Trapp FamilyThe Trapp Family (also known as the von Trapp Family) were a singing family of the former Austrian naval commander Georg von Trapp. The family achieved fame in their original singing career in their native Austria during the interwar period. They also performed in the United States before emigrating there permanently during World War II to escape the deteriorating situation in Austria. In the US, they became well known as the "Trapp Family Singers" until ceasing to perform as a unit in 1957. The family's story was later served as the basis for a memoir, two German films, and a Broadway musical. The last surviving of the original seven children, Maria, died in 2014 at the age of 99. Her three half siblings Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes are still alive as of 2020.
History of the groupGeorg von Trapp had seven children at the time of his first wife's Agathe's death and in 1927, he married Maria von Trapp (née Kutschera), 25 years his junior, with whom he had three more children. Both incarnations of the household were musical and by 1935 the family was singing at the local church in Aigen where they made the acquaintance of a young priest, Dr. Franz Wasner, who encouraged their musical progress and taught them sacred music to add to the folk songs, madrigals and ballads they were already singing. While singing at their Salzburg home they were also heard by the German concert singer Lotte Lehmann who persuaded them to take part in the song competition at the 1936 Salzburg Festival, for which they won a prize; after this, accompanied by Dr Wasner, the family toured and performed in Vienna, Salzburg, and undertook a European tour that encompassed France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany and England.
In 1938, the family performed in the United States for the first time before returning to Europe when their visas expired, however in the same year Hitler annexed Austria and the family made the decision to leave first for Italy (of which the Zara-born Georg and thus the family were legally citizens) and from there to the United States where they applied for immigrant status in 1939. They arrived with very little money, having lost most of the family fortune earlier during a 1935 banking collapse in Austria. Once in the United States they earned money by performing and touring nationally and internationally, first as the "Trapp Family Choir" and then, the "Trapp Family Singers". After living for a short time in Merion, Pennsylvania, where their youngest child Johannes was born, the family settled in Stowe, Vermont, in 1941. They purchased a 660 acre farm in 1942 and converted it into the Trapp Family Lodge, initially called "Cor Unum". After the war, they founded the Trapp Family Austrian Relief fund, which sent food and clothing to people impoverished in Austria.
By now based permanently in the United States, the family performed their unique mixture of liturgical music, madrigals, folk music and instrumentals to audiences in over 30 countries for the next 20 years. They made a series of 78-rpm records for RCA Victor in the 1950s, 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 singing group disbanded in 1957.Maria wrote an account of the singing family The Story of the Trapp Family Singers which was published in 1949 and was the inspiration for the 1956 West German film The Trapp Family, which in turn inspired the Broadway musical The Sound of Music.The original seven Trapp children (whose names and relative ages were changed for the film version of their life) were Rupert, 1911–1992; Agathe, 1913–2010; Maria, 1914–2014; Werner, 1915–2007; Hedwig, 1917–1972; Johanna, 1919–1994; and Martina, 1921–1952. Maria and Georg's later children were Rosmarie, 1929–, Eleonore (known as Lorli), 1931–, and Johannes, 1939–. The eldest daughter, Agathe (called "Liesl" in the film), published her own account of life in the Trapp family in 2003, entitled Memories Before and After The Sound of Music, which was itself turned into a film entitled The Von Trapp Family: A Life of Music.
Later lifeBoth Georg and Martina died while the group was still active, Georg in 1947 at the age of 67, while Martina died in childbirth in 1952 aged only 30. At the time of its cessation the group included a number of non-family members because many of the original family wanted to pursue other endeavors, and only Maria's "iron will" had kept the group together for so long. After the group's demise, Maria, Johannes, Rosmarie, and daughter Maria went to New Guinea to do missionary work; later Maria (the stepmother/mother) returned to run the Trapp Family Lodge for a number of years. Of the children, Rupert was already a medical doctor by the 1940s; Agathe spent many years as kindergarten teacher in Maryland; Maria (the daughter) spent 30 years as a missionary in New Guinea; Werner became a farmer and Hedwig a music teacher; Johanna married and returned to live in Austria; Rosmarie and Eleonore both settled in Vermont; and Johannes followed his mother by managing the Trapp Family Lodge as a tourist resort. Maria (stepmother/mother) died in 1987 and was buried alongside Georg and Martina in the family cemetery on the property. All of the other original 7 children have now died (Hedwig in 1972; Rupert in 1992; Johanna in 1994; Werner in 2007; Agathe in 2010; and Maria in 2014), while Georg and Maria's own 3 children - Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes - are still alive.
Musical style and repertoireThe real-life Trapp family were a respected singing group throughout their career, however their style was a world away from the Broadway and Hollywood crowd-pleasing popular numbers as later included in the musical and film versions of their life. Many of their studio recordings survive and have been reproduced as contemporary CD compilations. As for their live performances, in his 2004 essay Family values: The Trapp Family Singers in North America, 1938-1956, Michael Saffle writes:
It is difficult to document today precisely what the Trapps performed and where they performed it. Only a very few of their programs have been reprinted. One of these—again, a Christmas program—identifies an arrangement of three short pieces (for "Antique Instruments") and a Sonata by Sammartini (presented by a "Quintet of Recorders") as the evening's principal instrumental selections; shorter vocal works included Praetorius's "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen," a Monteverdi madrigal, Holst's "Midwinter," and an arrangement of "The Holly and the Ivy." Another program—unfortunately incomplete, but known to have been presented in 1943 at Boston's Jordan Hall—featured a song by John Dowland, transcriptions by Wasner of Tyrolean folk tunes, and a Trio for two recorders and viola da gamba composed by "Werner von Trapp." In spite of their instrumental accomplishments, however, the Trapps were above all a vocal ensemble that sang (and played) music together largely for religious reasons.
On the other hand, press releases subsequent to 1941 advertised "rollicking folk songs of many lands," "gay, lilting madrigals," and "lusty yodels and mountain calls" as well as "exquisite old motets and masses," and bragged of "record cross-country tour[s]" and large numbers of engagements, which attested to their popular appeal and suggests that the religious content was only one of several contributing elements to this over their main period of popularity in America.