From Mozart to Michael Jackson.
Boys have been singing at the court in Vienna since the 14th century. In 1498, more than half a millennium ago, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I moved his court and his court musicians to Vienna. He gave instructions that there were to be six singing boys among his musicians; the boys came from different parts of the Holy Roman Empire, from the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Austria. Historians have settled on 1498 as the foundation date of the Vienna Chapel Imperial (Hofmusikkapelle) and in consequence, the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Until 1918, the choir sang exclusively for the imperial court, at mass, concerts and private functions, and on state occasions.
Musicians like Heinrich Isaac, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Johann Joseph Fux, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Caldara, Antonio Salieri, Christoph Willibald Gluck, and Anton Bruckner worked with the choir. Composers Jacobus Gallus, and Franz Schubert were themselves choristers. Brothers Joseph Haydn and Michael Haydn, members of the choir of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and frequently sang with the imperial boys’ choir.
In 1918, after the breakdown of the Habsburg Empire, the Austrian government took over the court opera, its orchestra and the adult singers, but not the boys’ choir. Josef Schnitt, who became Dean of the Imperial Chapel in 1921, turned the Vienna Boys’ Choir into a private instituion.The former court choir boys became the Wiener Sängerknaben (Vienna Boys’ Choir); the imperial uniform was replaced by the sailor suit, then the height of boys’ fashion. There was not enough money to pay for the boys’ upkeep, and the choir started to give concerts outside of the chapel in 1926, performing motets, secular works, and - at the boys’ request – children’s operas. The impact was amazing. Within a year, the choir performed in Berlin (where Erich Kleiber conducted them), 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). Since 1926, the choir has clocked up close to 1000 tours in 100 different countries.