Maria von Trapp (Maria Augusta Kutschera)
BiographyVienna, Austria-Hungary, now Austria
Singer Maria Trapp was born on January 26, 1905, aboard a train, as her mother hurried from their village in the Tyrol to the hospital in Vienna, Austria. Her mother, Augusta (nee Rainer), died shortly after Maria was born, and her father, Karl Kutschera, died when she was 6 years old. As a guardian to Maria, the court appointed a man whom she has described as a passionate socialist and a violent anti-Catholic. Although she had been baptized, she grew up outside the Church until she was 18. Read more... for Progressive Education in Vienna. To atone for her earlier life, Maria Kutschera decided to enter a convent. She was accepted as a candidate for the novitiate at the Nonnberg Benedictine Convent at Salzburg, where she considered herself a black sheep because of her tomboyish ways, her willful and independent nature, and her lack of religious training. She was teaching fifth graders at the convent when she was sent by the Mother Abbess as a governess to the children of Baron Georg von Trapp. The Baron, a much-decorated World War I submarine commander, had retired with his 7 children to a villa in Aigen, near Salzburg, after the death of his wife. Maria quickly won the affection of the lonely family with her lively, outgoing disposition and the songs, games, and customs of her Tyrolean girlhood. At the end of nine months, she expected to return to the convent and take the veil. When the Baron proposed marriage, she was torn between her religious devotion and her attachment to the family. With the blessing of the Mother Abbess at Nonnberg, however, she married the Baron on November 26, 1927. After the marriage, the family often sang together, especially during their traditional observance of religious festivals. As a result of the economic disorders that plagued Europe in the early 1930s, the Baron lost his fortune, and to earn a living, the family turned their large home into a guest house for students and clergymen. A special dispensation from the Archbishop of Salzburg permitted them to have a chapel where Mass could be celebrated in their own home. At Easter 1935, the Reverend Franz Wasner (now Monsignor Wasner) came to the Trapp home as a guest and officiating priest. An accomplished musician, he listened critically to the family's informal singing and then immediately took charge of their musical education, becoming their conductor as well as their personal chaplain. He remained with them during their entire career as entertainers. In August 1936, when they happened to be heard by Lotte Lehmann, who insisted that they enter a choral competition at the Salzburg Festival. After winning the contest, they received invitations to give concerts and broadcasts. They began their first European tour at the end of 1937, as the Trapp Family Choir. In March 1938, Austria was taken over by the Nazis. With only a few possessions, they fled across the mountains to St. Georgen, Italy. There they made arrangements with an American concert manager, who advanced them enough money for their passage to New York. The first American concert of the Trapp Family Choir took place at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, in October 1938. Over the next few years, they did several traveling shows. In 1942, they spent their summer vacation in Stowe, Vermont. They found the Green Mountain countryside a peaceful retreat that resembled their native Austria, and before the summer ended, they had purchased a 660-acre farm on a hillside offering an expansive view. During a European tour in the summer of 1950, they appeared at the Salzburg Festival. There they were greeted and feted royally and paid a visit to their former home, which had been turned over to missionaries of the Society of Precious Blood after having been used as a Nazi headquarters during World War II. In 1955, the group disbanded permanently after a farewell tour climaxed by three Christmas concerts at Town Hall. Since then, Maria wrote about her life, which became fictionalized in plays (1959) and the popular movie The Sound of Music (1965). She spent the last days of her life as a resort owner with her children and grandchildren in Vermont.