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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 47
Doh! - Re - Me: The REAL story behind The Sound of Music
Arts & Entertainment
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Doh! - Re - Me: The REAL story behind The Sound of Music

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

THE SOUND OF MUSIC
THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE
November 24-January 3


The Sound of Music is perhaps the United States' best-loved movie (although the rest of the world, including Austria, does NOT understand our fascination). For more then four decades the film has delighted people, to the point where it is played in a 24-hour marathon during the holiday season. The acclaimed team of Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the stage musical - which is based on an actual true story. While the musical is frequently produced during the holiday season as well, it is wise to note there are several differences between the movie and the original musical. Beyond any discrepancies between stage and screen are the innumerable liberties taken that have changed the original story on which both are based.

Both stage and film versions stay accurate...to each other, at least in most parts. A young nun postulate named Maria is sent to be a Governess for Captain Georg von Trapp's seven children. The Captain is a decorated officer, now retired from the Austrian navy. He is stern, cold, and distant since his first wife died. The children (five girls - including youngest and eldest, and two boys) are resentful of Maria, but they quickly become endeared to each other when the young nun teaches the children to sing. The Captain is at first angry, but when the children show their affection for Maria, his feelings transfer from his fiancée (Baroness Schrader) to the governess. Maria and Georg marry and return from their honeymoon to find the Nazi occupation of Austria has occurred. Georg is requested to join the Nazi party and resume his position in their navy. Using the Salzburg music festival as cover, the Captain, children and Maria hide out at Nonnberg Abbey (where Maria was postulate) and eventually, escape (in the middle of the night) over the Alps to Switzerland.

That is the version we have come to know from stage and screen. As can be expected there are slight differences when a stage musical transfers to the silver screen. While the show was embraced, the original production was considered (by most) to be the weakest Rodgers/Hammerstein on stage. Mary Martin (who originally played Maria) kept company with Maria von Trapp to observe mannerisms of every day life. So much in fact, that on opening night Maria stood in the audience and took bows at the curtain call. Two songs were written for the movie that were NOT in the original production (and are very rarely included in any stage production). Richard Rodgers wrote both 'I Have Confidence' and 'Something Good' since Oscar Hammerstein had died nine months after the Broadway opening. (The last song Hammerstein wrote for was 'Edelweiss,' a song written for the musical and it has nothing to do with any Austrian anthem). The song 'Do-Re-Me' is rather a banal scene on stage while the movie made it a huge number showing scenes of the city of Salzburg. The songs 'No Way To Stop It' and 'How Can Love Survive?' (both sung by Georg, Uncle Max and the Baroness) were cut from the film. The stage song 'An Ordinary Couple' was cut and exchanged for 'Something Good.'

The story is cherished by U.S. citizens of all ages. It is viewed as a heartfelt and inspiring tale. The problem is it is far from accurate. When it comes to The Sound of Music and the real story of the Von Trapp family, there are very few facts that the stories have in common.

THE FACTS:
o Maria was a nun postulate at the Benedictine order of Nonnberg Abbey

o Her Mother Superior sent Maria to the home of Captain von Trapp to teach

o Maria and Georg eventually married

o To avoid enlisting in the Nazi party the family leaves Austria

o The Von Trapp Family Singers perform internationally

Really, that's it. The actual story of the Von Trapp family has little to do with the musical we know today. It is dramatic in its own way, with major liberties taken in every field.

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in 1905 in Austria. She was orphaned by age seven and came to be a postulate at Nonnberg Abbey when she was 19 years old. Because of her strict behavior and teacher's education, Maria was chosen by her Mother Superior to become tutor to the third eldest child of Captain Georg von Trapp, a girl named Maria who was recovering from scarlet fever.

Georg von Trapp was already 51 years old when he requested help from Nonnberg Abbey. He was a gentle man, laughing often, and proud of his children's musical abilities, himself being accomplished on the violin. In a letter written before Maria's arrival he wrote, 'the children do nothing but make music.' When his wife Agathe Whitehead died of scarlet fever, the captain stopped playing the violin but encouraged the seven children to continue with their musical interests. The children (from eldest to youngest) were: Rupert, Agathe, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna, and Martina.

The postulate Maria arrived when she was 26 years old (25 years younger than Georg) to take care of the Captain's daughter and became close to the girl, as well as to the other children. Georg took notice. It was Georg's fiancée Princess Yvonne (Baroness Shraeder is fictional), a cousin of his first wife, Agatha Whitehead, that revealed Georg's feeling to Maria, and Maria ran back to the abbey. The Mother Superior heavily implied that it was God's will to marry the Captain, and pushed the young postulate back to Salzburg instead of letting her pursue her ambitions of being a nun.

In her autobiography, Maria, My Own Story (Creation House, 1972) von Trapp writes about the Captain's proposal: '...at that time I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn't love him. However, I loved the children, and so in a way I really married the children.' (p. 59) She continues about how she was angry with God that this was His plan for her. 'I felt betrayed - betrayed by the One to whom I had vowed my life and my future, whose will I was eager to do, and whose faithfulness I was so sure.' (p. 61)

The two were married in 1927 adding three more children - Rosmarie, Eleonore, and (later in 1939) Johannes. The family faced financial ruin in 1935 when the effects of the Depression swept through the banks of Austria, and to help make ends meet rented out parts of their house and sang as a family in public. (Uncle Max is fictional.) After being invited to join the Third Reich's Navy, the von Trapp's decided to leave Austria. They packed their belongings, and in the late morning hours, walked to the train station at the end of their property. There they comfortably (and in First Class) traveled to Italy, performing around 'free-Europe' as 'The Trapp Family Singers.'

The von Trapp family moved to Vermont in the early 1940s, saying it reminded them of the mountains back in Austria. Maria became a stern manager of the group, and after the Captain's death in 1947 allegedly ruled the family with a strict fist. (Maria has been compared more to the character 'Mama Rose' than her alternative stage persona, and wouldn't let any of the children date - for fear they'd break up the group. Allegedly, two of the eldest children ran away to elope). The family singing group disbanded in 1957 after creating several recordings and touring the world.

Maria eventually would sell the rights of her book to a German company. Not being savvy in the world of business, she inadvertently signed away all rights of her story. It would be from the German company that all other rights would be bought, allotting the actual von Trapp family little of the profits from either stage or film versions.

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