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The real story of the Trapp family

How reality was turned into fiction

No matter if we are talking about the musical or the film, The Sound of Music stands for an unparalleled success and tremendously contributes towards Salzburg’s advertising value. In the Anglophone world, every child knows the film story of the Trapp family. As for the German-speaking audience, the story evokes a contrary reaction: too cheesy, too far removed from reality. So what is the real biography of the musicians’ family and what was changed in the film?

The beginnings of the Trapp family

Salzburg with the fortress in the background
The fortress of Salzburg

The history of the Trapp family sets off in the year of 1911 when the navy officer Baron von Trapp married his first wife, Agathe Whitehead. With their two firstborns, the family lived in Zell am See in the Salzburger Land. Because the family continued growing, they had to move to a bigger home several times. In 1922, Agathe died of scarlet fever and three years later the family, now eight persons, moved to Villa Aigen in Salzburg.

Here, Baron von Trapp decided to get a governess for his household and children. This was Maria von Trapp, a former novice at Nonnberg Abbey. Two years later, she became the baron’s wife. Her enthusiasm for music together with financial problems led Maria von Trapp to found a family choir with the children. After they won at a singing contest at the Salzburg Festival, they had their first radio performance.

Big success in the USA

When Salzburg had been annexed, the family emigrated to the USA where the Trapps toured successfully and could soon buy a farm in Stowe, Vermont. In 1952, Maria von Trapp wrote down the family’s history which was made into a Broadway musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein seven years later. In 1965, 20th Century Film Studios celebrated a big triumph with the musical film The Sound of Music: 10 nominations at the Academy Awards, 5 won and billions of viewers world-wide.

Differences between the film and reality

In the German-speaking world, the The Sound of Music could hardly earn any praise. Criticism was voiced concerning the portrayal of Baron von Trapp who was depicted as an authoritative tyrant, but also concerning the filming locations. While the flight in the film was made into a dramatic cloak-and-dagger operation and created the appearance that the family were fleeing right via the Untersberg to Switzerland, the real Trapps sorted their household and set off via Aigen station next to their home to Italy and from there to the USA. For the film villa of the Trapp family, different locations were used because the original villa’s new inhabitants did not allow the crew to film there. So the scenes were shot in Leopoldskron Castle and Frohnburg Castle.

The film exclusively covers the family’s life in Salzburg and ends with the flight from the Nazi regime. Moreover, the film’s story is set entirely in the year of 1938. Therefore not only the children’s names, but also their age differs from the real source.

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