The Sound of Music, one of our favourite things

Since its Broadway debut in 1959, The Sound of Music has proved a enduring favourite hit and continues to smash box office records. SIMON PARKIN has a guide to the musical - and the story behind it.


t Maria Von Trapp's book The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers was published in 1949.

t Wolfgang Reinhardt made a film in German, Die Trapp-Familie, and a sequel Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958). However Maria unwittingly signs away all film rights.

t Paramount Pictures approaches film director Vincent J Donehue, with a view to re-making the German films in America, starring Audrey Hepburn.

t Donehue approaches his friend Mary Martin who, together with her husband, the Broadway producer Richard Halliday, sees the potential of making a stage musical from the story, with Mary herself playing Maria.

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t Mary Martin wants a new song for the show and asks her friends composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein to come up with something. Not content with writing one song attached to someone else's project, the pair suggest writing a completely new musical.

t The Sound of Music opens on Broadway on November 16, 1959, starring Mary Martin as Maria with Rodgers's music, Hammerstein's song lyrics and the book (spoken script) by Crouse and Lindsay.

t The musical was Rodgers and Hammerstein's biggest Broadway success, running for 1,443 performances, winning six Tony awards including Best Musical. Over three million albums were also sold.

t In June 1960, Twentieth Century Fox bought the rights, on condition that they would not release the film version until 1964, or until after the Broadway musical had closed.

t The movie, which was partly filmed in Salzburg, Austria, and starred Julie Andrews as Maria, had its world premiere at the Rivoli Theatre in New York on March 2, 1965, and broke all previous box office records. It won five Oscars in 1966, including Best Picture.

t Though scorned by some in the press, it didn't matter: the movie version — like the stage musical — proved to be an enduring audience favourite. In straight dollar terms, other movies would eventually surpass it, but even today, it remains the most successful movie musical in history.

t The film has generated its own sub-culture, from countless broadcasts on television and showings in cinemas to constant reissues and an irrepressible Sing-A-Long-A Sound Of Music phenomenon, which started at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square and has since gone on to cinemas around the world.

t The stage musical has enjoyed major productions in Italy, Israel, Portugal, and the Netherlands, with an American production across China and Southeast Asia.

t London's West End saw its last major production in 1981, when Petula Clark lead a company over the Alps from the stage of the Apollo Victoria.

t Then Andrew Lloyd Webber fulfilled a long-held dream of reviving the musical for this latest British production, which found its initial leading star Connie Fisher on the BBC show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? The subsequent show at the London Palladium proved a huge hit.

t Bringing the story full circle, the Vienna Volksoper recently presented the first fully-staged production ever given in Austria, the country where its story is set. Spoken and sung entirely in German, it was warmly received by the Austrian public.


Without the real von Trapp Family, there would be no Sound of Music, as the movie was based on this family's extraordinary life. The real Maria von Trapp, then Maria Augusta Kutschera, became an orphan at a young age, and was brought up by a distant relative. Maria later went to teacher training college, after which she joined The Roman Catholic Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg in Salzburg.

Baron Georg Ritter von Trapp, a recently widowed with seven children, Rupert, Agathe, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Martina, needed a governess for one of his children, also called Maria, who was weak with rheumatic fever.

The Baron, a retired captain in the Austrian Navy, approached the Reverend Mother of the Abbey for help. She decided to send Maria to the Trapp Villa in a beautiful country house in Aigen, on the outskirts of Salzburg.

Maria soon fell in love with all the von Trapp children, and then later with the Baron himself. They married on in 1927. Over the next few years Maria von Trapp and her husband had three more children, Rosemarie, Eleonore and Johannes.

Unfortunately, Captain von Trapp lost much of his wealth in a banking crash of the early 1930s. To help their financial situation, the family von Trapp rented out spare rooms in their house.

One person who came to stay was Father Franz Wasner. He became a life long family friend, and with his help found that their musical talent could provide them with an income. They toured as The von Trapp Family Choir, performing around Europe.

However in 1938, to escape from Nazi occupied Austria, the von Trapps were forced to travel to Italy and then to New York, leaving behind everything. In America that they made a new life and toured throughout America and 30 other countries, under the name of The Von Trapp Family Singers.

Maria von Trapp wrote an account of her life in a book called The Story of the Trapp Family Singers and later signed away the film rights to a German Producer for just $9,000.