On Nov. 20, Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts will host the world-renowned Vienna Boys Choir for a holiday concert featuring famous waltzes, medieval chant, classical masterpieces and folk songs from around the world.
Founded by Emperor Maximilian I in 1498, no group of child musicians has won more notoriety than the incomparable Vienna Boys Choir. Six centuries later, the choir continues to delight music-lovers across the globe with their purity of tone, distinctive charm and a diverse, crowd pleasing repertoire. Gifted musicians with voices of unforgettable beauty, they carry on the Vienna Boys Choir’s illustrious tradition as the world’s preeminent boy choir.
“This performance will truly be a treat for all who attend,” said Norton Center Executive Director Steve Hoffman. “It’s also a wonderful holiday concert for families with children of any age and a great stepping-stone to exposing young people to classical music. With a special children’s ticket price, we hope people will incorporate the Vienna Boys Choir into their holiday outings this season.”
Historians have settled on 1498 as the foundation date of the Vienna Hofmusikkapelle (the official court orchestra, designated by Emperor Maximilian I) and — in consequence — the Vienna Boys Choir. Until 1918, the choir sang exclusively for the imperial court, at mass, at private concerts and functions, and on state occasions. Musicians like Heinrich Isaac, Paul Hofhaimer, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Johann Joseph Fux, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Caldara, Antonio Salieri and Anton Bruckner worked with the choir. Composers Jacobus Gallus and Franz Schubert, and the conductors Hans Richter, Felix Mottl and Clemens Krauss were themselves choristers. Brothers Joseph and Michael Haydn were 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. The Vienna Boys Choir owes its survival to the initiative of Josef Schnitt, who became Dean of the Imperial Chapel in 1921. Schnitt established the boys’ choir as a private institution: 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. But funding was not enough to pay for the boys’ upkeep, and in 1926 the choir started to give concerts outside of the chapel, 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 and then Spain, France, Denmark, Norway and Sweden (1929), the United States (1932), Australia (1934) and South America (1936).
In addition to the mainstage Vienna Boys Choir concert, the Norton Center will partner with the Danville Children’s Choir for a pre-performance concert in the lobby at approximately 3 p.m. Nov. 20.
After a five-year hiatus, the Danville Children’s Choir, originally formed in 1990 by Bruce Richardson, was re-established under the direction of conductor Meg Stohlmann and accompanist/assistant conductor Daniel Wesley earlier this year.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to sing for Norton Center patrons and for the opportunity to attend a concert by the Vienna Boys Choir,” Stohlmann said. “I know this experience will inspire our students in their own performances and push them to grow as young artists. The opportunity to sing for this audience will hopefully shed more light on what we are doing right here in Danville and encourage more children and families to join our program in the near future!”
The Vienna Boys Choir concert begins at 4 p.m. in Newlin Hall. Tickets, ranging from $30-$45, are on sale now and can be purchased on the web at www.NortonCenter.com or by calling the box office at (859) 236-4692. A special ticket price of $15 is available for children 18 and under.
Vienna Choir Boys will perform Nov. 20 at Norton Center for the Arts
Vienna Choir Boys (Photo contributed / November 14, 2011)