One of America’s most beloved musicals, “The Sound of Music,” is usually shown on television around this time of year. Have you ever watched it? The story behind this movie features a large Austrian family, the von Trapps, and their travels around the world. This year the movie turns 45 years old, but the music and family theme still appeal to kids and adults.
Georg von Trapp, below, was the son of a naval officer in Austria. Like his father, he served with the navy. He received the title of “baron” after sinking an enemy battleship during World War I.
Georg met his first wife, Agathe, at a dance. They married in early 1911.
During Georg’s long times away from home with the navy, his wife and children lived with Agathe’s mother and sisters. Along with housekeeping and studies, the family would spend time singing and learning to play instruments.
The von Trapps had seven children: Rupert, Agathe, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Martina. After Georg returned from his duty with the navy, the family moved in 1921 to a home in the town of Klosterneuburg, near Vienna.
In 1922, a disease called scarlet fever struck Klosterneuburg. The von Trapp children battled the disease, and it infected their mother.
After weeks of sickness, Agathe von Trapp died in September 1922.
Tense times in Europe
At the same time that the von Trapps were becoming a popular singing group, Germany was moving toward war with some European countries. Baron von Trapp was against Austria joining with Germany. In 1938, when the Nazis invaded Austria, he knew he needed to get his family out.
Fortunately, the family had an offer to tour in America. In October 1938, they sailed to New York City. They began their tour in Pennsylvania and traveled as far west as Oklahoma to sing for audiences. Their traditional Austrian clothing fascinated Americans.
The family toured during the early 1940s from fall through spring. They traveled on a special bus that included a crib for Johannes. When they weren’t on tour, they lived in Merion, Pa.
During the tour, Maria was expecting her third child, Johannes. She wore special costumes to try to hide her growing body.
On the move
After the tour ended, the von Trapps first settled in Germantown, Pa., where Johannes was born in January 1939. Later that year, they returned to Europe to tour. But when Germany attacked Poland and World War II was under way, they knew they had to travel back to the United States.
Each family member lent a skill or talent to the home. Johanna was the cook; Hedwig did the laundry. Agathe sewed and mended clothes, including the family’s singing costumes.
The children also published their own newspaper. Cartoons, recipes and special events filled its pages.
In 1942 the von Trapps bought a farm in the mountains near Stowe, Vt. The mountains and lakes in the area reminded them of Austria. They worked their land between concert tours.
Today the farm is the Trapp Family Lodge, a large hotel with many activities for visitors.
Georg died in 1947 at age 67. The family carried on with touring and with a music camp they had started in 1944. In May 1948, they became U. S. citizens at a ceremony in Montpelier, Vt.
Maria died in 1987 at age 82. Five of the original von Trapp children are living. They still love music and gather at the lodge to visit.
Four great-grandchildren of Georg and Maria form The Von Trapp Children, an a cappella singing group. They tour the world, carrying on traditions of the family made famous in “The Sound of Music.”
In November 1959, “The Sound of Music” opened as a musical play in New York City. It was based on Maria’s book “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.” Songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote songs for the play including “Do-Re-Mi” and “So Long, Farewell.” Many theaters and schools still produce the play today.
The 1965 movie was a big hit and made the family famous again.
A move to Salzburg
In 1925, von Trapp decided the family would move closer to Salzburg, another city in Austria. He bought a home in the village of Aigen, and his children started school.
The next year, his daughter Maria became ill, and she stayed home from school. Baron von Trapp needed a tutor to work with her so she wouldn’t get behind in her schoolwork.
A young nun from the Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg was found to teach Maria at home. Her name was Maria, too.
Soon Maria became close to all the children. She sang with them, played games and told stories.
Baron von Trapp also fell in love with Maria. He thought she would make a good mother for his seven children. He proposed marriage to her, and in late 1927 they were married in the abbey where she had studied to be a nun.
Maria was only 22 when she married Georg, who was 47. The children, who had called their mom “Mama,” called her “Mother.”
In 1929, Maria’s first child, Rosmarie, was born. Eleonore was born in 1931. The Trapp family choir was growing! The children, Maria and Georg sang and played instruments together. They sang at the Aigen church. A young priest became a coach for the family and taught them new music.
Singing for others
In 1936, the von Trapps were encouraged to sing at the Salzburg Music Festival. Georg didn’t like the idea of his family singing in public, but he agreed to “only one time.” They won a prize at the festival, and their singing career was launched.
Baron von Trapp supported his family by traveling with them and handling details.