On this Day:
In 1965, one of the most popular musical films of all time, “The Sound of Music”, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, was released (and won the Academy Awards Best Picture, 1966).
The Sound of Music is a 1965 American musical drama film produced and directed by Robert Wise, and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, with Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood, Charmian Carr, and Eleanor Parker. The film is an adaptation of the 1959 stage musical of the same name, composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The film’s screenplay was written by Ernest Lehman, adapted from the stage musical’s book by Lindsay and Crouse. Based on the 1949 memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp, the film is about a young Austrian postulant in Salzburg, Austria, in 1938 who is sent to the villa of a retired naval officer and widower to be governess to his seven children. After bringing love and music into the lives of the family, she marries the officer and, together with the children, finds a way to survive the loss of their homeland to the Nazis.
Filming took place from March to September 1964 in Los Angeles and Salzburg. The Sound of Music was released on March 2, 1965, in the United States, initially as a limited roadshow theatrical release. Although initial critical response to the film was mixed, it was a major commercial success, becoming the number one box office film after four weeks, and the highest-grossing film of 1965. By November 1966, The Sound of Music had become the highest-grossing film of all-time—surpassing Gone with the Wind—and held that distinction for five years. The film was just as popular throughout the world, breaking previous box-office records in twenty-nine countries. Following an initial theatrical release that lasted four and a half years, and two successful re-releases, the film sold 283 million admissions worldwide and earned a total worldwide gross of $286 million.
The Sound of Music received five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, Wise’s second pair of both awards, the first being from the 1961 film West Side Story. The film also received two Golden Globe Awards, for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress, the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical. In 1998, the American Film Institute (AFI) listed The Sound of Music as the fifty-fifth greatest American film of all time, and the fourth greatest film musical. In 2001, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Maria is a free-spirited young Austrian woman studying to become a nun at Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg in 1938. Her youthful enthusiasm and lack of discipline cause some concern. The Mother Abbess sends Maria to the villa of retired naval officer Captain Georg von Trapp to be governess to his seven children—Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta, and Gretl. The Captain has been raising his children alone using strict military discipline following the death of his wife. Although the children misbehave at first, Maria responds with kindness and patience, and soon the children come to trust and respect her.
While the Captain is away in Vienna, Maria makes play clothes for the children from drapes which are to be changed. She takes them around Salzburg and the surrounding mountains, and she teaches them how to sing. When the Captain returns to the villa with Baroness Elsa Schraeder, a wealthy socialite, and their mutual friend, “Uncle” Max Detweiler, they are greeted by Maria and the children returning from a boat ride on the lake that concludes when their boat overturns. Displeased by his children’s clothes and activities, and Maria’s impassioned appeal that he get closer to his children, the Captain orders her to return to the abbey. Just then he hears singing coming from inside the house and is astonished to see his children singing for the Baroness. Filled with emotion, the Captain joins his children, singing for the first time in years. He apologizes to Maria and asks her to stay.
Impressed by the children’s singing, Max proposes he enter them in the upcoming Salzburg Festival but the suggestion is immediately rejected by the Captain as he does not allow his children to sing in public. He does agree, however, to organize a grand party at the villa. The night of the party, while guests in formal attire waltz in the ballroom, Maria and the children look on from the garden terrace. When the Captain notices Maria teaching Kurt the traditional Ländler folk dance, he steps in and partners Maria in a graceful performance, culminating in a close embrace. Confused about her feelings, Maria blushes and breaks away. Later, the Baroness, who noticed the Captain’s attraction to Maria, hides her jealousy by indirectly convincing Maria that she must return to the abbey. Back at the abbey, when Mother Abbess learns that Maria has stayed in seclusion to avoid her feelings for the Captain, she encourages her to return to the villa to look for her life. After Maria returns to the villa, she learns about the Captain’s engagement to the Baroness and agrees to stay until they find a replacement governess. The Captain’s feelings for Maria, however, have not changed, and after breaking off his engagement, the Captain marries Maria.
While they are on their honeymoon, Max enters the children in the Salzburg Festival against their father’s wishes. When they learn that Austria has been annexed by the Third Reich in the Anschluss, the couple return to their home, where a telegram awaits informing the Captain that he must report to the German Naval base at Bremerhaven to accept a commission in the German Navy. Strongly opposed to the Nazis and the Anschluss, the Captain tells his family they must leave Austria immediately. That night, the von Trapp family attempt to flee to Switzerland, but they are stopped by a group of Brownshirts waiting outside the villa. When questioned by Gauleiter Hans Zeller, the Captain maintains they are headed to the Salzburg Festival to perform. Zeller insists on escorting them to the festival, after which his men will accompany the Captain to Bremerhaven.
Later that night at the festival, during their final number, the von Trapp family slip away and seek shelter at the nearby abbey, where Mother Abbess hides them in the cemetery crypt. Brownshirts soon arrive and search the abbey, but the family is able to escape using the caretaker’s car. When the soldiers attempt to pursue, they discover their cars will not start as two nuns have removed parts of the engines. The next morning, after driving to the Swiss border, the von Trapp family make their way on foot across the frontier into Switzerland to safety and freedom.
Music and soundtrack album
The soundtrack to The Sound of Music was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and arranged and conducted by Irwin Kostal, who also adapted the instrumental underscore passages. The soundtrack album was released by RCA Victor in 1965 and is one of the most successful soundtrack albums in history, having sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
The album reached the number one position on the Billboard 200 that year in the United States. It remained in the top ten for 109 weeks, from May 1, 1965, to July 16, 1967, and remained on the Billboard 200 chart for 238 weeks. The album was the best-selling album in the United Kingdom in 1965, 1966 and 1968 and the second best-selling of the entire decade, spending a total of 70 weeks at number one on the UK Albums Chart. It also stayed 73 weeks on the Norwegian charts, becoming the seventh best-charting album of all time in that country. In 2015, Billboard named the album the second greatest album of all time.
The album has been reissued several times, including anniversary editions with additional tracks in 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015 (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Bob Hill and his new wife Betty were vacationing in Europe… as it happens, near Transylvania . They were driving in a rental car along a rather deserted highway. It was late and raining very hard. Bob could barely see the road in front of the car. Suddenly the car skids out of control! Bob attempts to control the car, but to no avail! The car swerves and smashes into a tree.
Moments later, Bob shakes his head to clear the fog. Dazed, he looks over at the passenger seat and sees his wife unconscious, with her head bleeding! Despite the rain and unfamiliar countryside, Bob knows he has to get her medical assistance.
Bob carefully picks his wife up and begins trudging down the road. After a short while, he sees a light. He heads towards the light, which is coming from a large, old house. He approaches the door and knocks.
A minute passes. A small, hunched man opens the door. Bob immediately blurts, “Hello, my name is Bob Hill, and this is my wife Betty. We’ve been in a terrible accident, and my wife has been seriously hurt. Can I please use your phone?”
“I’m sorry,” replied the hunchback, “but we don’t have a phone. My master is a doctor; come in and I will get him!”
Bob brings his wife in.
An older man comes down the stairs. “I’m afraid my assistant may have misled you. I am not a medical doctor; I am a scientist.. However, it is many miles to the nearest clinic, and I have had a basic medical training. I will see what I can do. Igor, bring them down to the laboratory.”
With that, Igor picks up Betty and carries her downstairs, with Bob following closely. Igor places Betty on a table in the lab. Bob collapses from exhaustion and his own injuries, so Igor places Bob on an adjoining table.
After a brief examination, Igor’s master looks worried. “Things are serious, Igor. Prepare a transfusion.” Igor and his master work feverishly, but to no avail. Bob and Betty Hill are no more.
The Hills’ deaths upset Igor’s master greatly. Wearily, he climbs the steps to his conservatory, which houses his grand piano. For it is here that he has always found solace. He begins to play, and a stirring, almost haunting melody fills the house.
Meanwhile, Igor is still in the lab tidying up. His eyes catch movement, and he notices the fingers on Betty’s hand twitch, keeping time to the haunting piano music.. Stunned, he watches as Bob’s arm begins to rise, marking the beat! He is further amazed as Betty and Bob both sit up straight!
Unable to contain himself, he dashes up the stairs to the conservatory.
He bursts in and shouts to his master:
“Master, Master! ….. The Hills are alive with the sound of music!”
Second, a Song:
“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. It is sung at the close of the first act by the Mother Abbess. It is themed as an inspirational piece, to encourage people to take every step toward attaining their dreams.
This song shares inspirational overtones with the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel. They are both sung by the female mentor characters in the shows, and are used to give strength to the protagonists in the story, and both are given powerful reprises at the end of their respective shows. As Oscar Hammerstein II was writing the lyrics, it developed its own inspirational overtones along the lines of an earlier Hammerstein song, “There’s a Hill Beyond a Hill”. He felt that the metaphors of climbing mountains and fording streams better fitted Maria’s quest for her spiritual compass. The muse behind the song was Sister Gregory, the head of Drama at Rosary College in Illinois. The letters that she sent to Hammerstein and to Mary Martin, the first Maria von Trapp on Broadway, described the parallels between a nun’s choice for a religious life and the choices that humans must make to find their purpose and direction in life. When she read the manuscript of the lyrics, she confessed that it “drove [her] to the Chapel” because the lyrics conveyed a “yearning that … ordinary souls feel but cannot communicate.”
Although this song has parallels with “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the song shares musical similarities with the song “Something Wonderful” from The King and I. Both songs are played at a similar broad tempo, and both songs have accompaniments punctuated by heavy chords in the orchestral score.
The song has often been sung by operatically trained voices in professional stage productions. In the original Broadway production it was sung by Patricia Neway, in the original London production it was sung by Constance Shacklock, and in the original Australian production it was sung by Rosina Raisbeck.
In the original stage play, the Mother Abbess sings the song at the end of the first act. When Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, he shifted the scene so that this song would be the first major song of the second act. When Robert Wise and his film crew were filming this scene, Peggy Wood had some reservations about the words, which she felt were too “pretentious.” In addition to that, while Peggy herself was an accomplished singer earlier in her career, the song was simply too difficult for her to perform at that age. As a result, her singing voice is dubbed by Margery MacKay, the wife of composer, music director and pianist Harper MacKay, as Wood was not able to sing the high notes of the song. Rodgers wrote the piece in the key of C, with a modulation towards the end of the piece into the key of D flat, making the last note that the Mother Abbess sings an A flat (Ab5), though in the film it was sung a tone lower.
With the popularity of the stage play it would seem Peggy Wood was not alone. Given the range of the piece and the average age of the actor playing Mother Abbess, the oldest character in the story, the song has proven daunting for many actresses over the years.
In addition, due to the long instrumental introduction of the song, Wood was repeatedly unable to catch the first word lip synching to McKay’s playback. So they filmed the beginning part of her performance in silhouette against the wall of the set for the Mother Abbess’ office with her back to camera. As director Robert Wise reports, once the vocal had begun, she had no problem matching the performance. Reviewing the dailies later, everybody thought it looked as if the Mother Abbess was receiving divine guidance and so the performance was kept as it was (per Wikipedia).
Here is Climb Ev’ry Mountain from The Sound of Music. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
” ‘Climb Every Mountain’ is a beautiful statement of philosophy. Critics may think ‘The Sound of Music’ is saccharine, but I think it’s profound. The message, that we can’t accommodate evil, is just as important today.” – Jon Voight
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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