.

Movies

Some interesting movies have been made in Germany about boys choirs. The movies have been of uneven quality, but do show some details about the cotumes worn by choirs in Germany. The sailor suit is the most common costume, but lederhosden are also often featured.

Individual German Choirs

There are quite a number of boy choirs in Germany. Many are of relatively recent foundation. Some are religioualy founded, but others are secular. The East German Communists even supported some choirs. HBC has collected information on the following German choirs. Much of our information is dated. We incourage each choir to update our information. HBC will be pleased to provide a link to the choir's internet sales page where readeers can purchase tapes and CDs. We would also of course be pleased to include any choir that we have missed in our list.

Sources

Beet, Stephen. Sleeve notes to "Tis there, my child, the Better Land".

Sybrand Bakker, October 13, 2000.






HBC




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Created: November 2, 1998
Last updated: 11:35 PM 4/9/2006