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If you watched the Oscars this year, you probably remember Lady Gaga’s powerful tribute to The Sound of Music. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical first sang, danced, and marched across Broadway in 1959.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Robert Wise’s film version, which in 1966 won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The Sound of Music is a film that tends to evoke strong emotions, one way or another. Rosie O’Donnell calls it “the best movie ever made.” Christopher Plummer famously referred to it as “The Sound of Mucus.” But no matter which side you’re on, the film’s success and durability are undeniable.
The Sound of Music was released in March 1965, a month before Julie Andrews would win her Best Actress Oscar for 1964’s Mary Poppins. Andrews nearly turned down the role of Maria von Trapp, because she felt it was too much like her Mary Poppins’ character. In 1965, stage actor Plummer, six years Andrews’ senior, was still relatively unknown to screen audiences. But that would change, literally overnight, upon the film’s release. Variety’s out-of-the-box review said that Plummer was “bound to be cast importantly in future films.”
Indeed. A third star of the film is, of course, the city of Salzburg, Austria, itself. The Sound of Music added a second dimension of indelible fame to the celebrated birthplace of Mozart. Ever since the release of the film, millions of enamored tourists have flocked to the city annually on a sort of pilgrimage. Golden Jubilee Salzburg is rolling out the red carpet all year long to celebrate the film’s anniversary. “The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary Festival” will take place in mid-June throughout the city. The Salzburg Marionette Theater currently has an exhibit on display detailing the history of its marionette adaptation of The Sound of Music, complete with dancing apple Strudel and Schnitzel with noodles! On October 17, “The Sound of Music Gala” event will be presented at the Felsenreitschule, where the real Trapp Family Singers won first prize at the 1937 Salzburg Festival.
Fact vs. Fiction
So, what was Maria von Trapp really like? As with all musicals, a significant suspension of disbelief is required. To get the full story, I recommend a reading of Maria’s 1949 memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Wise’s film about the singing family was, by the way, not the first. West German director Wolfgang Liebeneiner’s truer-to-life film Die Trapp Familie (1956) and its sequel Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958) were hugely popular with German-speaking audiences. The films feature some of the original Austrian and German songs with which the real von Trapps achieved their initial fame. Contrary to widespread belief, Edelweiss is not an Austrian folk song. It was the last song written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein before Hammerstein’s death in 1960.
Love it (or leave it), The Sound of Music is here to stay. In recent interviews, longtime friends Andrews and Plummer, now 79 and 85, respectively, have expressed incredulity that so much time has passed. Incidentally, Plummer has changed his tune about the film, remarking to Variety in March 2015: “You know, this is a very well-made picture, even though there are 20,000 nuns in it!”
For more on The Sound of Music and related topics, look no further than ProQuest’s International Index to Music Periodicals and International Index to the Performing Arts. For all your research needs, ProQuest will help you start at the beginning. A very good place to start.