The choir is a private, not-for-profit organization. There are approximately 100 choristers between the ages of ten and fourteen. The boys are divided into four touring choirs, named after Austrian composers Bruckner, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, which combined perform about 300 concerts each year before almost 500,000 people. Each group tours for about nine to eleven weeks. Some pieces include "Good Morning" and "Merry Christmas from Vienna Boys".
The choir is the modern-day descendant of the boys' choirs of the Viennese Court, dating back to the late Middle Ages. The choir was, for practical purposes, established by a letter from Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg on 30 June 1498, instructing court officials to employ a singing master, two basses and six boys. Jurij Slatkonja became the director of the ensemble. The role of the choir (numbering between 24 and 26) was to provide musical accompaniment for the church mass. Additionally, the Haydn brothers were members of the St. Stephen's Cathedral choir, directed at the time by Georg Reutter II, who used this choir in his duties for the imperial court, which at the time had no boy choristers of its own.
In 1920, following the fall of the Austrian Empire, the Hofkapelle (court orchestra) was disbanded. However, the rector at the time, Josef Schnitt, sought a continuation of the tradition. In 1924, the Vienna Boys' Choir was officially founded, and it has evolved into a professional music group. The choir adopted the now-famous blue and white sailor suit, replacing the imperial military cadet uniform that included a dagger. The composer HK Gruber is one of the graduates of the reformed choir.
In 1961, Walt Disney filmed Almost Angels, a fictional drama about (and starring) the Vienna Boys' Choir, set and filmed in the Palais Augarten. It was Disney who, for cinematographic reasons, persuaded the Austrian government to allow the boys to legally wear the Austrian national emblem on the breast of their uniform, a tradition that continues to this day.
Gerald Wirth became the choir's artistic director in 2001. However, since then, the choir has come under pressure to modernize and has faced criticism of their musical standards, leading to a split with the Vienna State Opera. The choir has for the first time had to advertise for recruits after a rival choir school was established by Ioan Holender, director of the opera company. He complained of both falling standards and poor communication with the choir. He said that the State Opera sometimes trained boys for particular stage roles, only to find out on the day of performance that they were unavailable as they had gone on tour with the choir. Some boys were attracted to the rival choir school by the prospect of a more relaxed atmosphere and of performance fees being paid directly to them.