The Von Trapp Family Biography

PHOTO: The Von Trapp Family

The Sound of Music is one of the most popular musical films ever made. It is the story of the von Trapps; seven motherless children, their stern sea-captain father and, most of all, their feisty but sweet governess.

Yet, the von Trapps are not just a Hollywood creation. They are an actual family - and the story of the real von Trapps could not be more different from the musical version.

Georg von Trapp, a widowed Austrian aristocrat did marry the governess, Maria Kutschera. The real Maria would save, and then nearly enslave his family. When the von Trapps lost their considerable fortune in a bank crash, Maria took over.

With the help of a local priest, she took the family hobby, singing, and turned it into the family profession. Before long, the von Trapps were performing all over Europe.

In March of 1938, the Nazis marched into Salzburg, and the von Trapps decided it was time to leave Austria. Maria arranged an American concert tour, and the family was able to escape Hitler.

They left behind their home and all that remained of their wealth, and would never return. They did not need to climb any mountains to escape. They left by train (the local stop was directly behind their estate) and made their way to Italy and then on to America without incident.

Once in the United States, the von Trapps struggled to establish themselves as a choral singing group. They sang mostly in German, had a repertoire of difficult classical music, and dressed like refugees. But Maria would not let them fail. She hired a top manager and a publicist, and before long the family singing group became quite a phenomenon.

But, even when the family was at the height of their popularity, Maria would not let them rest. The ten children (Maria and Georg had three children together) toured up to eight months a year. During the summer they worked their Vermont farm, and ran a music camp.

The isolation of a life on the road or on the farm, combined with constant work and Maria's volatile temper, took its toll. Rosmarie, Maria's eldest child, suffered a nervous breakdown, and her mother sent her for electro-shock therapy. Another daughter ran away to elope. And before long, Maria was forced to hire non-family members for the family singing group.

The family suffered, but Maria made them sound harmonious and heroic in her book, The Trapp Family Singers, which she wrote as a way to help promote the group. To her surprise, the book was a success and it would eventually find its way into the hands of the reigning Broadway star of the 1950s, Mary Martin.

Martin and her producers started to work on the project that would become The Sound of Music, the musical that vaulted a family of Austrian immigrants to worldwide attention and made Maria a celebrity.

While The Sound of Music has been an extremely successful money-making property, the von Trapps themselves profited little from the musical interpretation of their lives. Maria had sold the rights to her book for a flat fee - no royalties - long before Mary Martin had come into the picture.

Today, most of the surviving von Trapps live down-to-earth lives in rural Vermont and The Sound of Music continues to captivate audiences around the world.

On 12 March, 1998, the revival of the stageplay opened on Broadway, and every year some 500 to 600 high-schools perform their versions of the musical. Howevedr, the von Trapps take pride not in The Sound of Music, but in their own music, music that they performed together as a family for almost twenty years.

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