When I tell someone who doesn’t live in Austria that I sing in a choir, I always get a certain reaction: »That’s so Austrian!« or »That’s so cliche!«. So I sat down and wondered, why is it a stereotype to sing if you are Austrian?
How to embrace an Austrian cliché
I didn’t have to do a lot of research to understand where this cliché is coming from: »The Sound of Music«. I actually really like the movie and I love Julie Andrews’ performance. However, this musical is not well-liked by most Austrians because it depicts a wrong idea of Austrian people and culture. We don’t were dirndl and lederhosen all the time and we surely don’t suddenly start singing. Okay, maybe I do. I actually do sing a lot. And my friends from choir do so as well. Maybe Austrians do sing quite often. Anyway, I do think it is time to give the stereotype of the singing Austrian a background check.
According to Austria’s Choir Association there are approximately 3.500 choirs in Austria with around 100.000 choristers, hobby choirs not included. For a small country with a population of about 8.9 million people that’s still a lot. Austria’s Choir Association exist since more than 70 years but the history of choirs in Austria started way earlier than that.
The most famous boys’ choir in the world started in the 15th century in Vienna. When Emperor Maximilian I. installed an orchestra for his court, he needed a choir as well. That was the birth hour of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the best-known boys’ choir in the world. Starting with only six boys, the choir grew to have approximately 100 young choristers today.
For their education, the 10 to 14-year olds have to go to school of course. Luckily, they have their own boarding school and concert hall. On top of that, the Vienna Boys’ Choir goes on tour every year in summertime and gives concerts dressed in their lovely sailor uniforms.
Another accomplishment of a choir had contributed to the most popular waltz ever. If you think of a waltz, you probably think of the melody of »The Blue Danube«, composed in Vienna by the king of waltz, Johann Strauss II. What only a few people know, is that the piece was commissioned by the Vienna Men’s Choir Association, in order for the waltz to be sang during carnival 1866. The original lyric of that masterpiece was mocking the disastrous outcome for Austria in the latest battle against Germany (Königsgrätz 1866)
Believe it or not, the most famous classical melodies of our time was not at all written for any dancing purposes, but was meant to be kind of a joke.
Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart
Talking of classical music, I should mention Vienna’s period that defined the world’s music capital city. The late 18th and early 19th century had seen some musical geniuses, who all lived in Austria, almost at the same time. Think about Franz Schubert and his contribution to the singing history with his own version of a »Lied« (Germ. Song), or Beethoven, who himself reached many accomplishments when it comes to the art of singing. Beethoven included for the first time in history voices, soloists and a choir in a symphony. He managed to combine both musical artforms in his 9th Symphony, which still holds the record nowadays as the most performed symphony worldwide.
Since we are on it, we cannot leave a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart unmentioned. Although he did not invent opera music per se, Mozart contributed a great deal to this genre especially for it to be in German language as well. Back in the 18th Century Italian was the lingua franca of opera plays. Mozart however dared to write some of his masterpieces in German, as for example the fantastic Singspiel »The Magic Flute«. The Singspiel is a genre of opera in which spoken dialogues alternate to singing parts and it can somehow be considered an early form of musicals.
Embrace the stereotype
Speaking of musicals, I’d like to mention my favourite Austrian musical: »Elisabeth«. The musical portrays the life of Empress Elisabeth, better known as Sisi. I have to admit, this musical is again a very stereotypical one, showing singing empresses, performances of the Vienna Boys’ Choir and a romanticized longing to a long-lost Austrian Empire. Well, that reminds me of another musical… what was it again? Oh yes! »The sound of music« again! Though the singing empress is a singing nun, and the singing kids are not a boys’ choir but a family one.
Summing it up, I think Austria has such a large history of singing that I myself would consider singing to be a part of Austria’s culture. And I haven’t even mentioned all the other music genres, for example the folkloric ones with yodeling as a part of it, or Austria’s pop music with the singers Falco, Udo Jürgens and Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst.
Even if that is indeed a big stereotype, the fact that Austrian love to sing is somewhat true. So maybe we, as Austrians, should embrace this cliché and just take it as a compliment. I know it is easy for me to say so, because I really do love singing. But maybe I am not the only one!
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