The Liedermeister & the Church

One of the most famous choral ensembles in the world is the Vienna Boys Choir. The group’s forerunner—the Wiener Hofmusikkapelle—was founded in 1498 to provide music for the imperial court of Maximilian I, especially for the music in Masses in the court chapel. The long-standing presence in Vienna of this corps of musicians receiving imperial patronage was not irrelevant to the fostering of the city’s rich musical life. Some of the greatest composers of the eighteenth century—those who shaped what came to be called the “Viennese Classical Style”—were not natives of Vienna, but they developed their aesthetic ways and means while living and working in Vienna.

Among the most noted migrant musical workers were Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, while lesser lights such as Gluck and Hummel also contributed to the city’s ability to attract young performers and—critically—to encourage the formation of discerning audiences. Musicologist and conductor Brian Newbould notes: “It was fortunate that all these composers converged on Vienna, for the richness of the city’s thus implanted culture was to be a boon to the only proponent of the Viennese Classical Style who was truly Viennese.”

That native son of Vienna was Franz Peter Schubert, born on January 31, 1797, and baptized into the Catholic faith the next day in the parish church at Lichtental. There he would receive his first musical training, which soon bore fruit. When Franz was seven years old, his father—recognizing his son’s musical abilities—sent him for an audition with one of the most prominent music teachers in the city, Antonio Salieri. An Italian immigrant who first came to Vienna when he was sixteen, Salieri had served as the Austrian imperial Kapellmeister since 1788.


Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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