Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Boys’ Choirs

Boys' choirs and historical performance practice

Johan van Veen wrote (September 6, 2003):
The latest issue of the German magazine "toccata/Alte Musik Aktuell" contains some interesting contributions. There is a lengthy article under the title "Boys' choirs and historical performance practice" which is basically an overview of recordings with boys' choirs and period instruments. In addition conductors of boys' choirs are interviewed about the combination of boys' voices and period instruments: Jörg Breiding (Knabenchor Hannover), Roland Büchner (Regensburger Domspatzen), Roderich Kreile (Dresdner Kreuzchor), Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden (Tölzer Knabenchor), Georg Christoph Biller (Thomanerchor Leipzig) and Gerald Wirth (Wiener Sängerknaben). There is also an interview with Karl-Friedrich Behringer (Windsbacher Knabenchor) about his first experiences in this field, with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. The magazine also contains concert reviews about performances by the Choralschola of the Wiener Hofburgkapelle and the performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) by the Windsbacher Knabenchor and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

 

Herreweghe and boys choirs

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 24, 2006):
I just stumbled on an interesting interview with Herreweghe done for La Scene Musicale in 1997. It's not very long and does not deal with many issues at depth, although it does explain his brood of orchestras. One point was interesting to me however. In some of the commentaries on Amazon and I believe in some of the posts found in the archives of our list it's noted that Herreweghe got his start as a chorister and led the boy's choirs employed by Leonhardt and Harnoncourt. It is also noted that Herreweghe decided the practice was best abandoned because either 18th century boys themselves were fundamentally different "instruments" or modern factors made boys choirs impractical. Unless Herreweghe is employing some humor below, it does appear that he thinks the demise of the boys choir is due to very modern conditions:

One of the problems we encountered was the disappearance of boys' choirs such as Gustav Leonhardt and I used for the Bach cantatas on Telefunken. In the old days no one had cars, so boys went to church on Sunday and learned to sing. Today families spend the weekend at the beach and there are no more boys' choirs, so we have to use a mixed choir.

Those interested can read more at: http://www.scena.org/lsm/sm3-3/sm3-3herreweghe-en.html .

Johann van Veen wrote (April 24, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] I don't really understand the logic of the reasoning here. If asked about the 'raison d'être' of using period instruments he all of a sudden talks about the use of boys' choirs. It seems as if some lines from the interview have disappeared.

Anyway, he certainly has a point: it is difficult to keep boys' choirs alive, and modern life style has certainly something to do with it, as has been argued regularly in a mailing list devoted to boys' choirs (Voices_of_Angels@yahoogroups.com). There are so many things young boys are able to do, like playing computer games and sports, that the choice to sing isn't the most obvious thing. And then there is the peer pressure: it isn't very 'cool' to sing, being a 'girlish' thing. Some choirs have tried to solve the problem of a lack of boys by inviting girls into the choir. The result is that even less boys are willing to join the choir, and even some of the members are leaving. Singing is something for which one has to defend himself, and singing alongside girls seems absolutely 'not done'.

And how many children receive good music lessons at school? I don't know about the situation elsewhere, but in my country that is dramatic. So where would the incentive to sing come from?

I have to add, though, that Philippe Herreweghe is wrong in suggesting there are no boys' choirs available anymore to sing Bach. The Tölzer Knabenchor, for instance, is first-rate, and as its members are trained to sing solo, I don't see why even an OVPP performance with boys and men from that choir should be inconceivable.

I suspect that some conductors who claim there are no boys good enough to sing Bach et al - Herreweghe is but one example, Paul McCreesh another - just don't like boys' voices very much. That's their right, of course, but they should say so. I only believe them when I would be convinced that they have tried really hard to find a good boys' choir, but so far I don't believe they have. That makes those remarks about the demise of boys' choirs a little cheap and - for me - utterly unconvincing.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 24, 2006):
Johan van Veen wrote:
< I suspect that some conductors who claim there are no boys good enough to sing Bach et al - Herreweghe is but one example, Paul McCreesh another - just don't like boys' voices very much. That's their right, of course, but they should say so. I only believe them when I would be convinced that they have tried really hard to find a good boys' choir, but so far I don't believe they have. That makes those remarks about the demise of boys' choirs a little cheap and - for me - utterly unconvincing. >
I've even heard it argued that it is better to use women's voices because they can sound more authentic! It's purely a financial production problem. There are only a few boys choirs in the world who regularly have Bach in their repertoire: the Tolzer and King's College Cambridge are perhaps the best known. That makes it almost impossible to find a choir unless it's a visiting ensemble.

Boys require a long time to learn the music, can't do endless rehearsals and need to be in bed when most modern concerts are only half-finished. It's so much easier to have adult women on the soprano line and counter-tenors on the alto. They don't need so many bathroom breaks nor do they need to blow off steam every two hours. Nor do they delight in rearranging recording cables.

It is also said that modern boys don't have the stamina for Bach. That's only because our modern concert sequence is so foreign to Bach's liturgical context. His singers had a 1-2 hour hour break in the middle of the Passions -- the sermon! The Mass in B Minor was a liturgical work and was never intended to be performed seriatim with only one intermission. There are few more grotestque musical practices than to hear the Sanctus follow immediately on the Credo.

I wish the HIP devotees would turn their ire on the Romantic concert hall protocols which distort our perceptions of Bach's choral music.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 24, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] I don't mean to be antagonistic, but I just disagree with Doug. IMO --
1) The b in concert setting works beautifully. That it's not what Bach heard is a musicological, not musical, issue. For my part, I listen to and perform music for and as music.
2) Boy sopranos and male altos are no doubt musicologically correct. But as music, I strongly prefer the depth and warmth of adult female voices. Listen, for example, to the Vienna Academy Chamber Choir doing Scherchan's 1957 Messiah. The altos' incredibly open and warm low B in the opening Amen is, in itself, a life-altering experience male voices could never approach.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 24, 2006):
Robert Sherman wrote:
< I don't mean to be antagonistic, but I just disagree with Doug. IMO --
1) The b in concert setting works beautifully. That it's not what Bach heard is a musicological, not musical, issue. For my part, I listen to and perform music for and as music. >
I find Bob's statement that he listens to and performs music for and as music and not for and as an exercise in musicology to be refreshingly to the point. I am not thereby implying that the other view is off-base in any way. I don't find such perspectives ever antagonistic.

If one admits that one enjoys old music played or sung in a certain way, which is the reason that most of humanity listens to music, to have an aesthetic experience, that is different from offering a scholarly treatise. Now a scholarly treatise is very appreciated and, WHEN it results in an aesthetically appealing presentation of the music, that is smashing.

< 2) Boy sopranos and male altos are no doubt musicologically correct. But as music, I strongly prefer the depth and warmth of adult female voices. Listen, for example, to the Vienna Academy Chamber Choir doing Scherchan's 1957 Messiah. The altos' incredibly open and warm low B in the opening Amen is, in itself, a life-altering experience male voices could never approach. >
I do wonder why, Bob, you state male altos. Are counter-tenors any more accurate in Bach than women? Are boy choirs or male choirs supposed to be in Händel now?

I find often that superb boy choirs can indeed be superb. It is rare that the soloists can.

I was reading the other night Teri Noel Towe's article here on the Johannes-Passion and was glad to see how highly he ranks the Gillesberger(-Harnoncourt).

As to the 1957 Messiah, I guess that is the one in the oversized leatherette Westminster LP set which I used to have. I currently have on CDs only the 1953. Most Messiahs I have listened to of late don't hold my attention that much.I don't know why.

Santu de Silva wrote (April 24, 2006):
Yoël L. Arbeitmanasks:

>>> ... I do wonder why, Bob, you state male altos. Are counter-tenors any more accurate in Bach than women? Are boy choirs or male choirs supposed to be in Händel now?
I find often that superb boy choirs can indeed be superb. It is rare that the soloists can. >>>
I was fooling around with different recordings of Messiah over the winter break, and one of the most satisfying recordings was by Trevot Pinnock / English Concert, with, I believe, a boy's choir. Pinnock's closing Amen was the best of all the recordings I own (from Mormon Tabernacle to Leonard Bernstein to Colin Davis to Royal Philharmonic/Beecham to whomever. There appears to be no worrying about authenticity there, though Pinnock's orchestra usually uses Baroque-style instruments.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 24, 2006):
Scherchen 1957 Messiah, (was: Herreweghe and boys choirs)

[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Yoel, being no scholar I presumed male altos to be "musicologically correct" because I couldn't see any other reason for their use. If I'm wrong, I happily accept the correction.

Regarding Scherchen's Messiahs, I regard the 1954 mono recording as in general far superior to the 1957 stereo. The 1954 was the first to use Händel's original score (with modern instruments) and demonstrated how superior that is to the Mozart-polluted version then in common use. George Eskdale's trumpeting in particular has stood the test of time quite well.

Regarding the 1957, the chorus and two of the soloists are not native English speakers and it shows. In general, this is not a very good recording. BUT BUT BUT "Amen" is the same in German as English, and the choir there is the best anywhere. Whether you're obsessive enough to want to buy a recording for one section is up to you. For those who are: It was originally issued in a reasonably good 4-disk set with gold lettering (as opposed to red on the 1954) and the white leatherette cover which is too big to fit in most record slots. It was then re-issued in a 3-disk set with standard packaging and such hideous pressing quality that nobody should buy it. Now you can get it on CD and the transfer is good.

As a cure for Messiah-boredom, I recommend the Westenburg recording.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 24, 2006):
Händel and Bach's choirs

Santu de Silva wrote:
< I was fooling around with different recordings of Messiah over the winter break, and one of the most satisfying recordings was by Trevot Pinnock / English Concert, with, I believe, a boy's choir. Pinnock's closing Amen was the best of all the recordings I own (from Mormon Tabernacle to Leonard Bernstein to Colin Davis to Royal Philharmonic/Beecham to whomever. There appears to be no worrying about authenticity there, though Pinnock's orchestra usually uses Baroque-style instruments. >
We should remember that Händel's choir was very different than Bach's. Händel used a large number of boys on the soprano line with several counter-tenors on the alto line. In the oratorios, the female soprano and alto soloists sang with the boys in the choruses.

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 25, 2006):
[To Robert Sherman] We had a pretty long thread a few months back on mezzo and counter tenors. There doesn't seem to be any final determination concerning adult male altos being "musicologically correct." Some of the period conductors use them all of the time (Suzuki, Leusink and naturally Harnoncourt); some use them sometimes (Gardiner) and some almost never (Koopman). I certainly agree with you that for most people at most times (myself included) the female voice has no equal. I've often wondered how Leusink would have fared if he had employed a mezzo - better than he did I bet.

I know I beat this horse over much, but I do not want to imply that I think music makers should be guided by antiquarian considerations. Bach is so rich that skilled artists can approach the master in a myriad of ways and I'm delighted that they do. I would just like some conductors to try to use boys - even if only once in a decade. (When's the last time a boy soloist has appeared on a Bach CD? A long time.) The fact that Bach used them is reason enough. Whether boy soloists sound good I think is in the ear of the beholder. We aren't comparing "apples and oranges here." Comparing a professional adult female soprano or mezzo with a boy soprano or boy alto is like comparing a tuba with an oboe. They really don't sound alike at all. I still listen to something from the old Harnoncourt series maybe five times a week and am perfectly willing to put up with the clinkers for those moments when the boys hit their notes. There's nothing like it.

My solution for Messiah fatigue is simple: McCreesh. The guy does lead with his chin and he was in an aggressive mood when he made his Messiah. So it's certainly different. OVPP, very rapid tempos (usually, except when it's slower than Klemperer) etc. Also has some of the best engineering I've heard. I'm not an OVPP convert, and I like boys at least in choirs. Nevertheless, McCreesh does no wrong in my book. Really can't figure it. (Still would take Hogwood's Messiah to the desert island. He uses boys natch.)

Santu de Silva wrote (April 26, 2006):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>> We should remember that Händel's choir was very different than Bach's. Händel used a large number of boys on the soprano line with several counter-tenors on the alto line. In the oratorios, the female soprano and alto soloists sang with the boys in the choruses. >>>
Wow; I'm so cut off from Händel authenticity issues. Where did you learn this?

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 27, 2006):
[To Santu de Silva] I've got a Cleobury King's Choir - Roy Goodman DVD of the Messiah and this pretty well describes how things are set up. The trebles and older boys sound great. I checked the liner notes for McCreesh: he uses five soloists and 21 adults in the chorus: rather smaller forces than Cleobury at any rate.

 

Vivaldi voices - Girls vs. Boys [HANDEL-L]

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 26, 2006):
Jill Gunsell wrote:
Vivaldi voices

Most interesting radio programme a few days ago about a project by the Jerwood/OAE Experience, working with sop. Catherine Bott, singing Vivaldi with an all woman choir including baritones and basses, in the Pieta in Venice. They're going to do more, and record some stuff for release in due coure.

Jerwood/OAE site: http://www.oae.co.uk/standard.asp?ID=17

BraLehman wrote (April 26, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] Nifty! There could also be an all-female production of Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" also, for similar reasons of its provenance. (See especially Ellen Harris's book, IIRC....) Even the role of Aeneas never goes below the D in the middle of the bass staff.

 

Choral Evensong with Bach BWV 230 BWV 550 and Schütz

Chris Stanley wrote (April 27, 2006):
BBC Radio 3 Live and then on Listen Again for a week: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/choralevensong/pip/oqlsi/

Choral Evensong, May 3rd, 16.00 BST Kings College Cambridge

Introit: Surrexit Christus hodie, Scheidt
Responses: Ayleward
Psalm: 18, Ouseley, Goss, SS Wesley
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 6 vv1-9, 20-24
German Magnificat, Schütz
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2 vv1-10
Nunc Dimittis, Schütz
Anthem: Lobet den Herrn, BWV 230, Bach
Final Hymn: Christ the Lord is Risen Again, Würtenburg
Organ Voluntary: Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 550, Bach

Stephen Cleobury (director)
Tom Winpenny (organ)

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 27, 2006):
[To Chris Stanley] Although Anglican Evensong differs somewhat from Lutheran Vespers in its derivation from Catholic Vespers, this broadcast will give quite a good idea of what Vespers was like in St. Thomas, Leipzig, under Bach.

Germane to our recent discussion of choirs -- King's College Choir, Cambridge, is one of the greatest men and boys choirs in the world. They sing services every day and live in a residential school not unlike St. Thomas School.

This is the calibre of singing which I'm convinced Bach expected and received as Cantor of St. Thomas. Note also the particular ethos of the music when all the performers are male.

 

Kicking Choirboys at the the World Cup

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 16, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< In comparing Bach's Thomanerchor with the Chicago Cubs, Brad has demonstrated the extent to which OVPP supporters will go in order to support a failing theory. >
True ... It appears that the Regensburger choirboys' team beat the Thomaner football team this year ...

Domspatzen gewinnen Fußballmeisterschaft in Leipzig am Samstagvormittag - Bewegende Motette am Freitagabend in der Thomaskirche

Hart, aber fair, so berichtete Domkapellmeister Roland Büchner über Handy nach Regensburg sei der Fußballwettbewerb der Knabenchöre am Samstagvormittag auf dem Querbahnsteig des Leipziger Hbfs über die Bühne gegangen. Während die Knabenstimmen des Dresdner Kreuzchores wegen einer chorischen Verpflichtung kurzfristig absagen mussten und durch die Domspatzen-2-Mannschaft ersetzt wurden, waren bei den Männerstimmen alle anwesenden Chöre (
Thomanerchor Leipzig, Dresdner Kreuzchor, Windsbacher Knabenchor, Poznaner Knabenchor, Regensburger Domspatzen) vertreten. In der Knabenstimmen-Wertung siegten die Domspatzen, in der Männerstimmen-Wertung der Thomanerchor Leipzig. Gesamtsieger nach Punkten wurden die Regensburger Domspatzen. Für Domkapellmeister Roland Büchner war aber die gemeinsame Motette der fünf Knabenchöre am Freitag, 28.4., um 18 Uhr in der Leipziger Thomaskirche besonders bewegend und der musikalische und geistliche Höhepunkt des Treffens der Chöre.

Hier der Bericht von dpa/lby: Leipzig/Regensburg/Windsbach (dpa/lby) - Fünf der berühmtesten Knabenchöre Europas haben sich am Samstag mit einem Fußball-Turnier im Leipziger Hauptbahnhof auf die bevorstehende WM eingestimmt. In der Kategorie «Vor dem Stimmbruch» beherrschten die Domspatzen aus Regensburg das runde Leder am besten. Platz zwei belegte der Leipziger
Thomanerchor. Bei den Mannschaften «Nach dem Stimmbruch» erkämpften sich die Thomaner vor dem Knabenchor aus Windsbach den Pokal. Gesamtsieger wurde Regensburg.

Hier ein weiterer Bericht der Leipziger Volkszeitung: Kickende Knabenchöre stimmen sich auf Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft ein

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 16, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] http://www.domspatzen.de/
See this link for a similar edition of the story in German.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 16, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>It appears that the Regensburger choirboys' team beat the Thomaner football team this year ...<<
Obviously a sign of our times that has nothing to do with the Thomaner under Bach's direction. They were not allowed to leave Leipzig during the school year nor even to stay away from school over night without very special permission. On one occasion, Bach was chastised for having the Thomaner perform music outside of Leipzig. They also were not allowed to sing Bach's music in the Coffee houses of Leipzig. Just imagine how Rector Ernesti might have feared losing his position at the school if he had condoned athletic competition with teams from other schools in Leipzig let alone from other cities or towns!

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 16, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Obviously a sign of our times that has nothing to do with the Thomaner under Bach's direction. >
It's clear that the Thomaner team's problems started with Bach. First, he wouldn't let them rehearse his music, then he wouldn't let them practice football. They've been in a 250 year slump. And now look what happens! A Catholic choir beats the Lutherans!

Solo: Gib mir einen T!
Chor: T!
Solo: Gib mir einen H!
Chor: H!

usw.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 16, 2006):
< It appears that the Regensburger choirboys' team beat the Thomaner football team this year ...
Domspatzen gewinnen Fußballmeisterschaft in
Leipzig am Samstagvormittag - Bewegende Motette am Freitagabend in der Thomaskirche >
Presumably these football/soccer ensembles each understand the rules of the game in putting no more than 11 players onto the field: one per position. If they could put in (say) eight extra forwards for an overwhelming offensive attack, or have three or four boys all playing goalkeeper at once (working shoulder to shoulder), it would go against the basic principles of soccer and be some different game.
http://www.fifa.com

 

Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Boys’ Choirs | Modern Choir Schools

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ıAugust 19, 2007 ı00:22:26