1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 10:



Chapter 4



            Admiral John Simpson quietly slid himself back into his seat in the chamber of the new royal palace that was being used for public musical performances until the still-newer music center was completed. [NOTE: Folks, this first sentence is not canon, it’s purely a filler so I can get into the chapter. If we’ve developed different ideas about how Magdeburg is shaping up, I’ll substitute whatever you want.] The gesture was smooth and practiced, as was his wife Mary’s sang-froid at the abrupt departure and return of her husband in the middle of a performance. She was accustomed to the problem, and had been for decades.


            True, in times past in Pittsburgh her husband would leave because some assistant whispered urgent news in his ear concerning his large petrochemical corporation—not because of an explosion so loud it had rattled the windows in the chamber. But, from Mary’s viewpoint, the distinction was minor. When moving in high society, one always maintained one’s cool—even if no one would think of using such a gauche term to describe the behavior. Appearances weren’t everything, to be sure. But they mattered.


            “An industrial accident of some sort,” he whispered into her ear. “A bad one, it seems. But from what I could determine, no enemy action seems to be involved.”


            Her responding nod was a minute thing. To all outward appearances, all her attention was focused on the performance. Which, in fact, almost all of it actually was.


            Frescobaldi, for the love of God!


            The man himself, that was to say. Truth be told, in the world somewhere on the other side of the Ring of Fire, Mary Simpson had never been all that fond of Frescobaldi’s music. She hadn’t been very fond of any music between that of Monteverdi and Bach, in fact. Like most classical music enthusiasts, she’d generally considered the whole seventeenth century something of a musical desert between the great eras of the High Renaissance and the Baroque. A great period in western civilization in terms of the visual arts, of course, but not music. Perhaps aficionados of the organ felt differently about the matter, she supposed, but the organ was very far from her favorite musical instrument.


            But that was then and there, and this was here and now. And the fact remained that Giralamo Frescobaldi was one of the tiny number of composers whose name and music would survive for three and a half centuries. And not simply as a footnote in scholarly studies, either—some of his music was still in the standard repertoire, in the universe they’d left behind. Not much of it, true, and that almost entirely organ music. Still he was a genuine name—and he was here in person.


            Mary was quite simply thrilled to death, whatever she thought of the man’s music itself. Especially since she was pretty sure that her relentless campaign—sophisticated, suave, yes, yes, but still relentless—to persuade Frescobaldi to resign his post as organist for the Medicis in Florence and set up in Magdeburg was nearing success.


            Fortunately, Amelie Elisabeth shared her enthusiasm for music. The Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel was even, unlike Mary, a fan of organ music. True, her husband Wilhelm V had instituted tight budget limits in order to pay off the debts of his profligate father Moritz. But Hesse-Kassel was a wealthy enough principality that even with limits, Amelie Elisabeth still had some money to throw at music and the arts. So, Mary was able to waggle a very nice stipend under Frescobaldi’s nose if he moved to Magdeburg. That, combined with the fascination the composer and keyboard performer had for the new innovations brought by the up-timers ought to do the trick. In that respect, and despite being now middle-aged, Frescobaldi was no different than almost all musicians of the era.


            Still, she couldn’t deny she was a bit relieved when Frescobaldi finally stood up from the harpsichord where he’d been playing what seemed like an endless series of pleasant but slight toccatas. Mary was even less fond of the harpsichord than she was of the organ. Why subject oneself to that damn tinkle-tinkle-tinkle when you could listen to the rich sounds of a pianoforte?


            The auditorium was drowned in applause, to which Mary added her own vigorous share. She even whistled, something she’d never have dreamed of doing in the concert halls she’d left behind. But she’d discovered that seventeenth century music patrons, from royalty on down, had a far more raucous notion of “applause” than their counterparts possessed in the twentieth century. And, well, as a child Mary had discovered she was a superb whistler—an uncouth skill which, sadly, she’d had to abandon once she grew old enough to participate in proper society.


            She caught a glimpse of her husband grimacing slightly, out of the corner of her eye.


            “Hey, look,” she murmured, “I’m a great whistler. Being able to do it again makes up for a lot. Almost makes up for seventeenth century plumbing.”


            Her husband’s grimace deepened. “Mary, nothing makes up for the plumbing in the here and how. But that’s not why I was wincing. I simply can’t for the life of me understand—never could—why anyone would applaud a performer who subjected them to that damn harpsichord. Tinkle-tinkle-tinkle. It’s like listening to a concerto for nails-scratching-a-blackboard and orchestra.”


            Mary chuckled. “Well, take heart. Our very own Marla is up next.”


            That announcement caused John Simpson to lean back in his chair with some degree of anticipation. Mary had always had protégés in the past. Marla Linder was the latest; a young woman Mary had discovered in Grantville who, while she might not be a prodigy, was clearly gifted. She had been their guest in Magdeburg the last few weeks, preparing for this concert. Having heard her singing snippets of songs around their townhouse, John was actually looking forward to hearing her.


            The harpsichord had been moved out of the way and the grand piano muscled into position. John joined the applause as Marla came out, gave a nod of her head in acknowledgment, then sat and began. Several selections followed, all sounding somewhat familiar to him, ending with a Chopin showpiece. Loud applause erupted. After it died down, John leaned over to Mary. "I think that made Signor Frescobaldi sound a bit insipid." He smiled at her frown.


            Marla returned, taking a stand in front of the piano. What followed was remarkable, even to John's less than trained ears. Song followed song, lyrical, polished, enrapting; classical was followed by show tunes, ending with Christmas music. Some were sung as duets or ensembles, one with her violinist fiancé Franz Sylwester, but most were solos. The final piece was "Ave, Maria", during which John looked over to see a bit of moisture in Mary's eyes. Truth to tell, he had a bit of a lump in his own throat.