Family legacy rewarding for Johannes von Trapp
July 20, 2011
Maria von Trapp was pregnant with youngest son Johannes when she, Capt. Georg von Trapp and their family escaped from Austria during the Nazi occupation, as loosely depicted in "The Sound of Music."
"I was born a few months after we arrived in America," Johannes von Trapp told The Park Record during an interview from the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt. "I was the first American citizen of the family."
While von Trapp won’t be in Park City when his grand nieces and nephews – Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and Justin – sing during the Utah Symphony’s Deer Valley Music Festival on Friday, he is thinking about them. (See accompanying story)
"I hope they have a good time in Utah and I hope the audience enjoys the music," he said.
Von Trapp is one of the four surviving members of the first generation of von Trapp singers, and when he got old enough, he went on tour with his siblings until they disbanded in 1956.
Music was so much a part of his life, that he didn’t think too much of its significance.
Recommended Stories For You
"It was something that was always there," he said. "I didn’t see it as being particularly unique. I grew up singing with the family and it was normal to me. They never really sat down and talked with me about the past. We were always looking ahead."
Von Trapp, who is president of the lodge and owns all the family memorabilia, said sometimes the responsibility to keep up the family legacy interfered with other ideas he had for his life.
"There is an obligation to support musical arts and run the business here in a way that fairly represents the family and is tasteful and appropriate," he said. "I suppose I felt there was a need to perform and keep up the legacy, so I did it, but I would have rather played. My academic playground is in forest ecology and I really think I chose that because it involved not dealing with the public.
"Then I got stuck in the business and here I am 40 years later," he said with a laugh.
It’s no secret "The Sound of Music" took artistic liberties with the true story, and in the past von Trapp has addressed those issues, which he accepts.
"My mother wrote a book about the Trapp Family Singers and that was the start of this whole business," he said. "That book was published in 1948 and the book was turned into a film in Germany called ‘Die Trapp Familie.’ The film was seen by Vincent Donohue, who was Mary Martin’s director in ‘Peter Pan,’ and he thought it would be a wonderful vehicle for Mary Martin.’"
Donohue approached Martin’s husband, Richard Halliday, and Leland Hayward and the Broadway play "Sound of Music" was born. It debuted in November of 1959.
It was turned into the Hollywood film with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in 1965.
"The Hollywood version and the Broadway version are, in spirit, not far from reality, even though actual events were different," von Trapp said. "I like to say the real story is less dramatic, but more interesting.
"It is rewarding when people tell you the story has been an inspiration to them, or helped them over a rocky path in their life," he said.