The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time by Tom Santopietro:
Although the majority of Broadway musicals were traditionally top-heavy with music in the first act, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s completed score proved to be even more front loaded than usual, with only three new songs (and three reprises) in the entire second act. Pleased with the audience response, the authors made few substantive changes during the show’s tryouts, with one key exception: Rodgers insisted that the captain be provided with a solo in the penultimate scene in order to underscore his love of family and country. The result was “Edelweiss,” the last song ever written by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Diagnosed with cancer of the stomach at the end of the third week of rehearsals, Hammerstein had been too ill to attend most of the show’s out-of-town tryouts, but when he felt well enough, he traveled to Boston and wrote this last lyric. The “bless my homeland forever” message of the song proved universal, managing to simultaneously strike a patriotic chord in nearly all audience members while deepening their understanding of the captain. (So effectively did the song come to symbolize Austria in the public’s eye that when the president of Austria visited the Reagan White House, the director of protocol mistakenly thought that the song was the Austrian national anthem and instructed the Marine band to play the song upon the Austria president’s arrival).