Fri, Mar 15, 2002 - Page 7 News List

A little bit of Vienna returns

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Vienna Boys Choir makes their ninth visit to Taipei this weekend.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FREDERIC CHOPIN FOUNDATION TAIPEI

Over the coming week, the world renowned little voices of the Vienna Boys Choir will be charming audiences across Taiwan, when the popular European choral ensemble makes a welcome return to concert halls in Taichung, Hsinchu and Taipei.

Twenty members of the 100-strong choir have made the trip to Taiwan this year, which it is hoped will prove as popular with local audiences as the group's previous eight visits. Aged between 10 and 14, the 100 youngsters of the Vienna Boys Choir are divided into four touring groups -- each of which gives roughly 300 performances annually.

Now revered the world over for the cherub-like innocence and angelic singing voices of its members, the roots of the Vienna Boys Choir were far less blissful.

It all began in the late 1400s with Emperor Maximilian I of Austria -- a chap who, along with conquering much of Central Europe by the sword and ensuring his foes were slaughtered in rather sadistic ways, also had a passion for music.

By the late 1400s Maximilian had not only found himself with a quite few extra acres of land on which to practice rituals common to 15th-century European blue-bloods such as the wanton slaughter of peasantry, but had also amassed a multitude of musicians. Many of whom were children.

The now renowned choir first took shape shortly after Maximilian moved his court from Innsbruck to Vienna in 1498. The Teutonic ruler gave specific instructions that six young boys were to be included in the ensemble that was to perform at his new royal dwellings in Vienna.

For over 400 hundred years the choir performed for the sole pleasure of the royal Austrian court. It was only after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire after World War I that the boy's choir began to perform in public concert halls.

Josef Schnitt, the dean of the imperial chapel and a shrewd businessman set about transforming the once private choir into an international phenomenon in the early 1920s. Making its international debut in Berlin in 1926, the choir has been warbling its way around the world for much of the past 80 years.

The group has long since shed the imperial yoke, that in days of yore meant the chorister's repertoire consisted of tunes solely befitting of the ruling classes, and the group now have a very wide ranging and liberal play lists.

Not that the choir has dropped traditional cloister music and its world-renowned Gregorian Chants from its repertoire. It still performs such music every Sunday at Vienna's Imperial Chapel as it has done since 1498, but in order to capture the hearts and minds of global audiences the choir has branched out.

In keeping with the times, the group's repertoire now includes polkas, waltzes, vaudeville, world music, some unique crossover projects which see the choir collaborating with artists and choreographers and even performing its own choral re-workings of popular chart music and Top Ten hits.

For its Taiwan performances, the Vienna Boys Choir will be performing a smorgasbord of material which includes works by Heinrich Schutz, Mozart and Schubert as well a selection of international folk songs, polkas and waltzes.

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