Did Richard Rodgers Keep The Melody for “Edelweiss” From Being Used for a Hymn?

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: Richard Rodgers would not let the melody of “Edelweiss” be used for religious hymns.

As I mentioned in a past Musical Legends Revealed, many people mistakingly believe that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song “Edelweiss” is actually an old Austrian folk song and not an original tune written in the late 1950s. This confusion has led to some controversy when some Christian churches began performing the song (with new lyrics, of course) during the 1970s as a benediction – “May the Lord, Mighty God.”

Those alternate lyrics were:

“May the Lord, mighty God,
bless, preserve you and keep you.
Give you peace, perfect peace,
courage in every endeavor.
Lift up your eyes and see His face,
and His grace forever.
May the Lord, mighty God,
bless, preserve you and keep you!”

Coming up with religious lyrics to classic melodies is not a new thing, but almost always, the melodies are public domain ones, not ones still protected by copyright.

In the case of “Edelweiss,” Rodgers and Hammerstein were quite explicit in their instructions that the song was a single song and was not to be performed as a melody with different lyrics. And since they control the copyright, they can challenge any unauthorized use of the song, including using the melody without the lyrics.

The administrators of the Rodgers/Hammerstein copyrights (Williamson Music) send the following to anyone requesting the use of only the melody:

Thank you for your recent request regarding the above mentioned composition. As you are aware, “Edelweiss” was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Ever since its inception, people have requested the use of its melody with other lyrics for liturgical purposes in houses of worship of many different faiths.

As with any song created in modern times, this song enjoys protection under the copyright laws which state that original works may not be used in any manner inconsistent with the creators’ intentions. Both Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein II felt strongly that they did not wish their contributions to any song be separated and used with other words or music. Such is the case with “Edelweiss.” Therefore, your request must be denied.

This was something that Rodgers pursued during the 70s until his death in 1979, so you know it is something that he felt strongly about.

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

2 Responses to “Did Richard Rodgers Keep The Melody for “Edelweiss” From Being Used for a Hymn?”

  1. Well I guess I hope he’s enjoying hell. lol

  2. Ted Villalon on May 5th, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Does anyone know when the copyright expires?

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