Maria von Trapp

Maria von Trapp Biography.com

(1905–1987)
Maria von Trapp was best known for performing with the Trapp Family Singers in the 1930s and '40s. Her memoir was the basis for the ‘The Sound of Music’ musical and film.

Synopsis

Born in Austria in 1905, Maria von Trapp studied to become a nun before her marriage to Baron Georg von Trapp in 1927. The family, which grew to include 10 children, began performing as the Trapp Family Choir in the mid-1930s, and then the Trapp Family Singers after moving to the United States later in the decade. In 1949, the Baroness wrote the memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which became the inspiration for the 1959 musical The Sound of Music and the 1965 film of the same name. She spent most of her later life in Vermont, and died in the village of Morrisville in 1987.

Early Life

Born Maria Augusta Kutschera on January 26, 1905, Maria von Trapp wrote the 1949 book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. This book later became the basis for the Broadway musical and feature film The Sound of Music. But there is much more to von Trapp's life than these productions showed. Her childhood was marked by hardship. She was born on a train headed to Vienna, Austria, and was orphaned at a young age. According to reports, von Trapp was put in the care of an abusive uncle who had staunchly socialist and anti-Catholic views.

Von Trapp studied at the State Teachers College for Progressive Education in Vienna. While a student there, she discovered religion and converted to Catholicism. Von Trapp later she decided to devote her life to her faith, becoming a candidate for the novitiate at Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg.

Marriage and Musical Beginnings

In 1926, she was sent from the convent to act as a tutor for one of Baron Georg von Trapp's seven children from his first marriage. The girl, also named Maria, was sick and unable to attend regular school. Maria von Trapp was only meant to stay for less than a year and then return to the convent to become a nun. But she became attached to the children and decided to leave the Church after the Baron proposed (he was 25 years her senior). The pair wed in 1927 and later had three children together.

The von Trapp family had always been musical, even before Maria joined them. However, the Baroness saw their talents as a way to help them out of a financial crisis, as much of their money was lost in the economic upheaval of the 1930s. The family began performing together with the help of a Catholic priest named Franz Wasner, who served as musical director. They won a singing competition in 1936, and went on a European tour the following year as the Trapp Family Choir.

Maria Augusta von Trapp Photo Courtesy Getty Images

Maria von Trapp photographed in 1964. (Photo By Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

American Success

When the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, the von Trapps decided it was time to leave rather than live under a regime they opposed. They traveled first to Italy and then later made their way to the United States, where they had arranged a concert tour. Their early years in America were challenging—the family had little money and had to learn English. They soon changed their name to the Trapp Family Singers, and audiences came to adore this group of charismatic performers dressed in traditional Austrian garb.

In 1942, the von Trapps bought a 660-acre farm in Stowe, Vermont. The area reminded them of Austria, and the Baroness soon started up a summer music camp there. Georg von Trapp died in 1947, and two years later Maria wrote her memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. In 1950, she opened the grounds to the public as the Trapp Family Lodge.

'The Sound of Music'

In 1955, the Trapp Family Singers stopped touring. The Baroness devoted much of her time to her faith, conducting missionary work. But the story of her life and her family soon made its way to the Broadway stage. Her 1949 book was adapted into a Broadway musical called The Sound of Music, featuring songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Mary Martin starred as Maria in this production, which became a huge hit.

The Sound of Music was also turned into a 1965 film, starring Julie Andrews as Maria. The story again struck a chord with audiences, although the Baroness didn't get to enjoy her share of the box-office success, as she had sold off her book rights to a German company many years earlier.

Generally pleased with the portrayal of her family's story on the stage and big screen, Maria von Trapp nonetheless felt that The Sound of Music got a few things wrong about her. According to the Los Angeles Times, she said, "They showed me as such a goody-goody. ... I was nothing of the kind!" Many who knew her considered her to be a strong and determined woman. Her granddaughter, singer Elisabeth von Trapp, told Cruise International magazine that Maria "was a very vibrant, amazing woman, but not at all like Julie Andrews." 

Maria von Trapp died of heart failure at age 82 on March 28, 1987, in Morrisville, Vermont.

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