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Von Trapp Saga: The True Story Behind the Sound of Music

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The story of the von Trapp family, as depicted in “The Sound of Music,” has captivated audiences for decades. The movie draws an estimated 300.000 visitors to my hometown of Salzburg every year, even though most of my fellow Austrians have never seen it. However, as with any Hollywood adaptation of a true story, there are differences between fact and fiction.

In this article, we’ll look at 9 points where the movie strays from the truth of the real-life von Trapp family’s experiences.

The von Trapp Family: Larger than Depicted in The Sound of Music

In the film, the von Trapp family is depicted as having seven children, with Liesl as the eldest. However, in reality, the von Trapp family was larger, with a total of 10 children. The eldest child was Rupert, not Liesl, as portrayed in the film. This alteration to the von Trapp family’s size and the children’s identities was made to give Liesl a more prominent role and to streamline the plot.

Maria: Tutor, Not Governess for All Children

Maria, played by Julie Andrews, is depicted as the governess for all of the von Trapp children in “The Sound of Music.” However, in reality, Maria was hired as a tutor for one of the children, a young girl named Maria, who was recovering from scarlet fever. This change in the film’s portrayal of Maria’s role within the von Trapp family was likely made for storytelling and to give her a more prominent role in the movie.

Georg von Trapp: Loving Parent, Not Disapproving Patriarch

The character of Georg von Trapp, played by Christopher Plummer, is depicted as a cold-hearted patriarch who disapproves of music. However, this portrayal of Georg is far from the truth. In reality, Georg von Trapp was a warm and loving parent who enjoyed participating in musical activities with his family. The film’s depiction of Georg was likely intended to highlight Maria’s positive impact on the family. Still, it distressed the real von Trapps as it was not an accurate representation of Georg.

The von Trapp Family’s Musical Talents Pre-dated Maria’s Arrival

The film “The Sound of Music” depicts Maria von Trapp as responsible for introducing music into the von Trapp family’s life and teaching the children to sing. Maria played a role in the family’s musical development, but it is essential to recognize that the von Trapp family was already musically inclined before her arrival. Georg von Trapp loved to engage in musical activities with his family, thus Maria fit in perfectly.

Maria von Trapp’s Complex Relationship with Georg

In the movie, Maria and Captain von Trapp fall in love and get married, but the real story was not quite so romantic. According to Maria’s autobiography, she was not in love with the captain when he proposed. She wrote that she agreed to marry him because she loved the children and was advised by the nuns to do God’s will. Despite her initial hesitance, Maria eventually came to love the captain, writing that she learned to love him “more than I have ever loved before or after.” While the film portrays a love story between Maria and the captain, the true story was more complex, with Maria choosing to marry him for the sake of the children and her faith.

Maria and Georg von Trapp: A Decade of Marriage Before Fleeing Austria

In The Sound of Music, Maria and Georg von Trapp’s relationship is depicted as a whirlwind romance that culminates in their marriage just before the family’s dramatic escape from Austria. However, this portrayal of the couple’s relationship is only partially accurate. In reality, Maria and Georg were married for 11 years before they fled Austria in 1938. This change in the timeline of their marriage made for a more compelling and dramatic plot in the film, bringing us to my favorite Sound of Music true story vs. fiction fact.

The von Trapp Family’s Escape: No Secret Alpine Hike with Suitcases and Instruments

There is little resemblance between The Sound of Music’s depiction of the Von Trapp family escaping Austria and the actual events. Rather than hiking over mountains to Switzerland, the family traveled to Italy by train. In Salzburg, we are hundreds of kilometers from the Swiss border. However, we are only 5 kilometers from the German border. In the movie, you see a mountain near Untersberg in the south of Salzburg, situated two-thirds in German territory. Hence, the family crosses into Nazi Germany in the movie. It wouldn’t have worked.

Climb Ev'ry Mountain Finale from The Sound of Music

In reality, the family left Salzburg in broad daylight, with the captain, pregnant Maria, and the children traveling with suitcases and pretending to go on a vacation to Italy. Georg von Trapp was born in Zadar, Croatia, which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later became part of Italy. As an Italian citizen, Georg and his family could obtain passage to America through an American booking agent. A bit less dramatic than Hollywood depicts.

The von Trapps’ Musical Director: Father Wasner, Not Max Detweiler

In The Sound of Music, the von Trapp family is aided by the fictional character Max Detweiler, a pushy music promoter. The real von Trapp family went broke during the Great Depression. To make ends meet, they took in boarders, including Father Franz Wasner.

Wasner recognized the family’s musical talent and became their musical director, helping to propel them to success on tours in Europe and the United States. He served as their musical director for over 20 years. Maria von Trapp described him as “the driving musical force” behind the family’s singing career.

Maria von Trapp: A Complex and Multifaceted Individual

The real Maria was a loving and caring person, but the real Maria was also complex and multifaceted. While the fictional Maria is consistently sweet, the real Maria was known to have a temper and was not always easygoing. According to her stepdaughter, Maria had “a terrible temper” and could be unpredictable, with outbursts of anger. These quick outbursts were, however, followed by a quick return to good humor.

Ready to put your Sound of Music knowledge to the test? Take our quiz and see how many of the 25 facts about the film and the true story of the von Trapp family you can get right! Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just a casual admirer of the classic movie, there’s sure to be something here that will surprise you.

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