I’ve talked many times about my “America feeling,” and today I’m going to talk about a version of that, the “Austria feeling.”
I love the 1965 American musical movie The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I’ve seen it about fifty times, and I plan to see it fifty more. I’m going to talk now about the plot of The Sound of Music, and if you need a spoiler warning, you should stop this podcast right now and run to see The Sound of Music, because it’s so good.
Now, about the plot of The Sound of Music: I must confess that I was quite grown up before I truly understood the plot of the movie. I understood what was going on with Maria and the children, of course, but I didn’t really follow what was going on with Austria and Captain von Trapp.
In case you don’t remember, the movie is set in the late 1930’s, right before World War II, and during the story of the movie, the Anschluss takes place, which is when Austria was annexed by Germany’s Third Reich. Captain von Trapp was a decorated war hero in World War I, and so he’s ordered to report to a German Naval base to accept a commission in the German Navy. Because he’s strongly opposed to the Nazis and the Anschluss, he refuses to serve, so he and the family make arrangements to flee the country.
They’re just leaving, at night, when they’re discovered by Nazi officials. To make an excuse for why they’re setting out in the night with all seven children, the Captain and Maria explain that they’re on their way to perform in a huge, well-publicized Austrian folk-music festival in Salzburg that’s taking place that night. And indeed, thanks to their greedy friend Max, they’re able to show the program of the festival with all their names listed. And what we don’t yet know is that they will go to the festival, and will make their escape from there.
So the Nazi officials say, “Okay, fine, we’ll escort you, and then when you’re all done singing, we’ll take the Captain to his command.” And they go to the auditorium, and the officials sit in the audience so they can keep an eye on things.
And then comes one of the most memorable scenes of the movie.
The Captain comes out with a guitar to stand alone in the middle of the dark stage, in the middle of this huge, packed auditorium, and he sings the song Edelweiss, as an expression of his love for his country. (Side note: although the song was written for The Sound of Music, in the story, it’s presented as a kind of national folk song or anthem that everyone knows.)
As the Captain begins to sing, we see the Nazi officials exchange glances of annoyance at the choice of this patriotic song, and we hear the Captain’s voice fail as he’s overcome with emotion as he looks out at the crowd, and then his family joins him on stage to sing with him, and then we hear everyone in the auditorium join together in this song to their country.
I hope you can imagine the scene, as you listen. Here’s the Captain:
"I shall not be seeing you again, perhaps, for a very long time. I would like to sing for you now a love song. I know you share this love. I pray that you will never let it die."
This scene and this song remind me how our love for our country can burn brightly, even when events look very dark.