Salzburg is famous for lots of things, but most visitors come here for Sound of Music tours. The real family at the center of the true story of the Sound of Music lived here, and the exteriors for the film version of the musical based on their lives were filmed here in the early 1960s. KW and I indulged in the “Original Sound of Music Tour” while we were visiting Salzburg.
For most Americans, Austria and the Sound of Music are inseparable. But most Austrians haven’t even seen the film. It was not translated into German until about a decade after the original 1965 release, and in 1965, few Austrians were going to the theater to see an English-language movie. It was actually only in the theaters in Austria for a few days in 1965 due to low interest. Our tour bus driver has not seen the film.
While we’re on the topic of Austria and the Sound of Music, the lovely song “Edelweiss” was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein (who were not Austrian), as were all of the other songs in the musical and movie. It is not the national anthem of Austria; that honor goes to “Land der Berge” (“Land of Mountains”) written by Paula von Preradovic, an Austrian woman. Edelweiss the plant does grow in Austria, but it is endangered, so even if you could climb to the top of the Alps where it grows to pick some, you would climb down to a large fine.
The story in the movie/musical is exactly how it happened in real life in as much as there were two people who were called Maria and the Captain, and there were a bunch of kids. Maria was studying to be a nun and became governess to the children before marrying their widowed dad. The family were talented singers who won the famous Salzburg Festival, and the Captain refused to cooperate with the Nazis. That’s about where the similarities end. Rolf and the Baroness were made up to add romantic tension. The eldest Von Trapp in real life is a male, but film producers thought an eldest female would work the best (so she can sing the ridiculously paternalistic song “I am 16 going on 17”). But they had to have 7 kids, so they invented the youngest child for the musical/movie, Gretl. The Captain and Maria got together well before the war and had 2 kids together by the time the Nazis arrived. They also did not climb a mountain to escape the Nazis but took a train to Switzerland before going to the UK and finally settling in the US and opening an inn in Vermont. Hitler’s private retreat, the Eagle’s Nest, is actually just a few kilometers away in the direction the movie shows the family climbing at the end. These are minor differences really. It’s a beloved film and a delight to watch – reality is secondary to that when you think about it.
But back to the Sound of Music tour… Did I mention this is a sing-a-long tour? They also sell beer on the bus. I think these two concepts are related. Most of the people on the tour with us were into the singing part. There were only two people (read: men) on the bus who claimed not to have seen the movie, besides our driver, and both were with wives who were very clearly keen on the Julie Andrews classic. We were surprised by how many young people were on the tour – lots of American college-age students studying abroad in various parts of Europe.
If you find yourself in Salzburg, go on the tour. It’s totally worth it. And sing out with all you’ve got.
Title quote: “Climb Every Mountain” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This title quote was a ridiculously hard choice, friends. Feel free to comment with your alternative suggestions.