** national choirs Europe European

European Boy Choirs

The boy choir tradition is essentially a European tradition. We note accounts of boy choirs in both ancint Greece and Rome. We do not know of boy choirs in other ancient civilizations, but that does notmean they did not exist. The classical musical tradition does not seem to have influenced the early Christian church, but our information is limited. Early Christian services as the Church to break off from its Jewish roots were congregational. There were, however, references to boy choirs and girl (virgin) choirs. Gradually women were defranchised which also apperently meant singing in the church. The church and monestries as part of its training of youths for the priesthood began to form boy choirs. All of the great medieval cathedrals had boy choirs to accompany the Mss. The Reformation had both destructive and constructive impacts on church choirs. The Reformation reintroduced comminal singing reducing the need for boy choirs. The various denominations which developed hd different viws on church music. And the differing religious make up of individual countries has affected the boy choir tradition in those countries. The tradition of boy choirs had significantly declined by the 19th century. There was a great revival in the mid-19th century, beginning in Britin. A similar development occured in France (early-2oth century). The Vienna Choir Boys were the only boy choir in the Germanic world, bur other choirs began to form after World War I. Other European countries also have boy choirs with considerablevariations from country to country. We note the emergence of mixed gender children's choirs as well as girl vhoirs in the 20th century. Boy choirs through the 19th century were church choirs. We begin to see secular choirs being formed in the 20th century.

Austrian boy choir
Figure 1.-- The single most famous boy choir in the world is the Vienna Boys' Choir which has a distinctive sailor suit uniform.


Many countries of Western and Central Europe have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the medevil era. The Austro-Hungarian Empire (before 1918) and Austria (after 1918) was one of those countries. The Austrian choirs were associated with the Catholic Church. The most famous Austrian choir was the Vienna Choir Boys which was created and until 1918 served as the oficial choir for the Emperor's chappel. The single most famous boy choir is the Vienna Boys' Choir which has a distinctive sailor suit uniform.


Choir costumes and school uniforms in Belgium are quite similar to French styles. Actually Belgium being somewhat more traditional than France, traditions have persisted longer in Belgium than in France. Hopefully a HBC visitor will eventally provide more details and some interesting insights.


The dominate Church in Bulgaria is the Greek Orthadox Church. Although dominated by the Ottoman Turks for 500 years, their rule was relatively tolerant--much more so than Christian regimes were tolerant of Islam. The Orthadox Church was thus allowed to survive under the Turks.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is predominately Roman Catholic with a minority Orthadox population. HBC has no infornation on the historical boy choir tradition. HBC knows of one Prague choir of very recent foundation. There are several additional Czech choirs and readers have provided HBC some information on those choirs.


Many countries of Western and Central Europe have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the medevil era. The historic tradition is associated with the Catholic Church. Since the Reformation, the countries of northern Europe, including Denmark have developed their own choral traditions.

English boys choir
Figure 2.--Some of the oldest known choirs are English cathedral choirs. Several are also very well known.


The English boy choirs were organized to supply needed musical accompaniment to early church services. The history of modern British education begins with these early boy choirs and schools set up for the boys. Many of Britain's prestigious public schools can trace their history to the foundation of these early choir schools. Many of the oldest choirs in Europe are English choirs. This is because of England's relatively stable history--at least in comparison to continental Europe.


HBC has little information about the boy chour tradition in the small Baltic country of Estonia. The language is part of the west Finnish group of the Ural-Altaic languages. This is significant as diring the Soviet era, the Estonians could listen to Finnish braodcasts, given them a window to the west not available to other eastern Europeans. Mosdt Estonmians are Litherans, however, the many Russians who settled in Estonia are Greek Orthadox Christians. The mixed religious background affected the boy choral tradition. HBC knows of only one boy choir, the Tallin's Boys Choir.


Some information is available on one Helsinki choir. The Cantores Minores, the Boys' Choir of Helsinki Cathedral, was founded in 1952 in order to continue the medieval tradition of ecclesiastical boys' choirs which had become extinct since centuries in Finland. Like its models Kreuzchor Dresden and Thomanerchor Leipzig, the CM is a SATB choir consisting of sopranos and altos aged 9-14 and male voices (tenors and basses) aged 13-20.


The choral tradition was significantly affect in France as a result of French Revolution which began in 1787. The strong anti-clerical thrust of the Revolution changed the character of the French Church. The Cathedrals and the institutions surromding them were greatly weakened. The boy choir tradition was weakened along with the Church's control over education. As a result none of the French choirs can trace their roots back to early church choir schools like several British and German choirs.

Figure 3.--Die Schöneberger Söngerknaben is one of Germany's best known choirs. The boys here wear a traditional blue blazer with open necked shirts.


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 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.


A Greek reader tells HBC that there is no Greek tradition of boy choirs. This presumably relates to differences in the Greek Orthadox and Roman Catholic church services. The absence of Greek boy choirs is interesting because the origins of the Western choral tradition lies with the choirs in Greek drama.


No information available.


Many countries of Western and Central Europe have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the midevil era. One of the longest traditions is that of the English boy choirs. Ireland since the 16th century was part of the British realm. Indededence was not gained until the 1920s and of course did not include the four counties of northern Ireland. This long association with England had a profound impact on Ireland. The Anglian church was established and the English attempted to end the Catholic Church's almost mistical hold on the Irish people, denying Catlolics many privliges and imposing many burdens upon them.


HBC has little information on Italy. Curiosly in a country with a rich musical tradition, including choral music, there appear to be no well known boy choirs. HBC has attempted to reserch the subject of Italian choirs. Apparently in Italy the notion of boys' choirs is now unknown. There are, however, children's choirs made up of both boys and girls. HBC would be very interested for any insights that Italian readers can offer.


Latvia is one of the three Baltic republics which became independent with the disolution of the Soviet Union. HBC know of three choirs. Two are of fairly recent origin. There is also a choir ar a state school promoting music. I am not sure when this choir was founded.


Lithuania is today a small Baltic country. It was gistorically a much larger country with a history closely associated witn Poland. It is a largely Catholic country. We have no information about historical choirs. Unlike Poland, religion is much less important than before World War II, in part because of Soviet atheism campaigns. At this time we little information about Lithiuanian choirs. We first chois we note was organized in the late 1950s during the Soviet era. As a result they did not have a church connection, although they do perform classical choral pieces that ahave a religious character. It is the aclaimed Azuoliukas boys choir. They appeared in the United states for the first time in 2001. They performed contemprary works at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. The boys imitially had a lace collar and shirt pants outfit, but now white shirts and bows or bowties. Some boys wear vests. we have noted some other active choirs.

Dutch boys choir
Figure 4.--The sailor suit is a popular style for Dutch boy choirs costumes.


HBC has some contemporary information on Dutch choies, but virtually no historical information. With the Reformation the choirs that had existed were all dipanded. The current boy choir tradition in the Netherlands is thus a Protestant tradition. Like Protestant choirs in other European countries, since World War I sailor suits have been popular choir costumes in the Netherlands.


HBC has only limited information about the choral tradition in Norway. HBC knows of only one Norwegian choir, the Silver Choir, which was foubded in the not very felicitius year of 1940. (I'm not sure whrtyher this was before or after the German invasion. As with many Scandinavian choirs, the boys wear sailor suits.


The Catholic Church in Poland has supported boy choirs as was the case in western Europe. I have no information, however, about the tradition of boy choirs in Poland. Modern Poland did not exist until after World War I. The countries which had divided Poland (Austria, Germany--Prussia), and Russia) may not have permitted Poles to form oy choirs, but I am not sure about this. The NAZI German occupation disrupted the brief independent existence of the Polish Republic (1919-39). The communists despite their efforts to supress the Catholic Church did allow boy choirs to form, but I have few details at this time.


We have virtually no information about the boy choir tradition in Portugal. We have no information either the historical tradition or the current situation.


Russian boy choir
Figure 5.--The Russian St. Petersburg choir has a striking costume of black trousers, bright blue jackets, and large white collars. Boy choirs were all seccular in the Soviet Union, but liturgical youth choirs are now possible.


HBC has very limited information on the Orthodox choral tradition. After the Bolshevicks seized power in 1917, church boys' choirs were no longer possible as the Church was not allowed to prostelize among young people. There is a long tradition of classical music in Russia which was also promoted by the Soviet Union. There were thus some seccular choirs, although HBC has as yet little information on them. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there has been some increased interest in liturgical music.


We know nothing about Serbian choirs at this time. We do notice an unidentified school choir in 1929.


The boy choir tradition is a European tradition originating in the needs of the medevil church for litugical music. Many countries of Western and Central Europe, have long choral traditions. The strongest tradition is catholic, but boy choirs have also been created in protestant countries. One would think that with this background that there would be a large number of boy choirs in Spain. In actuality there are only a few.


Sweden does not appear to have a strong tradition of boy choirs. There are, however, a few active Swedish choirs.


HBC currently has little information on Swiss choirs. The choral traditions of neighboring France and Germany have been influential in Switzerland following the linguistic and cultural patterns. The sailor suit appears to be used for choir costumes in the German areas of Switzerland. Some of the Swiss choirs, reflecting the relatively stability of Switzerland and relative success in avoiding major European wars. Some information is available on individual Swiss choirs.


Aguilera, Gustavo. Fundaci�n COPPLA, eMail message, April 17, 2008.


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Created: 5:09 AM 11/20/2012
Last updated: 4:32 AM 9/14/2019