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The Vienna Boys' Choir (also The Vienna Choir Boys, German: Wiener Sängerknaben) is a choir of trebles and altos based in Vienna. It is one of the best known boys' choirs in the world. The boys are selected mainly from Austria, but also from many other countries.
The choir is a private, not-for-profit organization. There are approximately 100 choristers between the ages of ten and fourteen. The boys are divided into four touring choirs, named for Bruckner, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, which perform about 300 concerts each year before almost 500,000 people. Each group tours for about nine to eleven weeks.
The choir is the modern-day descendant of the boys' choirs from the Viennese Court, dating back to the late Middle Ages. The choir was, for practical purposes, established by a letter written by Maximilian I of Habsburg on 7 July 1498. In the letter the Emperor instructed court officials to employ a singing master, two basses and six boys. Jurij Slatkonja became the director of the ensemble. The role of the choir (numbering between fourteen and twenty) was to provide musical accompaniment to the church mass.
The boys received a solid musical education, which in most cases had a significant impact on the rest of their lives, as many went on to become professional musicians. The composers Jacobus Gallus and Franz Schubert, and the conductors Hans Richter, Felix Mottl, Georg Tintner and Clemens Krauss were members of the choir. Additionally, the Haydn brothers were members of the St. Stephen's Cathedral choir, directed at the time by Georg Reutter II who used this choir in his duties for the imperial court which at the time had no boy choristers of its own.
In 1920, the Hofkapelle (court orchestra) was disbanded. However, the rector at the time, Josef Schnitt, sought a continuation of the tradition. In 1924 the "Vienna Boys' Choir" was officially founded, and has evolved into a professional music group. The choir adopted the now-famous blue and white sailor suit, replacing the imperial military cadet uniform that included a dagger. The composer HK Gruber is one of the graduates of the reformed choir.
In 1961, Walt Disney filmed Almost Angels, a fictional drama about (and starring) the Vienna Boys' Choir, set and filmed in the Palais Augarten. It was Disney who, for cinematographic reasons, persuaded the Austrian government to allow the boys to legally wear the Austrian national emblem on the breast of their uniform, a tradition that continues to this day.
Gerald Wirth became the choir's artistic director in 2001. However, since the turn of the 20th to 21st century, the choir has come under pressure to modernize and has faced criticism of their musical standards leading to a split with the Vienna State Opera. The choir has for the first time had to advertise for recruits after a rival choir school was established by Ioan Holender, director of the opera company. He complained of both falling standards and of poor communication with the choir. He said that the State Opera sometimes trained boys for particular stage roles only to find out on the day of performance that they were unavailable as they had gone on tour with the choir. Some boys were attracted to the rival choir school by the prospect of a more relaxed atmosphere and of performance fees being paid directly to them. The Vienna Boys Choir has sought to update its image, recording pop music selections and adopting an alternative uniform to the sailor suits used since the 1920s, allowing the boys to dance as they sing. After Eugen Jesser died in May 2008, Walter Nettig.[clarification needed] Gerald Wirth is its present director.
In 2010, following sexual abuse allegations from two former choristers stemming from the late 1960s and early 1980s, the Vienna Boys' Choir opened a confidential phone and email hotline to allow others to come forward. Eight possible victims came forward saying they were abused, either by staff or other choirmembers.