Climb Ev’ry Mountain – Margery McKay (for Peggy Wood)
Of all the places I associate with music, none are comparable to Austria. My mother, being musical and adventurous, chose to trek to Austria on her own in the fifties when the country was certainly not a tourist destination and, from the Russian point of view, not really a proper country at all (by a hair’s breadth, the Russian sector avoided the East German fate of being set up as a Soviet puppet state). She fell completely in love with the place, particularly Salzburg and the surroundings.
I grew up, therefore, not only with regular holidays to Salzburg and the environs but also with watching and listening to regular performances of my parents’ audio-visual slideshows of those holidays, which they presented to a professional standard with recorded music and narration – another reason why I associate music in general with Austria.
While my mother’s interests are mainly classical, she was also an enthusiastic amateur operatic performer as a teenager and ‘The Sound of Music’, while being too late in Roger’s and Hammerstein’s canon for her to have performed in, most certainly got her seal of approval.
Knowing Salzburg as I did after a while from our holidays, it was not a difficult sell to persuade me to watch the film at the cinema and on TV. In fact, on TV every Christmas! And while the songs may, after half a century of frequent exposure, seem a bit kitsch, they are genuinely musical, requiring proper operatic and orchestral skill to deliver.
Some kids would have been put off by this rough treatment. I absorbed it like a sponge. To this day, I know the Salzburg Altstadt like the back of my hand and I find the city a magical place to visit.
So we have settled on a set of songs and a place. Picking one is a bit more tricky.
Third place must go to ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ – a tour de force from Julia Andrews, particularly in the second half, but the sense of place is not as strong as the musical acrobatics and the puppetry.
Second place must go to ‘Do Re Mi’, surely the classic Salzburg song. I could lead a tour round the locations used for the film sequence blindfold! But, alas, it is simply too over exposed to take the top spot.
So the song award of the film, for me, goes to ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’. This also appeals to my sense of miscellany. For a start, although the Nonnberg Convent in the city is the presumed home of the film Maria and the real home of the real Maria, the film seems to locate the Abbey at Mondsee, a little way outside the city: The opening sequence is filmed in the Salzkammergut and the church at Mondsee is the real location of the wedding chapel at the end.
And then there is Peggy Wood, who played the Abbess and deservedly won an Oscar nomination for the part. She doesn’t sing the song. Although a singer in her youth, by the time of the film (her last) it was beyond her. It is sung by Margery McKay. The vocal range of the song ideally requires a professional opera singer and even then, when I heard Lesley Garrett sing it on the London stage, it seemed to have been reworked to suit her range.
Best of all, the song appears twice in the film, being used as the Von Trapps climb their way out of Austria to safety in Switzerland. A double helping of pleasure, and mountains!