“Castration for music” was practiced primarily by the Italians. Under the Roman Catholic Church’s Canon Law castration was prohibited; it was considered to be mutilation and its practice resulted in ex-communication. Unofficially, however, the Church supported “castration for music.” For one simple reason: it made their choirs better, especially since women were banned from choirs.
The choirs were important, for they sang the music that praised and glorified God.
So the practice continued, with as many as 4000 to 5000 boys per year undergoing the bloody ministrations of the knife. Most of these were from destitute families, and were sold by their parents to a singing master. In most cases, they were not asked if they desired to be castrated. There was no choice. They just were.
At the end of the eighteenth century, castrati lost their appeal to the masses. Musical tastes were changing, and mutilation by castration came to be considered obscene as well as cruel. In 1870 the Italian government outlawed deliberate mutilation of another human being. And Pope Leo the XIII banned the use of castrati in church choirs.
Farinelli, aka Carlo Boschi, the exception to the rule in many ways, was not poor. He was born into a musical Italian family; his father was the governor of Maratea and Cisternino. His father decided the boy’s voice was too pure and precious to suffer the stain of hormones, so a plan was concocted. Supposedly Carlo fell while riding his horse. His testicles were crushed in the fall, and castration had to be performed for medical reasons.