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The Sound of Music: Reel and the Real

Dr. Srutimala Duara

(Background Photo Courtesy: Internet)

The 1965 musical ‘The Sound of Music’ is an evergreen film and I have watched it many times, especially after Netflix came in. It has many popular songs, including “Edelweiss”, “My favourite things”, “Climb ev’ry mountain”, “Do-Re-Mi”, “Sixteen going on seventeen” and “The Lonely Goatherd”, as well as the title song. The movie started to hold more interest to me after my visit to Salzburg. Each shot took me back to Salzburg. It was July 2009 when I along with three of my friends – Meghali, Malobika and Anuradha - took a Europe tour and one of our visits was to Salzburg, Austria. It is a place where this evergreen movie ‘The Sound of Music’ was made. The film presents a history of the von Trapp family. Georg Ludwig von Trapp, who was indeed anti-Nazi, lived with his family in a villa in a district of Salzburg called Aigen.

‘The Sound of Music’ is based on the true story of the Trapp Family Singers. Julie Andrewsstars as Maria, a young nun in an Austrian convent who regularly misses her morning prayers because she enjoys going to the hills to sing (the title song). Deciding that Maria needs to learn something about the real world before she can take her vows, the Mother Superior (Peggy Wood) sends her off to be governess for the children of the widowed Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). Arriving at the Trapp home, Maria discovers that her new boss is cold and aloof, and his seven children virtual automatons - at least, whenever the Captain is around. Otherwise, the kids are holy terrors, as evidenced by the fact that Maria is the latest in a long line of governesses. However, Maria soon ingratiates herself with the children, especially oldest daughter Liesl (Charmian Carr), who is in love with teenaged messenger boy Rolf. As Maria herself begins to fall in love with the Captain, she rushes back to the Abbey so as not to complicate his impending marriage to a glamorous baroness (Eleanor Parker). But the children insist that Maria return, the Baroness steps out of the picture, and Maria and the Captain confirm their love in the song "Something Good." They return home from their honeymoon shortly after the Nazis march into Austria. Already, swastikas have been hung on the Von Trapp ancestral home, and Liesl's boyfriend Rolf has been indoctrinated in the "glories" of the Third Reich. The biggest blow occurs when Von Trapp is called back to active duty in the service of the Fuhrer. Due to the Captain 's unwillingness to serve the Third Reich, the Captain and Maria resolve to leave Austria, and, after escaping the pursuit of some Nazi officers, they set out, with the children, for the mountains of Switzerland on foot.

(Video Courtesy: YouTube.Com)

When the ‘The Sound of Music’ was released in 1965 it took the world by storm, earning five Oscars. The film is that rare combination of a powerful and moving story, first-rate music, and breathtaking scenery of Salzburg.

Though we did not take any conducted tours in the other places that we visited, this time we decided to take a conducted tour because we had to recognize the sights and the sounds of Salzburg where the movie was shot and without the help of a guide, we would not know anything about it. We arrived in Salzburg by Eurail and the first thing we did as we did every time we alighted from the trains, was to go to the information booth and collect maps, sightseeing booklets and rates of guided tours. Armed with all information on Salzburg we took a taxi to our hotel ‘Schwarzes Rossl’. It is located in a beautiful picturesque area with interesting spots nearby. In the hotel itself, we booked the ticket for ‘The Most Unique Sound of Music Tour’ –. It cost us 37 Euros.

From the time we boarded the bus, we enjoyed a wonderful ride with breathtaking views of the landscape. Our English-speaking guide Guntel, showed us every spot where the film was shot and also the real life location – the house where the Trapp family lived, the railway station where they took the train to escape from the Nazis. While the film shows the von Trapp family hiking over the Alps to Switzerland, they actually walked to the local train station and boarded the next train to Italy, from which they fled to London and ultimately the United States. As Guntel pointed out,Salzburg is only a few kilometres away from the Austrian-German border and is much too far from either the Swiss or Italian borders for a family to escape by walking. Had the von Trapps hiked over the mountains they would have in all likelihood ended up in Germany near the Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler's mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden.

Although the film does not recount an entirely accurate story of the family, it was filmed at original locations in the city and county of Salzburg and Upper Austria, including Nonnberg Abbey, and St.Peter cemetery. Leopoldskron Palace, Frohnburg Palace, and Hellbrunn Palace were some of the locations used for the Trapp Villa in the film. The opening scene and aerial shots were filmed in Anif Palace, Mondsee, and Salzkammergut. Hohenwerfen Castle served as the main backdrop for the song "Do-Re-Mi."

We were all set to follow Maria’s footsteps. We were taken to Mirabell Garden, the starting point from where we were to take a coach accompanied by a guide. At the Mirabell Gardens, Maria and the children sang "Do-Re-Mi", dancing around the statue of Pegasus, the winged horse fountain and using the steps as a musical scale. Countless statues inspired by Greek myths can be seen throughout the Mirabell Garden, and it is centered by a big fountain. Its four statues symbolize the four elements of nature: fire, water, air and earth. Its characteristic, large, symmetrical flowerbeds make the MirabellGardens a good example of a typical baroque park. We were fascinated by the beautiful flowers that grew in multi-colours arranged in all kinds of shapes and sizes of flowerbeds.

(Photo Courtesy: Author)

We were taken to the historical Nonnberg Abbey, the oldest convent in the German speaking part of Europe founded in the year 714, which was used both in the movie and was associated with the true story. Maria was a novice there. The baron and Maria were married there in 1927. The scenes for the movie made here include the opening with the nuns going to Mass and Maria coming too late.

We visited the Gazebo and the Hellbrunn Palace where Rolf and Liesl sang ‘Sixteen going on seventeen’ and Maria and the Baron sang ‘Something good’. The gazebo gave us the chance to recreate one of the movies famous scenes. We also walked down the path where Maria skipped with a basket in one hand. Guntel, quite an interesting persona and a great guide, asked the female tourists to do the skipping scene. Anuradha skipped in Maria’s style – at least tried to!

We visited the historical 18th century Palace of Leopoldskron and its grounds that provided many locations for the movie. The front side of the castle was used as the Trapp family home; the children were boating on the Leopoldskron Lake and fell into the water. We stood by a lake where the boating scene was shot, looked at the terrace where the family drank Pink Lemonade with the Baroness Schroeder.

(Photo Courtesy: Author)

We then headed towards the Church of Mondsee – In this Cathedral the film wedding between Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as the Baron took place. Finally we went to St. Gilgen Village, a picturesque area that was featured in the opening sequence of the movie. Scenery shown at the beginning of the movie was filmed at Lake Fuschl on the way to St. Gilgen. Mozart’s mother was born here. This village on the northern side of the Lake Wolfgang is situated directly across the famous Schafberg Mountain, also seen in the movie.

What made the tour so beautiful was the fact that we got to see the real Trapp family and the reel family’s historical spots. Our guide, Guntel, not only showed us the highlights of the film but also the historical and architectural landmarks in the city, as well as a part of the picturesque Lake District. We re-lived the true story of the Von Trapp family which was filmed as ‘Sound of Music’ in and around Salzburg.


[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]


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