"The Sound of Music": The real story

If you think that Salzburg′s tourism mafia is shameless in exploiting Mozart, wait until you see what it is doing with "The Sound of Music". The 1950ies musical and subsequent movie that is virtually unknown in Austria is celebrated with great passion: Guided tours, dinner shows, sing-alongs. This does not come as a surprise, though: According to the tourist information office, some 300.000 people a year come to Salzburg primarily because of this movie. The tourism industries give them only what they want.

However, one thing is widely ignored: The real story of the Trapp family. You can read on it in great detail in books, on other websites and brochures available in Salzburg. In this article, we would just like to give a very brief overview on the most important dates and events in the "real" life of the family.

Baron Georg von Trapp was a child of Imperial nobility and a very wealthy man. A former naval officer of the Austrian-Hungarian navy (submarines), he gets married to Agathe Whitehead in 1911. After the outbreak of war in 1914, von Trapp becomes the commander of an Austrian U5 submarine. During the war, his wife and two children move to the remote Erlhof, a former farmhouse in Zell am See. There, she gives birth to three more children. After the war ends, the Trapp family relocates to the surroundings of Vienna. In 1922, Agathe dies from scarlet fever.

Three years later, in 1925, Baron von Trapp and his children move to Salzburg. Two of his children have also suffered from scarlet fever, which had led to a permanent heart condition with his daughter Maria. To assist her and look after the other children, Baron Georg von Trapp hires the young woman Maria Augusta Kutschera as a nanny and teacher. At that time, Kutschera had thought about joining the nunnery of Stift Nonnberg - note that she was never a novice there, let alone a nun.

Two years after joining the household of the Trapp family as a nanny, Maria gets an upgrade to wife: Baron Georg von Trapp and Maria Kutschera get married in 1927. They have two daughters, born in 1929 and 1931. What comes now is a typical fate for rich Austrians after 1929: In the course of the Great Depression (which hit Austria harder than most other countries), the Trapp family loses its fortune until 1934.

The Trapp family makes all their staff and servants redundant, move into the servant rooms of their villa in the nice district of Aigen and let the better parts of the house to tenants. In addition, they form a choir to raise some money. After winning a folk music competition, they perform for a local radio. Quickly they become famous in Austria, which at that time is not a particularly fun place to live: Sandwiched between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy it is turning Fascist itself and struggling with severe economic problems.

In 1938, the Anschluss leads to the merging of Austria with Germany. The Nazis request Georg von Trapp to join the Kriegsmarine, the Nazi navy (many Austrians served there - which might surprise you, as Austria is a landlocked country today; it did have the biggest navy of the Mediterranean until 1918, though, a tradition that the Nazis could build upon). Trapp did not want to serve in the Kriegsmarine and emigrates with his family in 1938. They move to Vermont, build a house there. In 1939, another son is born. In 1947, Georg Ludwig von Trapp dies in Boston.

The family now performs - still mainly traditional Austrian music in the appropriate clothing - as the "Trapp Family Singers". They go on tours and soon they are rather popular in the US. They use their popularity also to raise money and commodities for Austria after the war. Maria writes her memoirs in 1952, which became the basis for first a German movie and later the 1959 musical "The Sound of Music". In 1965, a film was made from the musical - and became one of the most successful in history. Maria von Trapp died in 1987.



Review of "The Sound of Music" - opens in new window

Another Review of the Movie - opens in new window

Wikipedia on The Sound of Music

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