Always, there was music.
It was music – Puccini, to be precise – that first drew my grandparents into each other’s orbit, more than a hundred years ago. It was an unusually warm afternoon in early spring, in the grandest municipal garden in Hanover, the Segerpark. My grandmother, Henriette Furst, was taking her usual Sunday stroll among the regimented flowerbeds and manicured lawns so beloved of city-dwelling Prussians. At twenty-five, she was a fine example of Teutonic rude health: Jette, as she was known by everyone, was six foot tall, and robustly built. She walked through the park with none of the feminine grace that was expected from ladies of her class. Rather than making her way by trippingly petite steps on the arm of an admirer, Jette clomped briskly along the gravelled paths alone, too busy enjoying the day to worry about the unladylike spectacle she presented to others. Rather than squeezing her considerable frame into the bustles and corsets that constrained the grim-faced ladies she so effortlessly outflanked, Jette preferred voluminous dresses which draped her outsized form like colourful tents. She swept along in a dramatic, free-flowing swirl, leaving all those rigidly-contoured women hobbling in her wake.
And then, as she passed a sculpted wall of privet, a song drifted out from behind the topiary. The singer was male: his voice, as clear and as pure as a freshly-struck bell, fell on Jette like a shower of jasmine. She stopped, stilled by the tune’s simple beauty. Even cloaked in mellifluous Italian, Jette could hear hope and enchantment in every syllable. Unable to pull herself away, alone by the privet hedge, her act of listening felt shockingly intimate. The invisible singer seemed to be whispering in her ear, performing for her alone.
My grandmother, bewitched by song. So our story begins.