Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

The Educational and Choral Tradition of the Vienna Boys’ Choir

Applicant: Musikwissenschaftliches Forschungszentrum Wiener Sängerknaben für den Verein; Prof. Gerald Wirth, Künstlerische Gesamtleitung, Präsident
Province: Vienna
Domain: Performing arts
Year of inclusion: 2017

The Vienna Boys’ Choir was established based on a decree issued by Emperor Maximilian in 1498. It was charged with performing music—above all sacred music—for the court. This original function is still fulfilled by the Vienna Boys’ Choir at Sunday morning mass at the Wiener Hofburgkapelle (the Vienna Court Chapel). The ca. 100 active Vienna Boys’ Choir members, aged between ten and fourteen, are divided into four choirs of approximately equal size, one of which consists of girls. Their artistic tradition is distinguished by a special kind of technical training and the passing on of their typical choir sound.

At the close of the 15th century, with the transfer of his court music establishment from Innsbruck to Vienna, Emperor Maximilian laid the cornerstone for the Vienna Boys’ Choir’s long tradition by explicitly requiring that a group of six boys be included among his musicians. And today, the choir that eventually grew out of the Imperial and Royal Court Boys’ Choir can look back upon an artistic tradition of boys’ singing that has been passed on for over 500 years. Their activities nowadays include vocal training, rehearsals, concerts, long and short tours, and special performances and engagements both in Austria and abroad. The boys (and now girls) develop the necessary technique over the course of their vocal training and in rehearsals. The better the individual members have mastered the techniques, the more they can contribute and the better the choir sounds overall. Each one of the four choirs is headed by a Kapellmeister, who rehearses the repertoire in daily rehearsals while furthering the children’s overall musical education. Alongside the choir’s private secondary school, a private primary school and upper-level secondary school—both of which are equally open to girls and feature an emphasis on vocal music—serve to prepare the children for membership in one of the choirs while also continuing to provide well-founded musical training to interested former choir members all the way up to their Matura [Austria’s academic school leaving exam]. The training of Boys’ Choir members is accompanied by rituals such as the presentation of uniforms to the élèves upon completion of the primary school’s fourth form as well as a solemn farewell ceremony upon their departure.