MONDAY NUN DAY: Richard Rodgers’ Research for The Sound of Music

For today’s Monday Nun Day posting, we take a look into the creation of the music sung by the nuns in The Sound of Music. Did you know that this liturgical-style music was written specifically for the production? There’s also quite a bit more of it in the stage version than what you might remember from the iconic Julie Andrews film…and we’re excited to share it with you during the Central City Opera 2014 Festival!

Richard and Dorothy Rodgers at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart at a concert arranged by Mother Morgan for research on The Sound of Music – Photo from New York Public Library Digital Gallery

Richard Rodgers wrote in Musical Stages: An Autobiography:

One musical problem confronting me was the opening piece. Rather than begin with the customary overture, we decided to open immediately on a scene in Nonnberg Abbey, in which the nuns are heard chanting a Catholic prayer, “Dixit Dominus.” Since I had been so strongly against a score that combined old music with new, I could hardly fall back on using a traditional melody for the mass. Writing “Western” songs for Oklahoma! or “Oriental” songs for The King and I had never fazed me, but the idea of composing a Catholic prayer made me apprehensive. Given my lack of familiarity with liturgical music, as well as the fact that I was of a different faith, I had to make sure that what I wrote would sound as authentic as possible.

Richard Rodgers at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart – also from NYPL Digital Gallery

So for the first time in my life I did a little research – and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding music lessons I’ve ever had. Through friends I got in touch with Mother Morgan, the head of the music department at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. She was not only willing to help; she even invited Dorothy and me to a specially arranged concert at which the nuns and seminarians sand and performed many different kinds of religious music, from Gregorian chants to a modern work by Gabriel Fauré. An unexpectedly amusing moment came when Mother Morgan, waving her arms like a cheerleader at a football game, was vigorously conducting a particularly dramatic passage. As the music built to its peak, above the singing could be clearly heard Mother Morgan’s booming command: “Pray it!”

Mother Morgan (above) assisted Ricard Rodgers in his research for creating the liturgical music for The Sound of Music.

Catch Richard Rodgers’ beautiful music inspired by Mother Morgan and her fellow nuns during The Sound of Music. The production runs exclusively at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, August 2-10, 2014.

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