Once, long ago, Salzburg was famous only for Mozart. Then came The Sound of Music and – to the dismay of many Austrians and opera buffs – the city was flooded with yodelling Marias. And in the film’s 50th-anniversary year the hysteria shows no sign of abating. Fans can now go on a Sound of Music tour to hug trees climbed by the curtain-clad Von Trapp children and pose by the gazebo where youngsters Liesl and Rolfe kissed – but you can’t re-enact the Alpine scene where Maria (Julie Andrews) twirled and burst into joyful song.
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN…?
It’s perhaps the most famous opener in cinema history, but sadly coach tours won’t take you to Mehlweg mountain where Julie Andrews sang The Sound of Music. The meadow is on private land. If it’s any consolation, even the film crew had difficulty reaching it and resorted to using an ox-drawn cart.
Julie Andrews once recalled how she lost her temper at this gorgeous location: “I’ll never forget it. We shot the scene many times, and at the end of each take the helicopter would circle round. The downdraft nailed me flat onto the grass, and I bit the dust.”
In the next sequence Maria ran to the eighth-century Nonnberg Abbey (in reality 25 miles away in Salzburg). Still a convent, it’s where the real Maria resided before being sent to care for Captain Von Trapp’s seven children. “She had a horrible dress on,” recalled Mitzi Von Trapp, “but we took to her because she sang lots of songs.”
AS EASY AS DO-RE-MI
It’s not just tourists who visit the film locations. Charmian Carr, who played Liesl Von Trapp, now 72, surprised a tour group by joining them outside Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg. The final part of the musical’s Do-Re-Mi sequence was filmed there and, for Carr, it was her most memorable scene. “We spent a lot of time here and it’s just as beautiful today; we were running through the arbour, in front of the statues and the mountain, and marching around the gargoyle.”
Opposite Mirabell Gardens is the Old Town with its 11th-century fortress, charming domes and spires, and baroque buildings that were requisitioned by the Nazis. “No musical with swastikas in it will ever be a success,” Hollywood director Billy Wilder once warned Ernest Lehman, the man who adapted the Broadway show for the screen. But Wilder was proved wrong – although the reappearance of Nazi flags in Residence Square upset the locals, The Sound of Music was an instant hit with audiences and remains one of the top-grossing movies of all time.
During filming, the real Maria Von Trapp was an extra in Residence Square and for hours walked across the street behind Julie Andrews as she sang I Have Confidence. She greeted Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp) with a kiss on the lips, exclaiming: “My God, darling. I wish my husband looked as good as you.”
SO LONG TO THE NAZIS
A memorable landmark in The Sound of Music is the 17th-century Felsenreitschule, a concert hall cut into the Mönchsberg mountainside. It was here that the children sang So Long, Farewell before fleeing the Nazis across the Alps to Switzerland. The real-life family were also famous singers but their escape wasn’t as dramatic. Given that Switzerland was actually 200 miles away, they didn’t hike, but took the train to Italy before emigrating to America.
SHE NEARLY DROWNED
After the war, the Von Trapps sold their villa to a religious brotherhood, so film director Robert Wise was obliged to find a different location. He shot the interior in a Hollywood studio and the exterior at two Salzburg properties. When Rolfe threw stones at Liesl’s window, he was facing Fromberg Music Academy; when lovestruck Liesl looked down at the boy who’d later betray her, she was facing Leopoldskron lake.
Julie Andrews and the children had to capsize their rowing boat in the lake, but didn’t realise that Kym Karath, who played youngest child Gretl, couldn’t swim. Karath was hastily rescued – and wasn’t the only casualty during produc- tion. Singing Sixteen Going on Seventeen Charmian Carr slipped and smashed her foot through a glass gazebo. The exterior can be seen in the gardens of Hellbrunn Palace.
THE WEDDING SCENE
For many fans, the highlight of The Sound of Music is the wedding of Maria and the Captain at the magnificent Gothic church in Mondsee, 20 minutes east of Salzburg. Here, even the real Maria was transfixed, as her daughter Eleonore recalled: “The wedding scene just so enveloped her. She felt she was walking down the aisle going to marry my father again.”
Ali Wood was in Salzburg in March 2015
For city and Sound of Music Tours, visit Panorama Tours