The book tells of Rebecca Schroeter, a young woman of means and intelligence born in 1751. Born Rebecca Scott, her horizons look limited by class and propriety until, in her twenties, she elopes with her piano tutor, Johann Schroeter taking up residence in London where she became noted as a musician despite the scandal of her situation. As the years passed in settled yet uneventful marriage, she found that her husband was a drinker and a man of no ambition and, when he died after more than a decade of marriage, he left behind a bored yet beautiful widow, yearning for love.
Love appeared in Rebecca's life courtesy of the famed composer, Franz Joseph Haydn, newly arrived in London to much fanfare and unhappy in his own marriage. Rich, bored and passionate, he took a role as Rebecaa's music tutor and soon, history was repeating itself. The couple fell in love with one another and over the course of their courtship, exchanged many letters, which form an important part of the narrative of this book.
Although the blurb does its best to sell this book as an overheated love story, I found that it was actually a very touching story of love between two people who are cautious and realistic about their choices, having already exhausted their youthful passions. Lonely, unfulfilled and afraid of what the future might hold, they recognised in one another kindred spirits, both searching for an emotional connection with someone who might understand them. The affair could not end in marriage, of course, as Haydn was already attached, and from the two dozen letters published as an appendix, one is given a very strong impression of a warm, mature and loving relationship that was, above all, one of intense friendship. In fact, the friendship came through for me more than the passion that Hobday asserts existed between Rebecca and Haydn and though there are moments of passion, they are few and far between.
The book contains few revelations about Georgian society but it does tell of an interesting and touching episode in the life of Haydn. It has certainly whetted my appetite to find out more about Rebecca Schroeter, who seems to have lived a heck of a life!