This song tells the whimsical story of a goatherd whose yodelling is heard from far off and by passers-by, until he falls in love with a girl who wears a pale-pink coat, with her mother joining in the yodelling.
This song has been sung at different points in the musical depending on the production. In the 1959 Broadway production, Maria von Trapp (played by Mary Martin) sings the song in the children's bedroom to comfort them during a storm, while in the 1965 film Maria (played by Julie Andrews) and the children sing it as part of a marionette show they perform for their father. (A different song, "My Favorite Things," is performed in the bedroom for the film version.)
Many subsequent stage productions have placed this song at different points in the musical. In the 1981 West End revival with Petula Clark, Maria and the children sing it at a fair, and in the 1998 Broadway revival with Rebecca Luker it is sung at the Salzburg Festival concert.
The lively number reappears later in the film version as a deliberately-paced and very Austrian-sounding instrumental, the Ländler, a dance performed by the Captain and Maria. It then serves as the catalyst to a dramatic juncture in the film, as the young apprentice nun Maria realizes that she is in love with the Captain.
The song is a well-known example of yodeling, which is a part of the traditional music of the Austrian Alps, where the musical is set. The lyrics are also well-known and widely quoted, especially the opening line, "High on a hill was a lonely goatherd."
The song has appeared in many other places and is popular as a cultural reference. Examples: