MARIA von Trapp, who has died aged 99, was the last of the original Trapp Family Singers, whose story of musical success and subsequent flight from Austria during the Nazi regime in the late 1930s was the inspiration for the Broadway show and hugely successful 1965 film, The Sound of Music.
The Von Trapps were an aristocratic Austrian family headed by the decorated naval officer Baron Georg von Trapp and his wife, Agathe. In the wake of Baroness von Trapp's death in 1922 the family moved to a villa in Salzburg and Maria Augusta Kutschera, a young woman preparing for a nun's life in the nearby Nonnberg Abbey, was appointed as tutor to the seven Von Trapp children. She was to become the Baron's second wife (played by Julie Andrews). In the mid-1930s the family's finances were made precarious by the Baron's investment in a bank which would later fail. Hardened circumstances caused the Von Trapps to stage paid choral concerts (previously a family hobby) with Maria von Trapp singing second soprano in the choir.
With the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, Baron von Trapp was offered a commission in the German Navy. An ardent anti-Nazi he refused and decided to flee the country with his entire family. Not, as Hollywood immortalised their journey, overnight across the Alps to Switzerland but by train to Italy in broad daylight before taking a passage to America.
Maria Franziska Gobertina von Trapp was born on September 14, 1914, in Salzburg the third child of Georg and Agathe Von Trapp. Since personal telegrams were not permitted to be sent to those serving in the military, her father learnt of the birth by a message from his wife in pre-arranged code: "S. M. S Maria arrived."
Music was an integral part of her family's life. "My father played the violin and the accordion, and I adored him – I wanted to learn all the instruments that he played," recalled Maria von Trapp late in life (she would play the accordion for the rest of her life).
In The Sound of Music, Maria von Trapp was portrayed as the character "Louisa" by the Canadian actress Heather Menzies-Urich (in her debut role).
On the film's release, Maria and her siblings were surprised by the level of dramatic licence taken in bringing their story to the screen. "We were all pretty shocked at how they portrayed our father, he was so completely different. He always looked after us a lot, especially after our mother died," said Maria von Trapp. "You have to separate yourself from all that, and you have to get used to it. It is something you simply cannot avoid."
On settling in America, the family continued to perform choral concerts and opened a ski lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Here Maria was to play the accordion and teach Austrian dance, with her half-sister Rosemarie, one of three children by Georg von Trapp's second marriage. Maria von Trapp became a US citizen in 1948 and in the mid-1950s worked alongside her stepmother as a lay missionary in Papua New Guinea.
In the summer of 2008 she visited her childhood home in Salzburg, on the eve of the villa opening as a hotel. Staying in the house for the first time since the 1930s she found herself haunted by memories.
"Our whole life is in here, in this house," she recalled as she walked its corridors. "Especially here in the stairwell, where we always used to slide down the railings."
Maria von Trapp, who died on February 18, never married. She is survived by her three half siblings, Rosemarie, Eleonore and Johannes.