Some years ago, I met a musician, when I was at one of Amsterdam’s beautiful canals for the annual Prinsengracht Summer Concert. People watch it from boats and stand everywhere. While waiting for the concert’s opening, an elderly couple approached me. They were both musicians; she, a pianist and singer, and he, a famous composer.
I met her some days later at a building she lived with another 350 elderly people, although she had her private flat. And that is where I heard her fascinating life story. She was a 73 years old lady, born from a Dutch father and a Russian mother, who had committed suicide when she was 3 years old. She lived with the father and was raised by her grandma in the Russian way: a rigorous and disciplined schedule of piano and singing lessons, as well as foreign languages. She spoke Dutch, Russian, German, French, English and Italian.
World War II was going on when she was 12 years old, and many children at school thought she was a Nazi because of her family background (grandma was naturalised German). She was forced to leave the house when the Nazis ordered all Germans to return to their country. The father then married the housekeeper.
Her daily life consisted of school, musical conservatory and Russian Orthodox Church, where she dreamed of being baptised. On May 4th, 1945, when the allies ended the war, she hurried to inform her father that she could be finally christened; a simple dream of a teenager not really understanding the atrocities of the war around her!
By the age of 23 she married a Dutchman, merely to leave home and move to South Africa. She returned to the Netherlands 2 years later after her father’s passing. She found all the letters she had sent to him still unopened, and this was very disappointing. After receiving her inheritance, she returned to Johannesburg to divorce, only to find out that another divorce process had to be filed in Holland. She enjoyed divorcing twice the same man!
Later on, she loved other men, always musicians, but nothing seemed to work out. There was a Russian composer whom she loved, but he broke up with her for another man. She threatened with ending her life, but when he said that he wouldn’t even shed one tear, she understood that he was neither worthy of her love nor of her intention to die for him. Instead, she got a new job and moved on. She made me think of this pic on the left side, which I made once at a public toilet…
But her love life didn’t end yet. She married a Dutch composer, 6 years younger than her and moved to Amsterdam. He was gay, and the marriage was objectively arranged for she needed to share expenses with someone. They bought a house and stayed together for almost two years when he left to live in Germany with another musician. She divorced for the third time!
She continued her career as a singer, having a good life with people she enjoyed. Then she was hit by the arrow of Cupid, the Greek god of love, when she met a Canadian musician, also a bit younger, when she was in her thirties. They broke up, and he also left her for another man. She decided that she had had enough from love and adopted casual relationships and one-night stands. Never again she married anyone. Although she would often go out with the old friend and ex-husband, the Dutch composer I met at the concert.
She was happy and cheerful, attending concerts, weddings, parties and writing about music for the internal journal of the house. She didn’t feel ever lonely. Confidently, she drove a little Clio, not depending on anyone and even insisted on picking me up for a visit. I was surprised to see how practical she was to fix our dinner, just as students and workers do. We had a salad with a barbecue sauce and crab, and a potato puree made from some sort of powder and fried nuggets made of some kind of organic meat. All followed by organic coffee and chocolates. She was thrilled we both liked the organic food!
As she enquired more about myself, she was puzzled with the concept of work as an executive in a corporate environment, which sounded like a strange profession! I guess she had a point there! I had mentioned my passion for saxophone, but as we concluded that one needs talent to play an instrument, I came back to my ‘strange’ job.
What a great evening and encounter with a sweet 73 years ‘young’ lady who led a very daring and interesting life, with a very open and curious mind. I hope to age as young at heart like this beautiful musician.