Edelweiss (song)

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Song from The Sound of Music
WriterOscar Hammerstein II
ComposerRichard Rodgers
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Song from The Sound of Music
WriterOscar Hammerstein II
ComposerRichard Rodgers
The Edelweiss white flower

"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.


Writing of the song

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 created the role of Captain von Trapp on Broadway. 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.) 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

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.

Misconceptions about the song

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 device 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 Showboat, 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]

American church use

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

The estates of Rodgers and Hammerstein have not authorized the use of alternate lyrics with the melody of the song, making this practice illegal. 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 requests, which are "inconsistent with the creators' intentions".[8]



  1. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II Is Dead", The New York Times, p. 1, August 23, 1960
  2. ^ November 7, 2006. "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" BBC.
  3. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gebirgsj%C3%A4ger
  4. ^ [1] Where Have You Gone, Oscar Hammerstein? by Mark Steyn in Slate Magazine
  5. ^ McLamore, Alyson (2004). Musical theater: an appreciation. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 156. ISBN 0-13-048583-7, 9780130485830.
  6. ^ Fordin, Hugh (1995). Getting to know him: a biography of Oscar Hammerstein II. Da Capo Press. p. 102. ISBN 0-306-80668-1, 9780306806681.
  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. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 253. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  10. ^ Hollie Steel - 1st + 2nd Attempts, Britain's Got Talent Semi-Final

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