On March 27, 1944, Chicago Tribune music critic Albert Goldberg reviewed an auspicious debut that had occurred the previous evening in Orchestra Hall:
“A musical event wholly out of the beaten path of such observances was the concert given by the Trapp Family Singers before a full house at Orchestra Hall yesterday afternoon. Present were Baroness Maria von Trapp and her daughters, Agathe, Johanna, Eleonore, Maria, Rosemarie, Hedwig, and Martina, who divide themselves into five sopranos and three contraltos, sometimes joined by the pleasant baritone of their conductor and family priest, Dr. Franz Wasner. Introduced, but silent, was the Baron von Trapp, the chaperon and father of this lively aggregation, and missing were Johannes, who tends the family farm in Vermont, and three [sic] other sons [there were ten children total, so the two other sons would have been Rupert and Werner] who are with the ski troops of the United States Army.
“The first and decidedly the more interesting half of their program reverted to the days when music making was an informal business in which any one who was any one socially took an active and expert part. The atmosphere was more that of the Elizabethan landed gentry than of the Austrian Tyrol, in whose native dirndls the daughters were dressed. But musically, which is what matters most, the style was flawless, the voices fresh and true, and for an enchanted hour one lived in the remote and delicious age of music’s innocence.” (The complete review is here.)
They returned later in 1944 for two concerts on December 3 and 10 and again, Goldberg praised: “The charm of the Trapps is the disarming intimacy and informality of their music making, coupled to professional standards which are no less exacting for their complete unobtrusiveness. They remove the solemnity of such often forbidding music as the ‘Ave Maria’ of de Victoria and the ‘Ave Verum’ of Josquin des Pres, and recreate it in terms of living warmth. Or they can toss off a madrigal, like Morley’s ‘Sing we and chant it,’ in the most faultless English style. And they have a sense of humor. Only eight people constantly subjected to the inconveniences of war time travel could put so much feeling into Mozart’s priceless little canon, ‘Bed is cozy.'” (The complete review of the December 3 concert is here.)
For their appearances on December 3 and 8, 1945, Claudia Cassidy wrote: “So, you see, this really is a family affair, and just the place to take the family. For the music is fresh and lovely, with a twinkle, too, and it is so clean you almost feel the cool wind in your face, for the Trapps really belong outdoors. Along with their lovely carols and their dulcet sonatas for recorders and virginal, they don gala costume for folk songs and yodels of their native Austrian Tyrol, which they gave up for our Vermont when they could not see eye to eye with the Nazis on the subject of flying the swastika from their villa at Salzburg. [Heinrich] Himmler used that villa and fixed it all up, and Lotte Lehmann suggested the Trapps come over and sing for America.”
The Trapp Family Singers returned to perform at Orchestra Hall again on November 23, 1946; December 13, 1947; and November 29, 1948. And that tradition continues with the Von Trapps—the great-grandchildren of Georg and Maria—appearing with Pink Martini next Friday evening, March 7, 2014.