The Sound of Music
A Musical Review
“The Sound of Music” is a musical drama film released in 1965 and directed by Robert Wise. The musical is set in the late 1930s and follows the story of a young Austrian woman named Maria, who is studying to become a nun. She is sent to the home of retired naval officer and widower Captain Georg von Trapp, where she becomes the governess of his seven children: Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta, and Gretl. Known for causing trouble for their past governesses, Maria unexpectedly earns the affection of the children as she plays with them and teaches them to sing. Captain Georg brings Baroness Elsa Schraeder, his soon-to-be fiancé, and Max Detweiler, a family friend, home to his villa, where Max is impressed by the children’s vocal talents and suggests their participation in the upcoming Salzburg Festival. During a grand party held at the villa, the Baroness convinces Maria to return to the abbey, and Maria leaves, frightened by her growing affection for Captain Georg. The Captain and Baroness announce their engagement before breaking it off when Maria returns to the villa, determined to understand her feelings for the Captain. Maria and Captain Georg marry, much to the delight of the children, and return from their honeymoon to find their children performing in the Salzburg Festival after Austria was annexed by the Third Reich. The Captain is ordered to serve in the German Navy, and the film ends with the family using the Salzburg Festival and Maria’s former abbey as an escape, crossing the border into Switzerland on foot.
As a musical, “The Sound of Music” is filled with songs and has a few instances of speech-like singing. Song is used as a tool to set the mood of a scene and to convey emotion. Each song furthers the overall story, and the general atmosphere set by these songs is largely positive and joyful. Because “The Sound of Music” is a musical in a film setting, the majority of the film is speech, with musical scenes interspersed throughout the movie. Speech-like singing is also utilized, both as a transition tool from speech to song and as declarations; several of the songs in this musical have direct meaning and are spoken between two or more people. Their exchange could be spoken, but instead it is sung, and this musical utilizes song excellently.
Choruses and ensembles are also frequently used in this musical. There are only a few songs within the film that are sung solo; this musical utilizes the talented voices of the cast to create harmonies whenever possible, and the seven children often sing in a chorus manner. One example of an ensemble in this musical is the song “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” which is sung between Liesl and Rolf as an expression of young love and dependence. An example of chorus singing is found in “Do-Re-Mi,” sung by Maria and all of the Von Trapp children when she teaches them to sing. Orchestra plays a very active role in the musical; rather than serving as background music, the orchestra actively helps to paint the scenes and convey emotion. Additionally, the orchestra is used in introductory sections such as the beginning of the musical and during the intermission.
In one scene, Maria is in her room after her first dinner with the Von Trapp family. During a rainstorm, Liesl climbs through the window after rendezvousing with Rolf, and after grasping the situation, Maria asks Liesl to change into dry clothes and offers to talk with her. With a particularly loud bout of thunder, the other children arrive in Maria’s room one-by-one, frightened by the storm. In an effort to calm them, Maria starts naming nice things, breaking into song — “My Favorite Things” — and encouraging the children to join. The interaction is light-hearted and fun. After the children name some of their own favorite things, the song is cut short when Captain Georg arrives in the room, checking on the noise. The emotion in the scene immediately becomes more serious and downtrodden. The scene ends with Maria recovering from her talk with Captain Georg and renewing her determination to help the children have fun.
Both spoken dialogue and song are utilized in this scene, and I find that music especially helps to paint the emotion of this scene. As Maria sings to the children, the music is very upbeat, with a tempo that is neither slow nor hurried. The melodic motion generally moves upwards, with higher notes that create a more lighthearted feel. After Captain Georg arrives, however, the music immediately cuts off without warning, alerting the listener to a shift in the scene’s emotion. After Captain Georg and the children leave the room, Maria throws her nightgown cover across the room in frustration and sits in a chair, defeated. As Maria is left alone in the room, music from “My Favorite Things” begins playing, a twisted version of its earlier joviality. Rather than moving upwards, the melodic motion moves down, ending each phrase with a darker note. As the listener, it is clear that the musical emotion shifts from a high to a low, and this shift emphasizes Maria’s emotion in the scene. The music helps the audience feel how happy the scene began and how frustrated and dejected it become. At the very end of the scene, the music swells and takes a higher note again as Maria regains her confidence and determination.
While this particular scene is shot inside, the musical is shot as a film, so the actors do not remain on a single set. Acting is essential in this scene, as there is spoken dialogue in addition to song, and the film nature of the musical helps each scene feel more “real.” Rather than being confined to a set, the film takes the audience through real locations to define the narrative, and this scene in the bedroom is more powerful because of that realistic feel.
I adore “The Sound of Music,” and it is my favorite musical film. I remember watching this musical over and over when I was younger, and it was enlightening to watch it again after taking a music course. I find this musical very emotionally satisfying; I typically find that too much music in a film can be overbearing, but “The Sound of Music” utilizes music so well and in a way that is captivating for the audience. I did not experience any barriers to engaging with the material in this musical, and I think the music can be universally enjoyed by all audiences. After taking this course, I find myself making mental notes on the music I encounter in daily life, whether through television and film, popular music on the radio, or even background music at restaurants and stores. I certainly approached this musical differently now that I am more familiar with music and the effect it can have on emotion and setting the mood. The effect of music is remarkable, and “The Sound of Music” is an excellent representation of a musical that utilizes music to its advantage and enraptures its audience.
“The Sound of Music (film).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 July 2017. Web. 27 July 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sound_of_Music_(film)#Soundtrack>