THE TRAPP FAMILY SINGERS: The Sound Of Music is one of the most popular musical films made; 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 Trapp Family are an actual family—and their story could not be more different from the musical version. Georg von Trapp, a widowed Austrian aristocrat did marry the governess, Maria Kutschera. When the von Trapps lost their fortune in a bank crash, Maria, with the help of a local priest, took the family hobby — singing — and turned it into the family profession. Before long, the von Trapp Family was performing all over Europe.
In March 1938, the Nazis marched into Salzburg and the von Trapps decided to leave Austria, so Maria arranged an American concert tour. 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 behind their estate) and made their way to America without incident.
In the United States, the von Trapps struggled to establish themselves as a choral singing group. They sang in German, had a repertoire of difficult classical music, and dressed like refugees. But Maria would not let them fail. Before long, the family singing group became a phenomenon.
Even at the height of their popularity, Maria did not let them rest. The ten children (Maria and Georg had three children together) toured up 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 the farm, combined with constant work and Maria's volatile temper, took its toll. Rosmarie, Maria's eldest, suffered a nervous breakdown. Another daughter eloped. Before long, Maria hired 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 to promote the group. To her surprise, the book was a success and eventually found its way into the hands of reigning Broadway star, Mary Martin. Martin and her producers started 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 profitable property, the von Trapps profited little from the musical interpretation of their lives. Maria had sold the rights to her book for a flat fee — no royalties.
Today, most of the surviving von Trapp Family live down-to-earth lives in rural Vermont. "The Sound Of Music" continues to captivate audiences around the world.
On March 12, 1998, the revival of the musical opened on Broadway, and every year some 500 to 600 high schools perform versions the show. The von Trapps take pride not in "The Sound Of Music," but in their own music — music they performed together as a family for almost twenty years.