The title song of the Musical The Sound of Music is greatly misunderstood now. This is due to the Hollywood film which ripped the song out of its natural context to start the movie off with some outdoor mountain porn and Julie Andrews’ impressive voice. As exciting as that is in cinematic terms it’s not what the original song is about at all. It also kind of undermines the movie which never quite recovers from that opening shot. The movie also blunts the sharper edges of the play, but that’s another topic.
In the play, the song is not sung in the mountains but in the garden of the convent where Maria is a novice. It’s not sung in the middle of a glorious day but as evening draws in and she’s reluctantly left the glories of nature for the harsh asceticism of the monastery.
The purpose of the song in the play is to introduce the character of Maria to the audience as a dreamer and to hint that she’s unsuited to the life of a nun (so that when she does leave the convent to marry it’s seen as the better choice for all concerned rather than an airhead shirking her duty).
Also crucially, it has an introduction that is omitted in the altogether more saccharine movie. Losing the introduction is a shame because it illustrates the inner conflict of a character reluctant to commit to a life of being shut indoors.
The song is not a spectacular show stopper for an outstanding vocal talent (like Julie Andrews) but an introverted reverie, custom written for a singer with a modest range.
That singer was, of course, Mary Martin, one of the all time great Broadway stars. This was the last Rogers and Hammerstein musicals and one of Martin’s last triumphs on Broadway. Her version from the Broadway original cast album is a beautiful and intimate vocal performance and shows off her ability to communicate directly with the listener. There are no spectacular money notes here, but wonderful use of dynamics.
The Sound of Music
My day in the hills has come to an end, I know.
A star has come out to tell me it’s time to go.
But deep in the dark green shadows are voices that urge me to stay.
So I pause and I wait and I listen,
For one more sound, for one more lovely thing that the hills might say
The hills are alive with the sound of music,
With songs they have sung for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music,
My heart wants to sing every song it hears
My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds,
That rise from the lake to the trees.
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies,
From a church on a breeze,
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over stones in its way,
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray.
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely.
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before.
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music,
And I’ll sing once more.
nb the recording is scratchy vinyl, but still great