Monday, November 5, 2012


"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. It is sung by Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp and his family during the concert near the end of Act II as a defiant statement of Austrian patriotism in the face of the pressure put upon him to join the navy of Nazi Germany.

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. It was introduced in the original Broadway production by Theodore Bikel.

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 utilise the guitar-playing and folk-singing talents of Theodore Bikel, who created the role of Captain von Trapp on Broadway. In the movie, the song was sung surprisingly well by non singer Christopher Plummer.

The Lindsay and Crouse script provides a metaphor of the edelweiss flower, as a symbol of the Austria that Captain von Trapp, Maria and their children knew would live on in their hearts despite the Nazi Anschluss (annexation of their homeland.) As such, 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 haunting waltz-time melody, based on simple romantic Biedermeier era tunes like Hänschen klein and others, 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, which would take his life nine months after The Sound of Music opened on Broadway.

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. Lehman also expanded the scope of the song when it was sung in the Salzburg Festival concert scene so that Captain von Trapp and his family 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.

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. However, Austria's official anthem is "Land der Berge, Land am Strome". 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."


  1. Coincidentally, I heard a subway busker playing "Edelweiss" on the erhu (2 stringed Chinese fiddle) last week. How's that for universality?

    I think Plummer's singing voice was dubbed in the movie. I've heard him complain about it in interviews.

  2. Please could I mention a little something about Plummer as the Captain? Plummer did not sing the Captain's songs in the finished film. He pre-recorded the songs but the filmmakers felt that his voice did not sound as good when up next to Andrews. They employed a playback singer, Bill Lee, to sing the song for him. Peggy Wood also had a playback singer to sing the Mother Abbess's songs for her.