Maria von Trapp PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2008 18:41

Maria Augusta von Trapp

Born: January 26, 1905, Vienna, Austria-Hungary

Died: March 28, 1987, Morrisville, Vermont

Age: 82

Cause of death: Heart failure.

Notable because: The Hills came alive with the sound of her music.


Maria Augusta von Trapp  was the stepmother and matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers. Her story and that of her family's escape from the Nazis after the Anschluss was the inspiration for the musical The Sound of Music.

Maria Kutschera was born in 1905 in Austria on a train going from her parents' village in Tyrol to a hospital in Vienna. She was an orphan by her seventh birthday. She graduated from the State Teachers College for Progressive Education in Vienna at age 18, in 1923. She entered Nonnberg Abbey, a Benedictine (Roman Catholic) convent in Salzburg, intending to become a nun. While still a novice, she was asked to teach one of the seven children of widowed naval commander Georg Ritter von Trapp and his first wife, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp. Maria and Georg were married on November 26, 1927.

Trapp lost his fortune in 1935. Previously, it had been safely invested in a bank in London. The Captain, to help Mrs. Lammer, a friend in the banking business, withdrew the money from the English bank and deposited it in Mrs. Lammer's bank, which promptly failed. Austria had been experiencing economic pressure as a result of German pressure and other factors.

To survive, the Trapps sent away most of their servants, moved into the top floor, and rented the empty rooms to students of the Catholic University. The Archbishop sent Father Wasner to stay with them as their chaplain and the family began turning its love of music into a career. After performing at a festival in 1935, they became a popular touring act. Shortly after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, the family moved to Italy and then to the United States. The family home became the headquarters of Heinrich Himmler.

Initially calling themselves the Trapp Family Choir, the von Trapps began to perform in the United States and Canada. After an unsuccessful engagement with Charles Wagner, they signed on with F. C. ("Freddie") Schang. Freddie thought the name Trapp Family Choir was too churchy and otherwise "Americanized" their repertoire and at his suggestion, the group changed its name to the Trapp Family Singers. The family, which by then included ten children, became famous in a new context and was soon touring the world. After the war, they founded the Trapp Family Austrian Relief, Inc., which sent hundreds of thousands of pounds of food and clothing to impoverished Austria. Trapp family made a series of 78 rpm discs for RCA Victor, some of which were later issued on RCA Camden LPs. There were also a few later recordings released on LPs, including some stereo sessions. The family also made an appearance on an Elvis Presley Christmas record.

Maria had another 3 children with Georg, 8 years after the stepchildren had been born, with all ten living through World War II, to more than 30 years of age

Name Birth Death Notes
Rosemarie von Trapp 8 February 1929   works as a singer and missionary in Papua New Guinea, now lives in Vermont, no issue.
Eleonore von Trapp 14 May 1931   married 1954 to Hugh David Campbell and has issue (seven daughters), she lives with her family in Waitsfield (Vermont)
Johannes von Trapp 17 January 1939   married 1969 to Lynne Peterson and has issue (one son and one daughter)

The Trapps made their home at a 660-acre (2.7 km2) farm in Stowe, Vermont, in 1942, where they founded a music camp. Georg von Trapp died of lung cancer on May 30, 1947, leaving Maria to mourn the loss of his gentleness and regret her own temper (much the contrary to their depiction in the musical The Sound of Music).

Maria's book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, published in 1949, was a best-seller. It was made into two successful German/Austrian films:

  • The Trapp Family (1956)
  • The Trapp Family in America (1958).

The book was later adapted into The Sound of Music, a successful Broadway musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, which resulted in an immensely popular U.S. motion picture. The Sound of Music, with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, opened on Broadway in the fall of 1959, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. It was a success, running for more than three years. The film version set box office records, but the Baroness von Trapp said she received only about $500,000 in royalties.

In 1957, the Trapp Family Singers disbanded and went their separate ways. Maria and three of her children became missionaries in the South Pacific. Maria later moved back to Vermont and managed the Trapp Family Lodge.

Maria began to attempt to turn over management of the Lodge to son Johannes in the mid-1960s, but was reluctant to turn over control. Then one daughter recommended that Maria read a book entitled The Cross and the Switchblade. Maria was intrigued and joined two of her daughters in visiting the University of Notre Dame, where she met James Cavnar of the Word of God movement. Maria wrote that she made a "personal commitment" to Christ, becoming part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. She died in 1987 at the age of 82.

Maria von Trapp, her husband Georg, and Hedwig von Trapp (1917–1972), the fifth child of Georg and Agathe von Trapp, are interred in the family cemetery at the Lodge, as is another of Georg and Agathe's daughters, Martina (1921-1951), who died in childbirth on February 25, 1951 along with her infant daughter Notburga.

The Lodge is now managed by Georg and Maria's son Johannes. It remains one of Vermont's most popular tourist destinations and also serves as one of the main concert sites for the Vermont Mozart Festival.

Four of the couple's great-grandchildren, all children of Stefan von Trapp, the son of Georg's son Werner, sing as the Von Trapp Children. Maria von Trapp's granddaughter, Elisabeth von Trapp, is a singer whose concerts are a mixture of Gregorian chant, musical comedy, country and contemporary folk.

Maria von Trapp makes a cameo appearance in the movie version of The Sound of Music. For an instant, she, her daughter Rosemarie, and Werner's daughter Barbara can be seen walking past an archway during the song, "I Have Confidence", at the line, "I must stop these doubts, all these worries/If I don't, then I know I'll turn back."

She died in 1987, on March 28, of heart failure in Morrisville, Vermont, three days after surgery, and almost 40 years after her husband, who had died before the book, musical, and films appeared.

Last Updated on Monday, 09 March 2009 11:01

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