An Historical View
of the
Wiener Sängerknaben


Part III

The Story of the Saengerknaben
by Emily Z. Friedkin

Illustrious Members

The Choir's record and contribution to music is hardly less illustrious than its native city's Franz Schubert, whose songs are in their secular repertoire, and Haydn, composer of "The Apothecary," another of the operas they interpret so delightfully, were both choirboys. Schubert entered the convent of the Imperial Chapel at eleven, remaining until sixteen. He became the choir's soloist and first violinist of the choir orchestra. Here he learned the instrumental works of Haydn and Mozart and here he formed the habit of concentration which resulted in an extraordinary creativeness before his death at the age of thirty-one.

Haydn, the eldest of twenty children, the son of a poor rural wheelwright, was a typical choirboy. He, too, had to leave the convent at sixteen, when his voice "broke." Forced to support himself, he suffered want and discouragement, but then found the haven for his talent under the patronage of Prince Eszterhazy, on whose Hungarian estate he conducted and composed for thirty years.

Felix Mottl, one of the most beloved conductors of the Wagner Festivals at Bayreuth, was also a choirboy and Clemens Kraus, today enjoying popularity as a conductor in Vienna and Frankfurt and especially commended for his interpretation of Mahler, is another Saengerknaben alumnus.

To avoid the possible disaster of sending them back into their homes, or the struggles of a Haydn by sending them out into the world at sixteen, the boys now remain in the convent until they are eighteen and have completed their schooling. They leave the choir itself at about fifteen when their voices change. This is another tradition from which Father Schnitt broke away, although it entailed a serious economic problem which was never of any concern to the monarchs who hardly bothered with the boys after their usefulness in the choir ceased because of natural physical changes. And Father Schnitt manages on a budget of $20 a boy a month, covering all living and educational expenses. The school has increased from the original seventeen with which it was re-established in 1924, to forty, beyond which it is not planned to expand at any time.

You will see them, bright, clean, well-kept, bird-throated, and talented. They conjure many questions for eugenists and geneticists to ponder over. They will delight and amaze you. And leave you abashed, and inordinately joyous that this facet of monarchial Austria was not lost with the other crown jewels.

The programme:

S. Hurok Presents




Repleti sunt (for eight parts) ... J. Gallus (1505-91)
Omnes da Saba venient ... J. M. Asula (1545-1611)
The Virgin's Slumber Song ... Max Reger
God in Nature ... Franz Schubert



"Der Hausliche Krieg" by Franz Schubert
Especially Arranged for the Vienna Choir Boys
Entire Ensemble (in Costume)

Sophie, the daughter of the house, is engaged to marry a young army officer, Rudolf.  He has just returned from his post and Sophie plans a party to announce her betrothal that evening.  Sophie's mother and father bemoan the loss of their daughter but console themselves with the thought that they will grow young again in their grandchildren.

Rudolf sends his orderly, Johnnie, to his sweetheart's home with flowers.  Johnnie recognizes in Sophie's maid, Poldi, his childhood playmate and sweetheart.  Poldi, however, has developed a sentimental attachment for Eybler, music teacher to her mistress.  Eybler in turn is deeply in love with Sophie and has composed a song telling os his love for her.  Upon hearing the song, Sophie tells him of her betrothal to Rudolf.  Eybler is broken hearted.

In the meantime, Poldi comes to realize that her true love is her first love, Johnnie, and they express their new found happiness in a duet.  Eybler seeks consolation in composing the song "An der Musik."  The friends arrive and join in the merry-making of the happy couples.



German Dance ... Franz Schubert
Little Sandman ... Folksong
Madele, Ruck, Ruck, Ruck, Ruck ... Arr. Victor Gomboz
Tales from the Vienna Woods ... Johann Strauss

Dean ... Rector Josef Schnitt
Musical Director ... Victor Gomboz

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This page was last modified on 12 February 2005