In the footnotes of almost any history of eighteenth-century London or Haydn biography, is the name, Rebecca Schroeter. A talented musician herself, she was seldom on stage but always at the centre of the bustle and socialising off it. This attractive and educated Scottish heiress always had a weakness for musicians, as they did for her. 'My dearest love', Haydn called her. 'Beautiful', 'amiable' and 'a young lady of fashion', Rebecca was also independently minded and determined. Like the young women portrayed by Jane Austen, the prospect before her, viewed from the over-familiar comfort of the family home, looked restricted and uninspiring. Rebecca fell for her charismatic German music master, Johann Schroeter, and eloped with him in 1775 to London. Her family refused them permission to marry, but they went to court and were wed at St Martin's in the Fields. From the moment of her arrival in the capital as a young woman, Rebecca Schroeter found a place for herself in the musical and social life of fashionable Georgian London. She crossed paths with Bach and all the leading lights, the bluestockings, politicians and the King's circle.
When her husband's hard work gained him the post of the King's Musick Master, Rebecca could host parties and debates at their elegant new house in Leicester Square. This idyllic life was cut short by her husband's death in 1788 when Rebecca is in her forties, but then Haydn, the most famous composer in Europe, meets her and demands the attention of 'the beautiful English widow'. It is a relationship which continued until Haydn's death in 1809. Rebecca Schroeter's life is almost an archetypal one of the period: a romantically-inclined young woman, an ambitious and supportive wife, a favourite on the social scene. Peter Hobday balances an intimate account of her life with convincing historical detail to produce an accomplished portrait of the age.
Peter Hobday was for many years a presenter of the TODAY programme on Radio 4, and the presenter of Radio 3's MASTERWORKS series about the life and work of the great composers. He now divides his time between the family home in London and a house in Italy which he has restored, where he grows olives, and does most of his writing.