"The Sound Of Music," the beloved movie released 50 years ago this month, told the story of the von Trapp Family Singers: How a young nun-to-be in Austria was sent to be a governess to seven motherless children, fell in love with their father and married him. The family, children included, were such great singers they went professional before eventually fleeing the Nazis through pristine green mountains into Switzerland. The film was based on a true story, but ended up eliding certain details. Here is what really happened.
Maria August Kutschera – Fraulein Maria, in the movie – was born in 1905 and orphaned as a young girl, according to the National Archives. She entered the convent, the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg in Salzburg, after graduating from teachers' college in Vienna. But her health suffered from life in the cloisters, and so when a certain Baron Georg von Trapp requested a tutor from the convent, Maria was chosen to go.
“He needs a teacher for his little daughter, who is of delicate health. You will go to his house this afternoon,” Maria von Trapp recalled the abbess telling in her book, "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers," published in 1949. She was supposed to stay for 10 months, and she wasn’t supposed to be a governess to all the children, as the movie states. In 1926, Maria went to her new post, and the following year, she and Capt. von Trapp were married. Maria didn’t actually fall in love with von Trapp, who was twice her age, but rather with the children, although she wrote that she eventually learned to love him.
In the movie, they fled Austria shortly thereafter, but in history it would take another 11 years for them to leave. Maria and Georg also had three more children together, in addition to the seven children he had with his first wife, who had died of scarlet fever in 1922. The seven children’s names and genders were changed in the movie. Rupert, Agathe, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Martina were their real names.
The family was musically inclined, even before Maria came to stay. The real Capt. von Trapp never banned music as he did in the film. Still, it was with reluctance and due primarily to financial circumstances that the family began to sing professionally and publicly in the 1930s, according to the National Archives. They did indeed win first place in the 1936 Salzburg Music Festival – this event is depicted in one of the film’s final scenes – but it wasn’t until 1938 that they left Austria, after the German takeover. They went first to Italy, then London and finally New York.
The film ends with the von Trapps hiking over grassy mountains into Switzerland – in reality they took the train to Italy – but the family’s story, of course, continued. In the 1940s, the family emigrated legally to the United States and eventually bought a farm and settled in Stowe, Vermont, where they ran a music camp. They also continued singing tours until 1955. Two of the von Trapp children served in the U.S. military in World War II.
Capt. Georg von Trapp died in 1947. Maria Kutschera von Trapp died in 1987, and the last of the singing children, Maria von Trapp, in 2014, at the age of 99. The Trapp Family Lodge opened to guests in 1950, and it remains so today.