The Inspirational singing nun, Maria von Trapp, of the famed Trapp Family Singers, has apparently died—again! In this instance, however, it is the daughter of the formidable Captain Georg von Trapp and step-daughter to the vivacious nun, who has died at the age of 99. Her step-mother, the former governess of the Captain’s seven children, sister Maria, and subsequently his wife, died in 1987. His daughter, Maria, was portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie, The Sound of Music, as Louisa. She was the one who called herself by her sister’s name, Brigitta, lying to confuse the new governess. Reluctant to give in to the girl’s trickery, however, sister Maria lovingly called the mischievous Louisa out, giving the wayward girl a new respect for the smart young woman sent to care for them.
Preferring the lofty grandeur of the nearby hills to the stuffiness of the abbey, sister Maria would more often than not escape to the sanctuary of “the mountain”– her mountain – and sing to her heart’s content. Once she became the governess to the Captain’s seven well-disciplined, but prank-happy children, she taught them all to sing while traipsing merrily through small towns and hamlets or scaling with effortless glee the towering foothills of the mighty Alps. In no time, much to the dismay and secret delight of their stoic father, they were all singing every day, bringing music back into their home.
The reality is slightly different. Maria von Trapp was the third of the seven von Trapp children. As a result of scarlet fever, she was too weak to walk to school. A sister from the nearby abbey, Maria Augusta Kutschera, was sent to teach the young child at home. She also taught all the children classical music, never having been a governess. Three years later, she and the Captain were married. They had three children together, Rosemarie and Eleonore, and a boy, Johannes von Trapp, bringing the number of children to ten.
Although it would be easy to romanticize this love story and heart-warming tale of survival, the reality of the situation for Captain von Trapp was daunting. After the annexation of Austria, he and his family endured life under Nazi rule for a short while. Summoned by the local delegate, Georg von Trapp was inducted into the German Navy and ordered to serve in Berlin. Captain von Trapp feigned cooperation. What they were commanding him to do was pledge allegiance to Hitler and Nazi Germany. With no intention of ever betraying his beloved Austria, a plan was devised. He fled Salzburg with Maria and the children and traveled to Italy. They caught a train to London, and from there sailed to America.
It was 1938, and young Maria was thirteen years old at the time. Having performed concerts all over Europe with her musically-inclined step-children when the family fortune was lost in 1932, Mrs. Maria von Trapp was prepared for the new world. They accepted a three-month singing tour performing their baroque, old world folk songs.
Eventually, the family settled in Vermont in the early 1940s. They had become famous with their music, and their last U.S. performance was in 1956.
The purchase of a ski lodge kept the von Trapps firmly settled in Stowe, Vermont where, as an adult, Maria played accordion and taught Austrian dance with her sister Rosemarie.
After retiring from music, Maria worked as a missionary in Papua, New Guinea for a time. It was ironic that while Maria was the most sickly of the children, she still outlived her other six siblings, nearly reaching the age of 100.
So now, this is truly auf wiedersehen and adieu to Maria von Trapp … the very last of the Trapp Family Singers.
By Christine Schlichte