Sunday, February 23, 2014

The last of the original von Trapps

Maria von Trapp, who happened to have the same name as her stepmother on whose life The Sound of Music was based, has passed away at her home on Trapp Mountain in Vermont. She was 99.
Known as Mitzi, Maria was the youngest of the original seven von Trapp Family Singers, who emigrated with their parents to America.

Von Trapp was the last surviving member of the Austrian family of seven brothers and sisters and died in her sleep at her Vermont home. "It was a surprise that she was the one in the family to live the longest because ever since she was a child she suffered from a weak heart," family friend Marianne Dorfer told the
Austrian Times.

"It was the fact that she suffered from this that her father decided to hire Maria von Trapp to teach her and her brothers and sisters," she continued. "That of course then led to one of the most remarkable musical partnerships of the last century." Von Trapp's first visit back to Austria after escaping was in 2008.
Much to say both about the history and the musical.

The history I’ve learned over the years:
  • The world would have been better off if the Central Powers had won World War I. Capt. Georg von Trapp was made a nobleman because of his wartime service to Catholic Austria-Hungary as a submarine captain.
  • He wasn’t like the character in the show. Always was nice. He used a bosun’s whistle (smart!) to call the children when they were far away on the grounds.
  • The elder Maria wasn’t sent out of the abbey for being a lovable troublemaker. She was sent to work at the von Trapps’ because of her health; she was sick from moving to a lower altitude from the mountains she was used to.
  • She was hired at first just to be the younger Maria’s tutor, not the children’s governess.
  • She wasn’t in love with Georg von Trapp but he apparently was with her so she married him for the children’s sake.
  • They started singing because he lost his fortune in the Depression.
  • The one who encouraged them to sing was actually the family’s priest. Max Detweiler the agent was fictitious.
  • Maria wasn’t nice but she was sincere, very devout.
  • The family was profoundly Catholic. Not only did they perform but up at their ski lodge in Vermont they had a liturgical life, being a schola cantorum.
  • Because of that, it’s true than von Trapp was anti-Nazi. But because he needed the money, he considered the German government’s job offer to serve as a U-boat expert in their navy. The Germans were nice about it; they didn’t try to force him.
  • Because von Trapp was born on part of the Adriatic coast then Austrian (why they used to have a navy!) but part of Italy after World War I, he was an Italian citizen.
  • The show’s timeline is wrong. The von Trapps married in the 1920s.
  • So is the geography. Salzburg isn’t on the border with Switzerland but with Germany.
  • Anyway, that part of the show is made up. The von Trapps didn’t have to sneak out. They just moved, leaving Salzburg by train.
  • Von Trapp died early on in Vermont, I think in the late ’40s.
The show and movie:
  • Beautiful depiction of Catholic Europe, specifically real nuns, probably Benedictines. (Whose communities are “abbeys.”) The early scene of them chanting the office? Those are choir nuns, full-fledged women monks. Most nuns aren’t really nuns; they’re “sisters,” who were given the privilege of dressing like nuns.
  • The names of the children are fictitious.
  • Julie Andrews starred in a rival Broadway show, My Fair Lady (losing the movie role to the better-known Audrey Hepburn; no hard feelings, she says), and once was in a stage spoof of The Sound of Music before she landed the movie role. (Andrews didn’t appear in films until Mary Poppins in ’64.)
  • Because of the heavy fictionalization, the movie’s not much known or liked in German-speaking countries. A more accurate movie in German is.
  • The show has a couple of songs that were cut from the movie, with “An Ordinary Couple” replaced by the much better “Something Good.” I’ve seen a stage production.
  • Christopher Plummer hated the movie, thinking it too sentimental. He called it The Sound of Mucus.
  • The movie was the No. 1 box-office hit of 1965. What mainstream society liked, right before it went to hell.

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