Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about musicals and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the musical urban legends featured so far.
MUSICAL URBAN LEGEND: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song “Edelweiss” is based on an Austrian folk song.
“Edelweiss” was the last song that Oscar Hammerstein ever wrote. In fact, he was suffering from stomach cancer as he and his partner, Richard Rodgers, worked on the song, the final addition to their latest play at the time, The Sound of Music.
The pair were looking for a song that would express the feeling of loss surrounding Captain von Trapp having to leave his native Austria because of the Nazis. They wanted a song that could be performed as a folk song since the actor portraying von Trapp, Theodore Bikel, was an accomplished folk guitarist.
They settled on a song that was based on the German myths about the Edelweiss flower – a beautiful flower that young suitors would climb the Alps to get to prove their love for their sweethearts.
This matches the mood of the musical well, because it is a symbol of their homeland, but it is also something that you find on the Alps, and the von Trapps are about to travel over the Alps (in case you know nothing about The Sound of Music, it is about an Austrian Captain who is a widower with seven kids – he is depressed over the death of his wife, but slowly, due to the children’s peppy new governess, he learns to love music and life again – but all of this takes place against the backdrop of the Nazi rise to power, so the newly happy – and newly re-married to the governess, Maria – von Trapp escapes with his family over the Alps).
Here are the lyrics:
Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever.
The “problem” is that Rodgers and Hammerstein did SUCH a good job evoking the feel of a folk song, a great many people believe that it WAS a folk song, and not written in 1959!
But it was.
The legend is…
Thanks to David J. Benedict for the helpful information!
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