Edelweiss (song)

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For other uses, see Edelweiss (disambiguation).
"Edelweiss"
Song from The Sound of Music
Published 1959
Writer Oscar Hammerstein II
Composer Richard Rodgers
The Edelweiss white flower
Leontopodium alpinum

"Edelweiss" is a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. It is named after the edelweiss, a white flower found high in the Alps (Leontopodium alpinum). It was created for the 1959 Broadway production of The Sound of Music in the role originated by performer Theodore Bikel as a song for the character of Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp. In the musical Captain von Trapp and his family sing this song during the concert near the end of Act II as a statement of Austrian patriotism in the face of the pressure put upon him to join the navy of Nazi Germany following the Anschluss. It is also Captain von Trapp's subliminal goodbye to his beloved homeland, using the flower as a symbol of his loyalty to Austria. In the 1965 film adaptation, the song is also sung by the Captain earlier in the film as he rediscovers music and a love for his children.

Writing of the song[edit]

While The Sound of Music was in tryouts in Boston, Richard Rodgers felt Captain von Trapp should have a song with which he would bid farewell to the Austria he knew and loved. He and Oscar Hammerstein II decided to write an extra song that Captain von Trapp would sing in the Kaltzberg Festival (Salzburg Festival in the film) concert sequence towards the end of the show. As they were writing it, they felt that this song could also utilize the guitar-playing and folk-singing talents of Theodore Bikel, who had been cast as the Captain. The Lindsay and Crouse script provides the metaphor of the simple edelweiss wildflower as a symbol of the Austria that Captain von Trapp, Maria and their children knew would live on in their hearts despite the Nazi annexation of their homeland. The metaphor of this song builds on an earlier scene when Gretl presents a bouquet of edelweiss flowers to Elsa Schraeder during her visit to the von Trapp household. Rodgers provided a simple yet haunting and affecting waltz-time melody to the simple Italian style ritornello lyric that Hammerstein wrote about the appearance of the edelweiss flower. This song turned out to be one of the most beloved songs in the musical, and also one of the best-loved songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

This song was the last song that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together; Hammerstein was suffering from stomach cancer,[1] which would take his life nine months after The Sound of Music opened on Broadway.

Film adaptation[edit]

Although the stage production uses the song only during the concert sequence, Ernest Lehman's screenplay for the film adaptation uses the song twice. Lehman created a scene that makes extra use of the song. This scene, inspired by a line in the original script by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, calls for Captain von Trapp to sing this song with his children in their family drawing room and rediscover the love he felt for them, with Liesl accompanying him. Lehman also expanded the scope of the song when it was sung in the Salzburg Festival concert scene so that Captain von Trapp, his family, and the nuns' chorus would call the crowds to join in the song with him, in defiance of the Nazi soldiers posted around the arena. It is interesting to note that one of the Nazi commandants is shown singing in a baritone, revealing that he cares more for Austria than for the Reich.

Misconceptions about the song[edit]

The great popularity of the song has led many of its audience to believe that it is an Austrian folk song or even the official national anthem.[2] However, Austria's official anthem is "Land der Berge, Land am Strome" and the anthem used before the Anschluss was "Sei gesegnet ohne Ende". The edelweiss is a popular flower in Austria and was featured on the old 1 Schilling coin. It can also now be seen on the 2 cent Euro coin. The flower is protected in Austria and illegal to pick. An "edelweiss" is also worn as a cap emblem by certain Austrian Army and all German Gebirgsjäger (mountain troopers) units.[3]

There is similar confusion about another song co-authored by Hammerstein, "Ol' Man River" from the musical Show Boat, which is widely (though erroneously) believed to be a Negro spiritual.[4] The similarity in misconception about the two songs has been noted by two writers, both of whom see it as tribute to Hammerstein's talents. Alyson McLamore in her book Musical theater: an appreciation writes "The last song to be written for the show was "Edelweiss," a tender little homage to a native flower of Austria that has the effect of authentic Austrian folksong, much as "Ol' Man River" struck listeners as a genuine African American spiritual"[5] Hugh Fordin in his biography of Oscar Hammerstein speaks of "the ability of the authors to simulate the quality of an authentic folk song..."Ol' Man River" had the ring of a black laborer's song...Thirty years later "Edelweiss was widely believed to be an old Austrian song, though Oscar... composed it for the Sound of Music."[6]

Theodore Bikel, in his autobiography, Theo (2002), confirms the origins of the song. He adds that, after performances, he was approached by native Austrians who said they were delighted to hear that old folk-tune again.

American church use[edit]

During the 1970s in the United States, the song became a popular tune with which to sing the benediction in some Christian churches. At a United Methodist Women's Conference, revised lyrics for the song were handed out with instructions stating that the benediction was to be sung to the tune of "Edelweiss". The trend spread quickly across different denominations of Christianity, and it is still very common to hear the benedictory lyrics ("May the Lord, Mighty God") sung to an organ or piano accompaniment of the song from the Sound of Music.


Legal problems[edit]

The estates of Rodgers and Hammerstein have not authorized the use of alternative lyrics with the melody of the song, making certain commercial uses of those versions potentially illegal if they do not fall under fair use. Rodgers stated that "he would take legal action against any group" using the "Edelweiss" melody with altered words;[7] the current rightsholders comply with his wishes, refusing to grant permission for these commercial requests, which are "inconsistent with the creators' intentions".[8]

Versions[edit]

  • Theodore Bikel, who originated the role of Captain von Trapp on Broadway, performed Edelweiss (as a duet with Mary Martin) on the original cast album, and included it in his album, In My Own Lifetime - 12 Musical Theater Classics.
  • Playback singer Bill Lee dubbed the singing voice of Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp in the 1965 film adaptation, and its soundtrack album, which included this song.
  • Josephine Siao Fong-Fong (蕭芳芳) performed a Chinese version of the song in the 1967 film Lightning Killer (閃電煞星).[9][10]
  • The Belgian performer Michael Junior performed this song in his concerts.
  • German Americans play the same tune every year during the Oktoberfest in Hard Bargain Farm, Maryland, with the ringing of cowbells.
  • A slightly altered version of the song has been sung by Shamrock Rovers supporters since the 1960s.
  • The English singer Vince Hill reached #2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1967 with his cover version of the track.[11]
  • The Canadian singer Sarah Slean has performed the song as a singalong in her concerts.
  • Linda Eder recorded a version of the song for her 2003 album, Broadway, My Way.
  • 10-year-old Hollie Steel performed the song on the third series of Britain's Got Talent and infamously broke down half way through due to nerves.[12] It is also due to be her second single, for her album, Hollie, which was released on 29 March 2010.
  • Elaine Paige recorded the song for her 2006 album, Essential Musicals.
  • The virtual singer Megurine Luka performed this song.
  • The song was featured in a comedy skit performed by Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein on Seth and Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show, in which Borstein opposes MacFarlane's singing of the song, only to be jokingly reminded that, as a result of the Holocaust, Borstein's only competition as a female Jewish comedian in Hollywood is Sarah Silverman. Borstein then joins MacFarlane in singing the song.
  • Bryn Terfel has included this song in his 1996 Rodgers & Hammerstein album, Something Wonderful: Bryn Terfel Sings Rodgers and Hammerstein.
  • Julie Andrews has recorded it for her Richard Rodgers tribute album Broadway: The Music of Richard Rodgers.
  • Iranian singer Farhad Mehrad performed it in both Persian and English in opposition to Iran's post-revolutionary regime, pointing the similarities between Iran after revolution and Austria under Nazi occupation.
  • Austrian singers, Sigrid & Marina made a recording of the song in 2009.
  • André Rieu has recorded his own arrangement and released it on his 2002 album, Dreaming.
  • Tanya Donelly, best known for her work with Throwing Muses, The Breeders, and Belly (band) recorded a version of the song which was self-released as a free download on her website, circa 2001.
  • Joe Junior and Sire Ma performed this song in their roles as Louis Kim and Kim Yee-Wah respectively in TVB's 2012 series Bullet Brain.
  • The Voice Australia contestant Celia Pavey performed and recorded Edelweiss in May 2013.
  • Andy Conaghan recorded the song for ABC Classics as part of a compilation album, I Dreamed a Dream: The Hit Songs of Broadway in 2013.[13]
  • Stephen Moyer performed the song as part of his role as Captain Georg von Trapp during the December 2013 television broadcast of The Sound of Music Live! on NBC.
  • The song is frequently performed by The von Trapps, the real life great-grandchildren of the Captain and Maria. It appears on their A Capella album and on their 2014 album, the latter of which is also a duet with Charmian Carr (who played Liesl in the movie).

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II Is Dead". The New York Times. August 23, 1960. p. 1. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  2. ^ "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria". BBC. November 7, 2006. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  3. ^ Meriam, Ray (1999). Gebirgsjaeger: Germany's Mountain Troops. World War II Arsenal 3. Merriam Press. p. 44. ISBN 1576381633. 
  4. ^ Steyn, Mark (December 5, 1997). "Where Have You Gone, Oscar Hammerstein?". Slate. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  5. ^ McLamore, Alyson (2004). Musical theater: an appreciation. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 156. ISBN 0-13-048583-7. 
  6. ^ Fordin, Hugh (1995). Getting to know him: a biography of Oscar Hammerstein II. Da Capo Press. p. 102. ISBN 0-306-80668-1. 
  7. ^ McIntyre, Dean. The Edelweiss Benediction: It’s Still Against the Law. General Board of Discipleship. The United Methodist Church. 2001.
  8. ^ Benedict, Daniel T. "Edelweiss" -- A Song We Love But Must Not Abuse. General Board of Discipleship. The United Methodist Church. 1999.
  9. ^ 閃電煞星 (全片) on YouTube
  10. ^ 閃電煞星 (1967) Lightning Killer
  11. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 253. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  12. ^ Hollie Steel - 1st + 2nd Attempts, Britain's Got Talent Semi-Final on YouTube
  13. ^ "I Dreamed A Dream – Hit Songs of Broadway". ABC. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 

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