The Sound of Music

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The Sound of Music

The longest running Broadway musical of the early 1960s, The Sound of Music marked the last collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960), just before Hammerstein's death from cancer. Basedpartially on Maria Von Trapp's autobiography, The Trapp Family Singers, and partially on a German film, Die Trapp Familie, the show was written for Mary Martin, who had already appeared as Nellie in Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical South Pacific. Like many other Rodgers and Hammerstein productions, The Sound of Music included a remarkable number of popular songs: "The Sound of Music," "My Favorite Things," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," "Do-Re-Mi," and "Edelweiss."

The setting for The Sound of Music is Salzburg, Austria, where Maria, a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey, is too free-spirited to accept the discipline of the order easily and frequently escapes to the mountains. Thus, the Mother Abbess arranges for Maria to work as a governess for the wealthy, aristocratic Captain George Von Trapp—a widower with seven children. By adding music and outdoor expeditions to the children's normally rigorous schedule, Maria wins the children's hearts. Although Captain Von Trapp is engaged to the elegant socialite, Elsa Schraeder, through the course of the play he falls in love with Maria and eventually marries her. But it is 1938, and the Von Trapp's married life is quickly disrupted by Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria. The family has become well known as an amateur singing group, and after a final appearance at a local contest, they manage to escape and cross the mountains on foot to Switzerland. The first romance of Von Trapp's oldest daughter Liesl, unfortunately with a young Nazi, provides a bittersweet subplot.

The Sound of Music was originally the idea of director Vincent J. Donehue with Mary Martin's husband, Richard Halliday, and Leland Hayward producing. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse adapted Maria Von Trapp's book. Rodgers and Hammerstein were approached to write only one song, but ended up doing the entire score and lyrics as well as co-producing the show. The Sound of Music opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 16, 1959, and ran for 1,443 performances. In 1965 Twentieth Century-Fox released a film version starring Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp. Featuring a young, exuberant Julie Andrews, one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most accessible scores, and spectacular views of the Alps and Salzburg, The Sound of Music garnered ten Oscar nominations and won five: Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Wise), Best Adapted Score, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound. The film also won awards from the Directors Guild of America, the Golden Globes (Best Actress in a Musical Comedy), and the National Board of Review. It was the top box office draw from 1966 thorough 1969, and it has remained one of the most popular films ever made.

—Ann Sears

Further Reading:

Fordin, Hugh. Getting to Know Him: A Biography of Oscar Hammerstein II. New York, Da Capo Press, 1995.

Green, Stanley. Broadway Musicals Show by Show. 3d ed. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, l990.

——. Encyclopaedia of the Musical Film. New York, Oxford University Press, 1981.

Rodgers, Richard. Musical Stages: An Autobiography. New York, DaCapo Press, 1995.

Trapp, Maria Augusta. The Trapp Family Singers. New York, J. B.Lippincott Company, 1949.

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The Sound of Music

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