On January 26, 1905, Maria Kutschera (Trapp) was born on a train as her mother tried to reach a hospital in Vienna, Austria. Only two years later, her mother died of pneumonia, and her father abandoned her to travel through Europe. Before he left, he put Maria in the care of an elderly uncle. A lonely, isolated child raised by a strict, atheistic, socialistic man, Maria loved the freedom and the adventure of the outdoors. She may not have gone looking for mischief, but it seemed to find her.
Healthy and active, Maria grew up and attended the State Teachers College for Progressive Education. An atheist and socialist herself, Maria's life changed dramatically when she heard Father Kronseder speaking at a Palm Sunday service. Maria had entered the church thinking they would have a Bach concert. Yet the words echoed by the Jesuit priest resonated inside of Maria. Having been raised to believe that the Bible stories were fictional legends, she decided to have a word with the priest. Maria intended to change Father Kronseder's way of thinking, yet quite the opposite occurred.
Finishing teaching school, Maria's convictions grew so strong that she entered a Benedictine convent in Salzburg called Nonnberg Abbey. Though she felt constrained by the rules and discipline, Maria endeavored for two years to become a nun. Unable to spend time roaming the hills and enjoying the fresh air, Maria started showing signs of illness. For this reason and because she had training as a teacher, Maria was sent by the Reverend Mother to tutor a sick child in Salzburg. It was agreed that she would be done with her responsibilities in nine or ten months, after which she would return to the Abbey and formally become a nun.
The family who needed Maria's help was headed by Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp, a former naval submarine commander and widower. His wife Agathe died in 1922 after ten years of marriage in which they had seven children. Grieving, the Italian-born Trapp sold his home and land in what is now Croatia and moved to Salzburg with the children. One governess after another came and went through the Trapp household. Captain von Trapp hired several women at a time for various duties while the children wanted one stable person to do everything.
Maria entered the family to tend for the child Maria who suffered from scarlet fever like her mother had previously. Musically inclined, the children enjoyed Maria's own musical talent and her love for the outdoors. She taught them how to sing madrigals and helped the children train their voices to become smoother and more sophisticated. Falling in love with the children, Maria noticed that Captain von Trapp was also deeply attracted to her. Persuaded by the Reverend Mother to follow her heart, Maria agreed to marry von Trapp. Their wedding day was on November 26, 1927.
Life changed again for Maria when von Trapp lost his fortune in a bank failure. Determined to weather the storm, Maria sold many of their furnishings, moved the family to the top floor, dismissed the servants, and made rooms available for rent to the Catholic University students. Though a difficult period, the Trapp family worked together to make a career of music. They benefited from the Archbishop's decision to send Father Wasner to them as their chaplain, for he took on the role of musical conductor, a position he held for over twenty years.
Performing in festivals, touring Europe, and gaining recognition, the Trapp Family Singers had to make a serious decision about their future once the Germans annexed Austria in 1938. Captain von Trapp refused to obey Hitler, declined a German naval command, and rebuked the Nazis' anti-religious policies. Leaving almost everything behind, the Trapps contracted an American booking agent to set up a concert tour for them, traveled to Italy, and made their way to the United States via England.
Opting to stay and live in the United States, the family eventually found a home on a 600-acre farm in Vermont. With their success from world singing tours, the Trapps founded Trapp Family Austrian Relief, Inc. to provide food and clothing for those in need. By this time, the family numbered ten, and at the farm, they created a music camp to benefit and encourage the love of music in other people. For all the positive experiences the family enjoyed, lung cancer was taking a toll on the head of the family. Death came for Captain von Trapp when he was 67 years old, and he passed away on May 30, 1947.
Maria kept the family together the best she could and penned a book detailing their adventures called A Story of the Trapp Family Singers. German film producers believed they could adapt the book into a movie, and Marie sold not only the film rights but all her rights away in signing the documents. For, the movie and its sequel did well, after which the German producers sold the rights to Americans. Little did anyone know how well the Broadway play The Sound of Music and the major motion picture of the same name would fare. Tremendously popular, both the play and the film rendered a more fictionalized and romanticized version of the Trapp family life than reality had it, thus frustrating the Trapp family to some degree. They had little to no say in the production and unfortunately little to no financial gain either.
By this time the family of singers had disbanded. Maria continued to write books, and then she and three of her children worked as missionaries in New Guinea in the South Pacific. The young Maria, whom Maria had nursed back to health, stayed for thirty years. The elder Maria returned to Vermont to run the lodge the family had established. Kind and loving, but with an awful, angry temper that exploded then passed quickly, Maria differed in that respect from the characters who portrayed her.
This family matriarch who wrote six books during her lifetime passed away on March 28, 1987, from heart failure a few days after a surgery. The Trapp name lives on as son Johannes now runs the 2400 acre resort that has Austrian appeal, caters to those interested in glimpses of the Trapps' lives, musically entertains its guests, and allows for numerous recreational activities. International fame initially came to the Trapps because of their gifted musical ability. For better or worse, much of the world only recognizes them now from the movie and play The Sound of Music based on Maria's book.
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