The Sound of Music is an American musical that is full of joy, drama, happiness, and love. Robert Wise is the director and the producer of the film which stars Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews, Peggy Wood, Richard Haydn, Eleanor Parker, and Charmian Carr. Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay for the film and Richard Rodgers composed the music with Oscar Hammerstein II as the lyricist and Irwin Kostal as the background scorer.
The original story of the film is based on Maria von Trapp’s The Story of the Trapp Family Singers which is a memoir that came out in 1949. This wonderful memoir was then adapted as a stage musical which had the same name and was released in 1959. Richard Rodgers was the composer and Oscar Hammerstein II was the lyricist of this stage musical as a limited road-show theatrical in the United States. The film was adapted from it and finally released.
Maria von Trapp had published the memoir to promote her singing group but when Hollywood producers wanted to buy the rights to the title, Maria refused as she wanted her entire story to be told as a film or a stage musical. A German producer purchased the film rights from Maria in 1956 and released the film The Trapp Family, which consisted of traditional folk songs from Austria. In the same year, Paramount Pictures bought the film rights for the United States as they wanted to produce a similar version of the film in English, starring Audrey Hepburn for the role of Maria.
Although this idea was dropped by the studio, one of the directors on the team suggested the story to be staged as a theatrical musical. Eventually, Pulitzer Prize-winner playwrights Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay were hired and Oscar Hammerstein II came on board with Richard Rodgers to compose the music for the theatrical.
In 1959, The Sound of Music opened to grand success in New York City’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and continued to have a successful Broadway run of over 1,443 performances that fetched awards for Best Musical and a total of six Tony Awards. Looking at this overwhelming success, in 1960, the rights for the film adaptation of this stage musical were purchased by Twentieth Century Fox Studios.
After much dilemma over the choice of directors and their way of looking at the stage musical, Robert Wise came onboard in October, 1963 because the film he was working on at that time, “The Sand Pebbles” got postponed. He liked the script written by Lehman but made some changes to it according to his vision for the film.
Maria is a young woman from Austria who is studying in Salzburg to become a nun. But some lack of discipline along with her youthful enthusiasm becomes a cause of concern for her as she is sent to the villa of Captain Georg von Trapp, a retired naval officer. Her duty is to be a governess to the captain’s seven children whom he had raised in strict military discipline after their mother’s demise.
The relationship between Maria and the children starts with some misbehaving and disturbances but reciprocated by Maria’s love, affection, kindness and patience, allowing her to gain the children’s respect and trust. As the Captain leaves for Vienna, Maria takes the children to the beautiful hills of Salzburg and teaches them to sing happily and joyously. She plays with them and gives them playful clothes made from drapes that need to be replaced.
When the Captain returns to the villa, he is appalled by Maria’s lack of discipline in governing the children and he becomes displeased by looking at their weird clothes. Enraged, the Captain asks Maria to leave and as Maria approaches the villa’s exit, the Captain hears his children singing in a melodious tone. Immediately, his heart gets filled with emotions as he joins his children and sings with them after a very long time. The Captain understands his mistakes and apologizes to Maria, asking her to stay.
The impressive singing of the children pleased their uncle Max as he proposed to the Captain to enroll them for the Salzburg Festival. Unwilling to give permission to his children for singing in public, the Captain finally agrees to arrange a party at the villa where the children could sing and have fun.
On the night of the party, the Captain partners Maria in the traditional folk dance of Ländler, as the Captain gets attracted towards her. Elsa Schraeder, who was set to be engaged with the Captain successfully managed to hide her jealousy but convinced Maria to leave the villa as it would be the best for her.
Confused about her own feelings, Maria left the villa but soon returned to it because she knew her feelings for the Captain. The engagement between the Captain and Elsa broke as Maria got married to him. While the couple was on their honeymoon, Austria was annexed by the Third Reich and the Captain was summoned to the Naval Base at Bremerhaven upon the couple’s return to Salzburg.
Strongly opposed to the Nazi ideology, the Captain told his family that they need to leave for Switzerland but as they make their way out of the villa, they are greeted by a group of Brownshirts who want to know about their activities. The Captain tells them that they are going for the Salzburg Festival with their children to which the Brownshirts insist on escorting them safely and later accompanying the Captain to the Naval Base.
Later that night, the family manages to slip away from the festival and escape to the borders in the car of a caretaker. The Brownshirts and the soldiers carried on with their pursuit for some time but to no success as the family reached the Swiss border the next morning and made their way to freedom and safety.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II contributed to the stage musical as composer and lyricist respectively. Therefore, for the film adaptation it was natural that these two artists were on board along with Irwin Kostal who also worked on the adaptation of ‘instrumental underscore passages.’ RCA Victor released the soundtrack album of the film in 1965 up to date has sold over 20 million copies across the world, making it one of the most successful soundtrack albums in the history of films.
In the United States, the album reached the pole position that year and remained in the top ten section for an astonishing 109 weeks. In the United Kingdom, the album became the best selling album and stayed there for the years 1965 to 1968.
While writing the screenplay for the film, Ernest Lehman worked relentlessly on rearranging the stage musical sequences as he believed they required serious transformation for the medium of film. For example, the “Do-Re-Mi” sequence which was used as a stagnant song for the stage representation got changed into a montage sequence that captured the beautiful sites and scenery of Salzburg in the film. In fact, he got rid of two songs from the stage musical named, “No Way to Stop It” and “How Can Love Survive?”
Irwin Kostal who worked as the background scorer, the conductor, and the musical arranger for the film used a large orchestra to pre-record the songs with every singer on the stage before the shooting of the film. The chorus songs for the children were all sung by a group of actors that included five adults and seven children. To give the sounds more bass and tonal quality, addition of four more children were made to the vocals for most of the songs.
Robert Wise made some changes to the songs of the film as well. For example, the song “An Ordinary Couple” was replaced by a song with more romantic essence to it, and he also added a couple of songs called “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good” to the film.
Songs Used in the Film
- Prelude and "The Sound of Music"
- "Alleluia" and "Morning Hymn"
- Preludium (Dixit Dominus) and Overture
- "I Have Confidence"
- "Climb Ev'ry Mountain"
- "The Lonely Goatherd"
- "Sixteen Going on Seventeen"
- "My Favorite Things
- "Something Good"
- "The Sound of Music"
- "Processional and Maria" (reprise)
- "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" (reprise)
- "So Long, Farewell"
Awards & Honors
Academy Awards Won
- Robert Wise for Best Picture and Best Director
- William H. Reynolds for Best Film Editing
- Irwin Kostal for Best Scoring of Music – Adaptation or Treatment
- James Corcoran and Fred Hynes for Best Sound
Golden Globe Awards Won
- Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy) – The Sound of Music
- Julie Andrews for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Writers Guild of America Awards
- Ernest Lehman for Best Written American Musical
Love, Joy & Happiness – Portrayed in an Exquisitely Simple Way
Being blessed with some of the most memorable songs and tunes of all times, this musical is nothing short of an epic romantic masterpiece that has its fair share of drama, thrill, and jealousy. Starting right from the majestic opening sequence to the emotional end of escaping into freedom and safety with children and family – this film is all about refreshing magic unfolding on the screen. Be it the spontaneous dancing on the hills or the flamboyant expression of love, this film will offer you all the natural spectacles that a human life is filled with.
The outstanding success of the film that lasts even today bears the testimony of the film’s extraordinary and brilliant subject of dropping the warmth of love in the tumultuous times of World Wars where enmity for one makes you human to others. This musical not only gives you hope but reminds you of the power of love in the sinister times of betrayals and deaths. Critics may call this sentimental but when you see the story unfolding in front of you, it’s nothing but simply and subtly sensational.