For Christmas I received Agathe Von Trapp’s book, Memories Before and After the Sound of Music: An Autobiography. Agathe was the oldest girl from Captain Von Trapp’s first wife. The book is wonderful, giving a glimpse of another Trapp family member, revealing a gentle, artistic soul, in touch with a child’s heart. Her book fills in the blanks left by Maria, explaining the family tree, origins of family members, memories of her family with her father and mother, and then when Maria entered their life. She said the main reason for writing the book was to correct and explain some misconceptions and outright errors (especially concerning her father) brought about by the Sound of Music.
I was quite surprised and saddened to see that Agathe Von Trapp died last week, on December 28, 2010. She was 97. I caught the obituary as I was reading the book. I felt it was a Godincidence for me to keep her in my prayers as I had her story fresh in my mind. I was also surprised to find that she lived nearby in neighboring Maryland. Some news stories regarding her life and death:
I have loved the Trapp Family for so long, but I have to admit it’s NOT the “Sound of Music Trapp Family” that I love. Our family always enjoyed the movie and the music. But I remember vividly what started me on the Von Trapp Family Rabbit Trail. One evening our family was watching Rodgers and Hammerstein special. They discussed the making of Sound of Music, trying to decide on the main lead. Julie Andrews was filming Mary Poppins at the time, so they prescreened the movie and thought she was right for the part, but they were worried she might incorporate too much religious schmaltz. So they arranged a breakfast meeting with her, and her first words of greeting was how to take out the religious schmaltz to make this movie.
Religious schmaltz? What did she mean? What kind of music did the Trapp Family really sing? That’s when I started investigating and reading. I was really disappointed to find the “Sound of Music Movie Trapp Family” sterilized of religion. I learned that the real Maria and the Trapp Family was about living a Catholic Faith. The family’s repetoire was largely religious choral music and folk songs. Their conductor was a priest, Father Franz Wasner, who traveled with them, which allowed them to have daily Mass.
So that started the journey, the long rabbit trail. The music, the books — they are all enjoyable, and I think everyone should read them. Tweens on up will enjoy these books. I have heard rumors that since English was not Maria’s first language, that she had a ghost-writer for many of these books. But that doesn’t ruin the enjoyable tales the books unfold. Not all these books are in print, but I thought it might be helpful to see a summary of the books by or about the Trapp Family.
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers was written in 1949 by Maria Augusta Trapp. She begins in the motherhouse, being tapped on the shoulder to be a tutor for the Captain’s daughter, Maria. Maria portrays the family before and after her marriage, the beginning of the family’s singing, and how they came to settle in America, their beginning tours, buying of their property in Vermont and the building of their house, Cor Unum, the summer music camps, and the death of the Captain.
The book is spellbinding, very heart-warming and humorous. It probably is such a bittersweet book to the family, because Maria sold the rights of the book for $9,000. The family never received any royalties from the Sound of Music because she was “taken” in her original sale.
Yesterday, Today, and Forever was published in 1952. The structure of the book is based on reflections of the life of Christ, applying little memories of the Trapp Family lives throughout. This would be a great book to read during the Advent and Christmas seasons.
The next book, written in 1959, A Family on Wheels, Further Adventures of the Trapp Family Singers, tells the story of the family on the road, traveling all over America and different places around the world.
Maria, My Own Story was published in 1972. This book reflects her life from her childhood, giving reflections on Sound of Music. She and a few of the Trapp children did missionary work, and there is a bit of description of being interested in the charismatic movement.
Let Me Tell You About My Savior: Yesterday, Today & Forever/When the King Was Carpenter I’m not sure when the original When the King Was Carpenter was released. This book continues the life of Christ, with reflections and Trapp family memories; this book would be a good reading addition for Lent. This combination book was released in 2000, containing both books as a “Twenty-Fifth Anniversary” edition.
Around the Year with the Trapp Family, published in 1955, is one of my favorites, but alas, one of the rarest to find. You can read the book online here, minus the images and music. The book was written in 1955 in response to the question the Trapps were asked so often on how do you live the liturgical year? I’ve heard the criticism that this book is falsely set up as the way the Trapps lived all the time. I can answer for myself (since I’ve been writing on living the liturgical year for a long time) that it is hard to “capture” the exact way we live things from year to year. We change, dynamics change, life happens that requires reshaping, restructuring, tweaking, and some changes. So summarizing or giving a snapshot isn’t always going to be the true snapshot of every single year. But perhaps the book is multiple snapshots taken from many years. In any case, it’s a goldmine. After reading Agathe’s book last week, I can see that many of the customs and religious traditions mentioned by Maria were a daily part of life.
The Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs, Selected and Arranged by Father Franz Wasner for Voice and Piano, published in 1950, is a wonderful collection of Advent and Christmas music. Some of the songs are mentioned in her books, including the Christmas Eve song, “Shepherds Up!”. This might be harder to find, but there are several editions and online used bookstores should have a copy for a reasonable price.
Recently released in English is Captain Von Trapp’s book, To the Last Salute: Memories of an Austrian U-Boat Commander. Coupled with Agathe’s book, this is a great way to flesh out the Captain to see how he was not the cold, stern Captain of Sound of Music, but a loving, devoted, gentle, and music-loving father and husband.
The Trapp Family had many recordings. The first were on 78 rpm records as the Trapp Family Choir. Later they had many records at the regular 33 LP records. Not all have been converted into cds, but there are a great variety available. The recordings aren’t always in stereo, and they are stark contrast to our pop artist Christmas albums. I find the music soft, relaxing, and uplifting.
One Voice is my favorite collection, as it has 3 cds containing selections of Christmas, Sacred, and folk music. The yodeling songs are my favorite. The cd comes with a booklet that gives more background.
The newest remastered set is Journey, 2CD SET, which I think completes the collection of all their recordings.
There is also a series of booklets on how to play the recorder.
The Original Trapp Family Singers and At Home with the Trapp Family Singers: An Evening of Folksongs are cds to play through the year. I think most of these titles can be found on One Voice
Most of the books by other authors start from the movie, or are based on the movie, Sound of Music. But I find it is always nice to read more and from a different perspective on the Trapp Family.
The World of the Trapp Family: The Life Story of the Legendary Family Who Inspired “The Sound of Music” by William Anderson
V is for Von Trapp: A Musical Family Alphabet by William Anderson is another book by Sleeping Bear Press, in the alphabetical format, but more text in the sidebars.
The Trapp Family Book by Hans Wilhelm. I have not seen this book yet. It is one of the books recommended by the family for further reading.
Sound of Music was not the first movie about the Trapp Family. If you can track down the German movie Die Trapp Familie (1956), which also appeared in English as The Trapp Family starring Ruth Leuwerik and Hans Holt. The sequel was Die Trapp Familie in Amerika (1958), but I don’t think that was released in English.
Maria wrote about the family purchasing and building a house in Vermont. The family named the house “Cor Unum” (One Heart). Later, as different family members left to start on their own, the house was used as a lodge. The original house burned down, but was rebuilt and the Lodge is still open, run by Johannes, the youngest Trapp. There are a few books in the online store that look interesting!
A few interesting links on the Trapps:
Von Trapp Federal Records and The Real Von Trapps have the immigration records for the ladies, and a short history of the family. Maria and Agathe talk about the time they were held on Ellis Island because someone overheard Maria say nonchalantly that she wished they could stay in America. At the time they only had a visitor’s visa, so they were held until friends could vouch for them. They both describe it as an awful experience.
And I found this Family Tree Records which gives a good diagram of the family tree.
That’s a brief summary of my rabbit trail. I have found a few other bits and pieces that have been helpful for my mother and I as we led choirs and singing groups. Please share any wonderful tidbits or recommendations I don’t list here!