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Monday, Nov. 23, 2009

Vienna Boys Choir Comes to South Milwaukee

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Classical Music trivia questions: What do composers Mozart, Caldara, Biber, Salieri and Bruckner have in common? Or: What do composer Franz Schubert and conductors Hans Richter, Felix Mottl and Clemens Krauss share in common? There’s but one direct link between these otherwise disparate musical talents: The first group all worked closely with the Vienna Boys Choir during their careers, and the second group once all sang with it as young men. As prestigious as this may make the Vienna Boys Choir seem, their history goes even further.

Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire founded the Choir in 1498, when he ruled that six boys should be appended to his court musicians. From that humble beginning, the Vienna Boys Choir can trace a continuous existence to the present day. Until 1918 the Choir only sang for the imperial court, in cathedrals or for official state functions. Upon the post-World War I disintegration of the Habsburg monarchy, the Vienna Boys Choir found itself lacking financial support. Thus, by 1926 they took their angelic voices onto public concert tours from which they have never ceased.

Today, the hundred 10- to 14-year-old members of the Vienna Boys Choir are routinely divided into four traveling choral groups, one of which arrives in South Milwaukee for a holiday-flavored concert Nov. 27. The opening act, however, comprises the unofficial public debut of Milwaukee’s own Bel Canto Boy Choir, a new ensemble led by Ellen Shuler and formed under the auspices of the Bel Canto Chorus.

The works on the Vienna Boys Choir program encompass the group’s Austro-German roots, traditional Christmas hymns and carols from around the world, as well as popular songs from stage and screen. Pieces that emphasize the Vienna Boys Choir’s long tradition include Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (15th century), Mozart’s Laudate Dominum (1780), Verdi’s Laudi alla Vergine Maria (1898), Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 (1865) and Johann Strauss’ Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, Op. 214 (1858), with lyrics specifically penned for the Vienna Boys Choir by Rosl Hujer. Christmas carols and hymns dominate the second portion of the program with works from France, Austria, Italy and Germany, as well as the classics “Silver Bells” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

At the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center on Nov. 27.

The Austrian capital also takes center stage in the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra’s holiday concert—“Viennese Christmas.” The WSO with the choirs of Brookfield Central, Kettle Moraine and Oconomowoc high schools perform Strauss’ immortal waltz On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314, the Toy Symphony (of disputed pedigree), excerpts from Engelbert Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera Hnsel und Gretel and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, as well as selections from The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

This concert takes place at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield on Dec. 6.