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The Lied Center for Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will present the Vienna Boys Choir at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13.
The group of 25 boys performs a wide variety of traditional and world music, backed by more than 500 years of Viennese tradition.
Boys have been singing at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor since the early 15th century. In 1498, 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. Historians have settled on 1498 as the foundation date of the Vienna Hofmusikkapelle 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.
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 Sangerknaben (Vienna Boys Choir), the imperial uniform was replaced by the sailor suit, then the height of boys' fashion. 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, 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).
Today there are around 100 choristers between the ages of 10 and 14, divided into four touring choirs. The four choirs give around 300 concerts and performances each year in front of almost half a million people. Each group spends nine to 11 weeks of the school year on tour. They visit virtually all European countries, and they are frequent guests in Asia, Australia and the Americas.
The choir's repertoire includes everything from medieval to contemporary and experimental music. Motets and lieder for boys' choir form the core of the touring repertoire, as do the choir's own arrangements of quintessentially Viennese music, waltzes and polkas by Lehar, Lanner and Strauss.
Since the 1920s, the choir has collected music from around the world. One of the choir's goals is to introduce the boys to as many different styles of music as possible.
The choir has commissioned a number of world music projects. As Gerald Wirth, artistic director of the Vienna Boys Choir, explained, "We do not claim to play 'authentic' world music; we create something from the original sources that is our own." The choir is working on a project with musicians from several North American Indian nations.
A pre-show performance talk will be given at 7 p.m. in the Lied's Steinhart Room by Burton Schernikau, director of the Lincoln Boys Choir.