Even if you don't know it, you know Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, the legendary guys who wrote the score for The Sound of Music. All those songs your parents and grandparents walk around humming? Chances are they were written by this dynamic duo.
Both men had been successful in collaborating with other composers and lyricists, but together they were the ultimate Broadway power couple, producing scores for tons of beloved classical musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, including Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific, and Oklahoma!. Oklahoma!, produced in 1949, is considered a milestone in the evolution of the American musical. It integrated song and drama in a way that was a huge departure from earlier types of musicals that emphasized humor and fluff. R&H musicals were often adapted from plays and novels, another difference from earlier works in musical theater.
The Sound of Music was actually their last collaboration, and the bittersweet "Edelweiss" was the last song they wrote together. Hammerstein died not long after The Sound of Music opened on Broadway. (Source).
Like most Rodgers and Hammerstein scores, The Sound of Music score was originally written as a stage production. After Hammerstein's death, Richard Rodgers wrote some additional music and lyrics for the film, which is why the world now has "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good" (source). He also eliminated three songs from the original stage production.
The score that we know today almost didn't come to be. When the original stage production was being developed based on the West German film "The von Trapp Family," the original idea was to make it a play featuring songs that the actual von Trapps sang, as opposed to a full-blown musical. The show's production team thought adding a couple of original songs would be a good idea, so they approached Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
Soon enough, though, everyone agreed that the new music didn't really mesh well with the Austrian folk songs, and so Rodgers and Hammerstein offered to do a whole original score. And the rest, as they say, is musical history (source).
The Sound of The Sound of Music
What makes the score so unforgettable? Well, first, it has a ridiculously high "sing-ability" factor. There's a reason it's been a sing-along phenomenon, right? The songs are tuneful and easy to follow. And because there are children in the cast, lots of the songs are memorable to kids, too. Raise your hand if you learned your do-re-mi from Maria.
We thought so.
What's also unique is that the whole topic of music is a major part of the plot, so many of the musical moments are presented as actual musical performances—for the children, for the baroness and Max, for the captain's party, for the Salzburg festival. So the music not only makes a lot more plot "sense," but it also draws attention to the movie's themes. It's not coming out of the blue.
Some critics have felt that Rodgers and Hammerstein shows were too sweet and sentimental (The Sound of Music being a great example), but their stories dealt with serious themes: domestic violence (Carousel), racism (South Pacific), immigrant culture (Flower Drum Song), tradition vs. modernism (The King and I). And The Sound of Music has those Nazis (source).
R & H 4eva
It's impossible to overestimate the impact of R&H on the American musical theater. They pretty much created the modern Broadway musical and influenced generations of composers. Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, Gypsy, Company, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, we could go on and on) has said that everything he knows, he learned from from Oscar Hammerstein. (And he knows a lot. How's eight Tonys, an Oscar, eight Grammys, and a Pulitzer?)
Richard Rodgers was the first person to receive every single award it was possible to receive in his field—an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and Pulitzer Prize. He was one of the first Kennedy Center Honors honorees (1978) and even has a Broadway theater named after him (source).
Hammerstein earned all the same awards except the Emmy, and if he'd lived longer he'd probably have that one, too. For only the second time in history, they dimmed the lights on Broadway when he died.
It wasn't the hills that filled our hearts with the sound of music. It was Rodgers and Hammerstein.