Wednesday 16 November 2011

The Sound of Music

The Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical starred Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, premiered on November 16, 1959 in New York City and ran for 1443 performances.  The score included such hits as:  "Do Re Mi", "My Favorite Things" and "Edelweiss".  It was based on the experience of a large Austrian family in the years leading up to World War II.  A woman, Maria, studying to be a nun met a widower, Captain Georg von Trapp, whose late wife had died from scarlet fever, leaving him with seven children to care for.  They married and proceeded to raise the children together.  A short time later, Captain von Trapp was approached by the Nazis and asked to join the Kreigsmarine, a job which would have paid handsomely.  In the meantime, Maria encouraged the musically gifted children to form their own choir which quickly developped a fan base in their hometown  of Salzburg, Austria.  Captain von Trapp briefly considered the offer from the Kriegsmarine.  However, he and his wife had strong Christian principals which they could not give up for the sake of the Fatherland.  In the end, the von Trapp family fled Austria just before the Anschluss of 1938, hiking through the mountains of Switzlerland to freedom. 

"The Sound of Music" was such a success on Broadway that it was adapted into a film in 1965 starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.  Both the play and the movie were based on the book by Maria Von Trapp called The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.  However, there are some discrepancies between the musical and the book.  For instance, Maria and Georg married eleven years before Germany annexed Austria, not immediately before.  Maria had ten children, seven stepchildren from Georg's first marriage and three birthchildren with Georg.  Maria was sent to be a tutor to one of the Trapp children who was sick with scarlet fever, not a governess to all of the Trapp children.  Although the Trapp family lived in Salzburg, Austria, they did not live in a mansion, but rather a modest home.  When the Trapp family decided to leave Austria to flee the Nazis, they did not escape by hiking through the Alps to Switzerland; rather they boarded a train from Salzburg to Italy (Captain von Trapp was legally an Italian citizen as he was born in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, parts of which later became Italy).  Apparently, Maria was not the docile type that she was portrayed as in the movie, but a firm woman with strong convictions (how else would you raise 10 children?).  The Trapp Family Singers' musical director for 20 years was not the pushy promoter Max Deitweiler, but rather the family priest, Rev. Franz Wasner.  Finally, I also suspect that the movie character Baroness Elsa Schraeder, the captain's love interest when he met Maria, is a fictional.

Much of the musical, however, does follow actual events:  for instance, Captain von Trapp was indeed a World War I military hero.  The captain did summon his seven children to meet Maria using a boatswain's whistle.  Maria was a woman of deep religious faith, before and after her time at the convent.  However, she was not sent to the Trapp household because she was struggling with her religious conviction, but with her health: she had suffered from scarlet fever.  The Trapp family wore matching sailor suits when they performed on stage.  They couldn't have escaped on foot to the Swiss border because it was too far away; they lived only a few kilometres from the German border instead.

After immigrating to America aboard The American Farmer, the Trapp family settled in Stowe, Vermont on a farm.  The children did musical tours.  Maria opened a family inn in 1950 which is still operating today.  Georg passed away in 1948; Maria passed away in 1987.  Their descendants carry on the tradition of making music. 


The Sound of Music on broadway photo courtesy

Photo of the Trapp Family Singers courtesy

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