A lot has been said in the various 1632 discussion threads on Baen's Bar, as well as in print, about how early modern Europe's populace really weren't too different from people of today. They were technically adept, given the tools that they had, so they would have been able to reproduce a great deal of modern technology. It might have taken them some time, but it would have been possible. The people would have adapted to practical technology quickly.

Early modern Europeans were highly literate, frequently in multiple languages. They were sophisticated in both philosophy and in religion. And they would be very quick studies when it comes to politics.

Even in the arts, for the most part the people of Grantville would have had little to teach them, aside from photography and sound recording. These are technologies that are really relatively straightforward once modern chemicals and tools are available.

There is one area of modern life, however, where the natives of the 1632 era would not embrace the up-time offerings with open arms: music.

Why? Because the 350+ years between their era and ours produced some of the most radical changes in musical thought and practice imaginable. More changes occurred in that time frame, and faster, than had occurred in western European music in the previous thousand years. From 1800 on, every generation produced music rather different from the previous generation; even significantly different.

Music, as much as—perhaps more than—any other art form, is learned and heard and judged by the ears of a cultural context. That's why they wouldn't just swallow the up-time music and musical forms. If you plucked a German from 1631 Mainz and dropped him into New York City today, he would have been as shocked and appalled and bewildered by the music of today as if you had plucked a South Sea islander from a secluded Pacific island in 1920 and done the same thing to him. (Okay, that is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration—but not much of one.) The down-timer culture and societies were at the bottom of that 350+ year learning curve, and it would take them time to learn to like the music; not 350 years, but more than a year or two.

Music Technology

This article is going to focus on the sound of music, on the forms of it, on how people hear it, and why it will take a while for most of the up-time music to catch on. But there are technologies to music that will now be available to the down-timers, so let's first do a quick review of those.

Strings—Violin family

When you try to research the history of the violin, you quickly discover that in the 1632 time frame there were no standardized instrument forms such as there are today. There were a variety of bewildering names: viol, violon, vihuela, viola, viola d'amore, viola da gamba, and others.

What we would think of as modern violins had by this time been pretty well standardized in overall shape, proportion, and number of strings – 4. The other three instruments of the modern string family—viola, cello, and double bass—were a long way from standardization. The viola d'amore, for example, typically had fourteen strings; seven that were played, and seven more that were pitched an octave higher that were sympathetic resonators. And the viola da gamba, despite its name, was a very large instrument, larger even than a modern cello. Double basses were just beginning to make their appearances. String counts for violas, viola da gambas and double basses varied with the luthiers who made them, or perhaps the patron or artist who commissioned them, but five or six or even seven strings weren't unheard of.

Even though 1632 is pre-Stradivarius, Grantville really has nothing to teach seventeenth-century luthiers about these instruments, other than showing them the latest refinements in proportions and preaching the advantages of standardization. The standardization required longer necks, which required fewer strings to provide the needed notes to play the music. It also required the metal wrapped gut strings that would be forthcoming from Nürnberg in the near future. The strings would hold more tension than other materials to handle the tuning changes that would be coming and which also allowed for longer necks to provide the needed notes to play the music with fewer strings. The standardization will happen quicker in the 1632 universe because of the up-time examples.

However, one big technology advance that can be brought to the down-time instrument crafter and players is the refinement of the bow. The modern bow design was established by Wilhelm Cramer and Francois Tourte in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I won't list the individual modifications, other than red pernambuco wood from Brazil becoming the wood of choice for bows (still true today), but the result was a bow that could be held lightly with the fingertips, rather than having to be grasped with the whole hand. This in turn allowed for much greater flexibility in playing style, which was the necessary development for the rise of the violin as a virtuoso solo instrument.

Strings—Guitars, etc.

The guitar was definitely available in 1632 in various forms. Known by the names gittern, vihuela, guitarra, or vialle, it tended to be smaller than today's instrument, with a body that was narrower in proportion than today's instruments. It had a smaller sound than today's instruments, partly due to the use of gut strings, and partly due to the smaller size. The common pattern had four strings, usually doubled to be four courses of two strings each that were pitched an octave apart. By the late 1600s, luthiers were beginning to add a fifth course.

There were renowned guitar luthiers in Paris, Venice and Spain.

Again, Grantville would have little to teach the luthiers about guitars, other than to show them the larger bodied modern instruments as templates and teach them about using metal strings when desired.

The luthiers and performers will be intrigued by the banjo, however. (Concerto for Banjo and Orchestra by George Telemann? It would be possible.)

Mandolins are available in down-time forms. If any modern versions exist in Grantville, down-time luthiers may identify some refinements. Otherwise, the presence of up-time guitars may also cause some down-time experimentation with changes to mandolins.

For electric guitars, see Electronic Instruments.


Harps have been around for thousands of years, and large floor standing harps weren't uncommon in the seventeenth century. The one technological improvement that Grantville could introduce would be the tuning pedals that allow certain sets of strings to be raised or lowered in pitch. This could be done even in the middle of a performance, allowing harps a similar flexibility as pianos. Pictures are surely available in some reference works somewhere in Grantville, either the encyclopedias or some kind of music history book or music dictionary in some music teacher's private library.


Organs in 1632 came in three main varieties.

First is the pipe organ, where sound is produced by pumping air through what amounts to giant whistles, some with brass reeds in them. These typically were rather large instruments, usually found in cathedrals or very large churches.

They are capable of large volume gradations, and a large organ will have a very large pitch range and a wide variety of timbres available to it. It was often referred to as the "King of Instruments." Grantville has nothing to teach the seventeenth century about how to make these, other than introducing electric blower motors to fill the wind chests instead of requiring manual or mechanical mechanisms to fill them.

Second is something called a regal. It in essence was kind of like a giant keyboard operated harmonica. There would be a case containing a variety of brass reeds, with a small keyboard on one side and a couple of bellows protruding out the back. This was a portable instrument. In some cases, they would fold up to the dimensions of a very large book. Again, Grantville would have nothing to teach the down-timers about this instrument.

Third is the "portative organ," which goes back to medieval times at least.By the seventeenth century, at least some of these had grown to 52-note, foot-bellows-powered instruments about the sizeof a console upright piano. These would be comparable to more modern portable organs with foot powered bellows. There may be one still in a back room in one of the churches, else someone of the older generations will remember them. They used to be a staple of the tent revival evangelism circuits. The down-time craftsmen might pick up some refinements if a modern portable organ is still somewhere in town.


These are all instruments which are very common in 1632. Grantville will have nothing to offer here.

Clavichord—keyboard instrument in which the strings were struck by a thin brass "blade." Strings were apparently single strands of metal, but were paired together. Sound was not large. Volume gradations (soft to loud) were possible. Sustained notes were only possible by continuing to hold down the key after the string was struck. Their range was narrow; typically three to four octaves.

Harpsichord—keyboard instrument in which the strings were plucked by a plectrum. In earliest versions, the plectrum was commonly leather, but over time crow quills became popular. As with the clavichord, strings were apparently single strands of metal. Volume gradations were not possible—the string was plucked one manner regardless of how hard or soft you hit the key. Again, sustained notes were only possible by continuing to hold down the key after the string was struck. Similar range to the clavichord.

Clavier—in French (klah-vee-ay), a term that simply means keyboard. In German (klah-veer) originally a generic term describing any keyboard instrument (including organ), but later it became a synonym for clavichord. Early pianos were sometimes referred to as hammerklaviers.

Keyboards – piano

Here is where the down-time instrument makers hit the mother lode. The piano did not exist in 1632. The first instrument recognized as a piano (pianoforte) is credited to Bartolomeo Christofori of Florence, Italy, in the early 1700s. Four major innovations had to come together in one place for the modern piano to be produced: the use of steel strings; the wrapping of the lower pitched strings in copper (tightly, so they won't buzz) to produce strings that would stand up to a hammering to produce a loud volume; the cast iron harp to reinforce the sound board to hold up to the tension of the strings; and the pedal ensemble of a grand piano, featuring three different pedals that provide variation in how the sound will be sustained or muted.

The piano is truly remarkable in its volume gradations. An eighty-eight key grand has a pitch span of almost eight octaves, putting it on a par with the organ in those categories. There is nothing contained within a piano that will be beyond the capabilities of down-time crafters, and the impact the piano will make in the 1632 musical era cannot be underestimated. It is canon that Grantville had three full-size grand pianos (two of which are spoken for), a few baby grand pianos (one in a church, one or more in schools, one or more in residences), and an unknown quantity of upright pianos of various ages and conditions. Canon does not explicitly state that some of the older uprights are player pianos, but the possibility is there, which would be of interest to both clockwork makers and instrument makers alike.

Wind Instruments—Woodwinds

The modern woodwind group covers flutes, piccolos, the oboe family, the bassoon, the clarinet family, and the saxophone family, of which only the flute would be directly related to instruments of 1632. Modern flutes and piccolos are typically made of metal, but are classed as woodwinds due to the fact that they were often made of wood well into the 1800s. Even today the bodies of piccolos are frequently totally or partially made of wood. Saxophones have always been hybrid metal and wood instruments, but are classed as woodwinds because they use a woodwind style mouthpiece with a reed and because the fingering system is like that of most woodwinds.

Most of the woodwind family would be new to the down-timers, but they would embrace them with open arms, because they would fill musical niches of older, less musical sounding instruments, such as the shawm and the serpent. It wouldn't hurt that the modern designs would for the most part be easier to play as well.

We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.

Perhaps you just need to log in.  If you're already logged in, please check if your subscription has expired by looking here.

If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.

If you want to read the entire gazette, you need to either subscribe here, or purchase a download of any single issue at the Baen Books e-book store  or at Amazon.com.

- The Grantville Gazette Staff