The Wiener Hofmusikkapelle / Vienna Imperial Court Music Ensemble is one of the oldest institutions of its kind worldwide. Already under the reign of Friedrich III. (1415–1493) a church choir was established. On July 7, 1498, his successor, Maximilian I. (1459–1519), ordered the appointment of a conductor, two bass singers and six choir boys. This date is officially regarded as the ensemble’s hour of birth. Under the reign of Ferdinand I. (1503–1564) the majority of the ensemble was recruited from a region belonging to Belgium today, while under Ferdinand II. (1578–1637) Italian musicians were predominant. The Vienna Court Music Ensemble experienced its zenith under the rule of the composing emperors Ferdinand III. (1608–1657), Leopold I. (1640–1705), Joseph I. (1678–1711) and Karl VI. (1685–1740). Maria Theresia (1717–1780) and Joseph II. (1741–1790) reduced the ensemble’s performances to sacral music. Beethoven’s mentor Antonio Salieri was the last court conductor of Italian style. In the 19th century, the ensemble’s most famous members were Franz Schubert, who sang in the boys’ choir, Anton Bruckner, who was organist at court between 1878 and 1892, and the conductor Hans Richter, who was also musical director of the ensemble between 1893 and 1900. After the end of World War I, the ensemble was integrated into the Ministry of Education. From 2014 until beginning 2020 it was part of the Austrian Federal Chancellery, since the end of January 2020 it has become a department of the Ministery for the Arts, Culture, public services and sports. Many outstanding musicians contributed to the ensemble’s growing popularity in the 20th century: the conductors Franz Schalk and Clemens Krauss; Josef Krips and the choir educators Ferdinand Grossmann and Hans Gillesberger. The internationally acclaimed conductor Riccardo Muti became the first honorary member of the Vienna Court Music Ensemble.
The Vienna Court Music Ensemble consists of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, which developed out of the original chapel choir, members of the Vienna State Opera men’s choir and members of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra (most of which are also members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra). The ensemble’s repertoire covers sacred music from the Baroque until today and focuses especially on the famous masses of Viennese Classicism — Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert — up to Bruckner. The changing parts of the Holy Mass are sung in plainchant by the “Choralschola der Wiener Hofburgkapelle”, a group of former members of the Vienna Boys’ Choir. The ensemble’s organists as well as the ensemble’s musical director, Erwin Ortner, are all internationally renowned musicians and sought-after lecturers at national and international universities.