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The hills reverberate with sound of music

Austria celebrates the 40th year of "The Sound Of Music" and the birth centenary of Maria Von Trapp, on whom the film is based. RANDOR GUY revives memories of the movie that has become a legend.

(Above) Maria (Julie Andrews) and the children singing about their "Favourite Things." (Below) With Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer).

THE HILLS of Salzburg, Austria, and those in other parts of the world are alive once more with "The Sound of Music" (1965), which was the most popular musical and one of the biggest box-office hits of all time. And it continues to be popular.

The world is celebrating the 40th year of the movie, and the birth centenary of the real-life Maria Von Trapp (1905-1987), on whom "The Sound of Music" is based.

The Vienna Folk Opera premiered the musical in Vienna for the first time in February 26, 2005, and the show will continue till June, for which it has been solidly booked.

Tourist attraction

Interestingly, the popularity of the musical and the movie has turned Salzburg, where the movie was shot, into a great tourist attraction. There are conducted tours of the places connected with the real-life Von Trapp family and of film locations.

The musical, written by the famed duo, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, became their biggest success. And the play ran on Broadway, New York, for 1,443 performances!

It won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and sold over three million albums. The movie collected so much money around the world that Newsweek described it as `the Sound of Money!'

It won the Oscar in five categories, Best Picture, Director (Robert Wise), Sound, Editing and Musical Score (adaptation).

Born in Vienna in 1905, Maria Agathe Kutschera was at first a socialist and an atheist. But a meeting with a Catholic priest converted her. She decided to become a nun. She was a novice at the Benedictine Convent on Nonnberg in Salzburg. However, life in the cloistered and claustrophobic atmosphere did not suit her and her love for music and dance broke through her religious, disciplined life.

Consequently, she became a bit of a problem for the nuns in the convent and especially for the Mother Superior.

("She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee ... her dress has got a tear ... She waltzes on her way to Mass ... And whistles on the stair ... And underneath her wimple she has curlers in her hair ... I even heard her singing in the abbey...," the lines from one of the popular songs in the movie aptly describe her situation in the convent!).

Therefore, the Mother Superior sent her as a governess to look after the seven, motherless children of Baron Georg Ritter Von Trapp. Trapp fell in love with her and they married in 1927.

A naval captain and a rich man, he lost his job when Austria did not need a navy after the First World War and the Division of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and the collapse of a bank wiped out his fortune.

Undaunted, Maria began the Trapp Family legend and during the early 1930s, she founded a family singing group and gave public performances in Austria.

The novice at the convent ... the nuns lament that she breaks all the rules.

After the occupation of Austria by Hitler's Nazis in 1938, Trapp refused to toe the line of the dictator and became a victim of Nazi persecution. The looming war and increasing Nazi threats made the family determined to flee the country. Maria cleverly planned their escape from Austria.

Facing odds, they made their way to Italy and then on to the U.S.

Enraged by their escape, Hitler took over the Trapp family castle, which was used by the Nazis for their nefarious purposes. After the Second World War, it became the property of a monastery, which it continues to be. Not surprisingly, the castle is a major tourist attraction but visitors are only allowed in its grounds.

In America, Maria and her 10 children (three born to her and Trapp) launched a musical group, Trapp Family Singers. It became a huge success, which enabled the family to settle comfortably in the new country and buy a huge farm in the state of Vermont. It came to be known as `the Trapp Family lodge.'

Today it is a successful hotel and expectedly a tourist attraction.

Maria wrote a book on her experiences, `The Story of the Trapp Family Singers' which became a bestseller.

Based on it, two movies were made in German, "The Trapp Family" (1956), and "The Trapp Family In America" (1958.) Both became hits inEurope and in South America. Sadly, Maria did not make much money out of the movies, having been taken for a ride by agents and producers in Germany and later in Hollywood.

On Broadway

The musical took its bow on Broadway on November 1959. The music was by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein and script by Harvard Lindsey and Russell Crowse. It ran for four years.

The famed singing star of Broadway, Mary Martin, played Maria and the real-life Maria, who saw the show was most impressed by her performance.

Then came the historic movie version of 1965. A Twentieth Century Fox production, it was produced and directed by veteran Hollywood moviemaker, Robert Wise.

Scripted by the noted Hollywood screenwriter, Ernest Lehman, it was an adaptation of the musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It had the British-born singing star Julie Andrews as Maria, and the well-known actor, Christopher Plummer, as Captain Von Trapp. Andrews virtually carried the film on her slim shoulders with her amazing range of talent in acting and singing.

Others in the cast included the noted Hollywood actress Eleanor Parker, and Peggy Wood as Mother Superior for which she received an Oscar nomination. The movie received eight Oscar nominations including Best Actress for Julie Andrews but she did not win it.

Talented actor

Julie Andrews (born 1935) was singing on stage right from childhood in England. Soon she migrated to America where she made a splash on Broadway as Eliza Doolittle in the original stage version of the super hit musical, "My Fair Lady." However, for the movie version, she lost the race to Audrey Hepburn. Anyway she attained international stardom winning the Best Actress Oscar Award for "Mary Poppins." Then came "The Sound of Music."

Robert Wise (born 1914) began as film editor and attracted attention with his brilliant, innovative, editing work in the classic "Citizen Kane" (1941) and "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942). Soon he began to direct and made movies like "The Day Earth Stood Still" (1951), "I Want To Live" (1954, Oscar nomination) and "Executive Suite" (1934).

The movie's songs too became hits. From "Do-Re- Mi...," "My Favourite Things...," "I am sixteen going on seventeen..." to "Edelweiss...."

As Austria celebrates the twin occasions, the hills reverberate with the evergreen music.

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