The Real Family that Inspired The Sound of Music

In celebration of The Sound of Music {the film} turning 50 years old, we are exploring the true story behind the popular musical.

The Sound of Music is based on The Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp.

Captain Georg von Trapp
Captain Georg von Trapp

But who were the Trapp Family Singers?

Before we explore their contributions to music, let’s discuss the actual family.

Georg Johannes von Trapp was born April 4, 1880, in Austria-Hungary {present day Croatia}.  His father was knighted {the title Ritter was used in Austria for Knight}.  His father was a naval officer who died when he was four years old.

Ten years later, at age fourteen, Georg joined the Imperial Navy.  He was fascinated by submarines and later commanded his own sub.  His service in World War I earned him numerous decorations and prestige.  With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I, in 1918, he was left with no job or vocation to fall back on.

Around 1911, Georg married Agatha Whitehead.  Agatha was the granddaughter of Robert Whitehead, who invented the modern torpedo.  Agatha’s wealth sustained the couple after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Georg and Agatha von Trapp became parents to seven children over the course of their marriage.

Agatha and Georg with 5 of their children
Agatha and Georg with 5 of their children
Name Birth Date Death Date Sound of Music
Rupert Nov  1, 1911 Feb 22, 1992 Friedrich
Agatha March 12, 1913 Dec 28, 2010 Liesl
Maria Sept 28, 1914 Feb 18, 2014 Louisa
Werner Dec 21, 1915 Oct 11, 2007 Kurt
Hedwig July 28, 1017 Sept 14, 1972 Brigitta
Johanna Sept 7, 1919 Nov 25, 1994 Marta
Martina Feb 17, 1921 Feb 25, 1951 Gretl
The original 7 von Trapp children
The original 7 von Trapp children



von Trapp family home in Austria
von Trapp Family home in Salzburg, Austria


Agatha died of scarlet fever on September 3, 1922.  A grief stricken George moved his family to a villa in the suburbs of Salzburg, called Aigen two years later.

After moving to Aigen, Georg began to seek a tutor for his daughter, Maria, who was suffering from an illness.  Sometime around 1926, Maria Augusta Kutschera, a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey arrived to teach the young Maria.

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born on January 26, 1905 aboard a train.   She was an orphan by her seventh birthday, raised by an aunt and uncle and had a very difficult childhood which is detailed in her autobiography, Maria.

Maria Augusta Kutschera later graduated from teacher’s college before entering Nonnberg Abbey, with the intention of becoming a nun.

young Maria von Trapp
young Maria von Trapp

However, fate had other ideas.  We’d all love to believe in the love story in The Sound of Music, but Maria describes her marriage much differently in her books.  In time she and the children grew to love on another and seeing this Georg asked her to marry him.  Asking the Mother Abbess what she should do, she was told this “was the will of God.”

Maria and Georg were married on November 26, 1927.  She wrote in her autobiography that on her wedding day she was blazing mad, both at God and at her husband, because what she really wanted was to be a nun: “I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children. I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.”

The couple added two daughters to their family, Rosmarie {born about 1929} and Eleonore {born 1931}.

von Trapp family
von Trapp family

By 1935, the family was broke and needed to find a way to make a living.  The Archbishop sent Father Franz Wasner to stay with the family.  He would eventually become the family’s musical director and manager and travelled with them to America.

Maria took charge of the desperate situation and the family performed at a festival in 1935 and began touring from there.  They were even asked to sing for the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg.

With the rise of the Nazis, life began more and more difficult.  {Actually the Nazis used their home after they fled Austria.}

Trapp Family Singers with Father Franz Wagner
Trapp Family Singers with Father Franz Wagner

Captain von Trapp turned down request to serve in the Nazi navy and realized he and his family were not safe.  Unlike The Sound of Music, where they climbed a mountain, the real family took a train to Italy, where the Captain was a citizen due to his birth.  The family travelled throughout Europe and later sailed to America on concert tours. During this time they changed their name from The Trapp Family Choir to the Trapp Family Singers.

The family welcomed their youngest son, Johannes, in 1939, while they were in Pennsylvania.

von Trapp family singers
von Trapp family singers

In 1942, the family purchased a 660-acre farm in Stowe, Vermont and converted the lodge into the Trapp Family lodge.  For years they held music camps in the summer.  The majority of the family became US Citizens around 1944.

The family continued to tour the country for years, blending their voices beautifully in harmony.

The family loved to sing many classical pieces, but in time discovered this was not what their audiences enjoyed.  Eventually they added more Austrian songs and folk songs to their repertoire.  Maria soon discovered the audience enjoyed it when they shared stories of their life and brought humor into their programs.

Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT
Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT

As the children began to grow up and marry, many of the children left the group and were replaced by professional singers.  The Trapp Family Singers officially disbanded in 1957.

Georg Johannes von Trapp died on May 30, 1947 and is buried at the lodge.

Maria carried on touring, writing her family’s story, performing missionary work and building up the lodge after the death of her husband.

Her book, The Story of The Trapp Family Singers, was published in 1949.  A German company bought the rights and made the movie Die Trapp Familie, which went on to inspire The Sound of Music.  Maria had Maria von Trappsold all of her rights and made no money from The Sound of Music.

Maria would write four more books chronicling the life of her family.

Maria died on March 28, 1987 and is buried beside her husband.

All of the family portrayed in The Sound of Music have passed on and are now singing for the heavenly hosts.  All three of Georg and Maria’s children are still alive {as of May 2015}.

Today, the next generations are carrying on the family legacy.  I will tell you more about these performers over the next two weeks.

The Trapp Family Lodge is still open and provides numerous opportunities for outdoor and indoor adventures and activities, whether it is skiing, biking, golfing, wine tasting, dining in or enjoying a tour about the family, throughout the year.

To discover more about the family check out Maria’s book.  Agatha von Trapp published “Memories Before and After The Sound of Music” and George von Trapp memoir “To the Last Salute” was recently published.  A book was also published on the life of Werner von Trapp {this would be Kurt in the film}.



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