Magdeburg, April 1635
Andrea Abati moved down the hallway with a light step. This was one of Marla Linder's lesson days, and he didn't want to be late.
Working with Marla was such a joy to him. As a gentilhuomo—or castrato, as he and those like him were more vulgarly known—his life in Italy had been one of performances mixed with adulation, a certain amount of scheming in the papal court, and frequent dalliances with ladies—often married—who enjoyed both his notoriety and the fact that an unanticipated pregnancy would never complicate their lives. In his early thirties, his voice fully mature and in the prime of his singing life, he had not yet begun to teach. But then he came to Magdeburg and met Marla Linder.
Andrea's friend, Maestro Giacomo Carissimi, called Marla's voice golden. Andrea thought that the maestro was guilty of an understatement. The young woman's voice surpassed his own in range, and was fully the equal of his in timbre. What she lacked was technique. And she awoke in him the hunger to teach, the desire to take a younger musician in hand as a gardener might take a sapling, to nurture the raw talent, help to shape it and grow it, until full maturity was reached. And as that hunger grew, Andrea's life began to change.
Il Prosperino, Andrea had been called in Italy. The name literally meant “The Prosperous One,” but was usually meant to say “Little Prospero.” It had actually been bestowed on him because in his early days in Rome he had been somewhat of a protégé to Prospero Orsi, an artist and fellow citizen of Norcia, Andrea's home. Some wit had said, “Look, here comes Prospero and his Prosperino,” and the name had stuck. He hadn't minded—in truth, he had been a bit smug about it. The name was appropriate, because he had indeed prospered in almost every way.
If musical talent was the cornerstone of Andrea's fame in Rome, flamboyance had certainly been the keystone. Flamboyant speech, flamboyant dress, and definitely flamboyant liaisons with the ladies. Yet here in Germany, exposed to the music found in Grantville, the uptime instruments and works and harmonies, bit by bit the flamboyance began to drain from him. That alone had shocked him when he realized it was happening. But to find it replaced with a desire to teach, when he had always looked down on teaching as the refuge of those who either could not perform to his high standard or those who were past their prime, that had been an even greater shock. But before long, Il Prosperino had been replaced by Master Andrea.
Andrea smoothed a hand down the front of his short-waisted black velvet jacket, and grinned to himself. Of course, he had not given up all culture and appearances, but now it was somewhat different. Now he did not seek to shock or titillate or over-awe; he demonstrated instead . . . what was the French phrase Marla had told him . . . oh yes, savoir-faire. Andrea was now a “class act.”
Marla had been his first student. He had many more students now, including several girls from the Duchess Elisabeth Sofie Secondary School for Girls. He enjoyed teaching every one of them, but Marla was still his favorite. He smiled. Her passion for the music may not have exceeded his own, but it was certainly equal to it.
Music wafted down the hall; piano, then flute. Marla must be practicing the flute piece for the concert as well. Andrea opened the door just a moment after the music stopped in mid-phrase.
“It still doesn't sound right.” Marla sounded determined. Andrea smiled. Determination was a frequent state of mind for Marla.
“I think it sounds fine.” Hermann Katzberg spoke from where he sat at the piano.
The Steinway grand that Marla had escorted to Magdeburg in late 1633 was still the reigning queen of keyboards in the city. It had somehow become the property of the Imperial and Royal Academy of Music in Magdeburg. Andrea still wasn't sure just how Master Carissimi, the head of the academy, had managed to bring that about, but he had. In addition, no less than three of the Bledsoe & Riebeck pianos, built with hardware salvaged from old up-time pianos, had made their way from Grantville to Magdeburg in the last two years. The academy had managed to acquire one of them, which was now the principal practice piano.
“It's not right,” Marla insisted again.
“What's not right?” Andrea asked.
“This passage.” She pointed to the music on the piano.
Andrea studied the passage in question, then straightened.
“Play it again.”
Marla raised the flute, licked her lips, and nodded to Hermann. He began the accompaniment part; she entered moments later. Andrea listened attentively, but also observed Marla's physical actions.
At the end of the phrase, she stopped, making a face as if smelling something rancid. She turned to Andrea and waited.
“You are breathing in the wrong places. You don't have enough diaphragm support.”
“But that's where my flute teacher told me to breath!”
Marla sounded somewhat offended. Andrea looked at her with his best Master Andrea frown. “Marla, breathing is breathing, whether you play a flute, a pennywhistle, one of those molto grande tubas, or sing. I know breathing. And I tell you, you are breathing in the wrong places.”
He pulled a pencil from his jacket pocket, leaned over the music, and made two marks. “Breath here and here, and firm your diaphragm, just as if you were singing the high notes.”
Her expression skeptical, Marla raised the flute and played the phrase again, Hermann following her lead. Andrea listened with head cocked to one side, nodding. She finished with a bit of a flourish, then gave her teacher a nod.
“You were right, Master Andrea. It does sound better that way.”
“Don't sound so surprised,” he growled. He was unable to keep the smile from his face as her skirling laughter filled the room. “As Franz would say, play it again to prove you know it.”
Again the flute notes sounded; again he observed.
“Excellent!” Andrea applauded. “Now, can we begin the songs we are supposed to be rehearsing today?”
“Yes, Master Andrea.”
Maestro Giacomo Carissimi, the head master of the Imperial and Royal Academy of Music in Magdeburg, settled into his seat next to his good friend, Girolamo Zenti, proprietor and master craftsman of the instrument crafting firm of the same name.
“Good evening, Girolamo.”
“Good evening, Maestro.”
Giacomo wanted to shake his head. Even though they had been friends for several years now, Girolamo would always speak to him with utmost respect in public. He started to chide his friend, but in the end just sighed and held his tongue. They had had this conversation before. He doubted that anything would change if they rehearsed it one more time. He looked at the programme instead.
Franz Sylwester, the dirigent—or conductor, as the Grantvillers would have it—had established a theme of “Songs Without Words” for tonight's concert, declaring that only up-time works would be performed. There were six works on the programme: three orchestral works, two voice solo works accompanied by the orchestra, and a flute solo accompanied by piano. Giacomo ordinarily would have attended most of the rehearsals, but his schedule of late had been so burdened that he had been forced to set that pleasure aside. As a consequence, he was truly looking forward to tonight's performance.
The orchestra had quietly been warming up for some time. Matthaüs Amsel, the concert master, now strode out to the front of the orchestra. He bowed to the polite applause from the audience, then proceeded to tune the orchestra. Once they were tuned to Matthaüs' satisfaction, he took his seat.
This was the first concert of the year for the Magdeburg Symphony Orchestra, and everyone who was anyone in Magdeburg was present. Giacomo had seen Hoch-Adel by the dozens when he entered, as well as members of the government and various influential members of the community. Even the Committees of Correspondence were represented . . . or at least he thought he had seen Gunther Achterhof in the back of the room. And of course, Mary Simpson and her coterie of ladies he had heard Marla refer to as the “music mafia” were present in full force.
Franz Sylwester strode through the side door and out to the podium, where he bowed to the audience. Giacomo watched as his friend stepped onto the podium, gathered the eyes of the orchestra, and raised his baton.
The soft flute opened over the ripple of the piano chords; Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Greensleeves was begun. The strings came in singing the melody in the lower strings with a descant in the violins. So simple, yet so beautiful.
Giacomo would always have a fond spot in his heart for Ralph (pronounced “Rafe” for some unknown English reason) Vaughan Williams. Despite the fact that the man was a professed atheist, he had written some of the most beautiful hymns and songs Giacomo had ever heard. And his orchestral writing! Remembering the performance of Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis from last year's summer concert, Giacomo shivered.
This other fantasia, he had to admit, was much lighter, although still exhibiting Vaughan Williams' deft orchestrations and lush string sounds. He knew that Franz regretted having to substitute piano for the harp part, but there just had not been time to have craftsmen experiment in building a full concert pedal harp from the descriptions and pictures found in various books in Grantville.
Ah, here was the transition of the piece, where for contrast the composer brought in another air, another folk song from England entitled “Lovely Joan.” Melodically darker, moving somewhat quicker, written in what was almost a driving style, until it grounded out into the solo flute line again, and returned to a final statement of the original theme. So light, so airy, almost as if it were sung instead of played. The violins lilted the final statement of the theme, and quietly decrescendoed to fade away.
The audience was rapt for a moment, then applause broke out. It was more than simply polite, but not as fulsome as Giacomo expected to hear later this evening. Franz took a bow, then left through the door.
In the resulting moment of quiet murmuring, Giacomo quickly perused the programme. Yes, his memory had not failed him. The flute solo Marla was to perform came next. Marla and Andrea had talked of little else for days, until they were both happy with both the notes and the musicianship.
And speaking—all right, thinking—of Marla, it was as if she had been summoned. She appeared in the side door, holding her silver flute as if it were a standard, and marched to stand in the curve of the grand piano which was placed in front of the orchestra. She bowed to acknowledge the substantial applause—it was no secret that she was the darling of the patrons of Magdeburg—as Hermann Katzberg settled himself at the keyboard. Marla nodded to Hermann. With a single chord from the piano she launched herself into what sounded as if it were a tour-de-force.
According to the programme, this was the Sonata “Undine” by Carl Reinecke, a composer who was not extremely well-known in the up-time. Marla said he had written some lovely pieces, and this sonata was apparently well known among flutists.
The first movement had a passionately stated theme that passed back and forth between the flute and the piano. The piano part was so lush it was almost made the work a duet. The tone darkened momentarily, flute and piano both working as if under a cloud, then returning to the lighter tonality.
The second movement was an allegretto in a most vivacious manner. Marla played incredibly rapid passages. Just as Giacomo began to worry about her ability to breathe, there was a brief interlude where the piano played solo, but all too soon the flute returned to recapitulate the original theme of the movement.
There was a very brief pause for a spurt of applause and a buzz of whispers in reaction to the bravura performance of the second movement. The audience hushed as Marla raised her flute again.
The third movement was aptly marked andante tranquillo. Tranquility was indeed its hallmark, and even more than the first movement this was a duet between the two instruments, calling back and forth to each other, then meeting to harmonize, then fading away.
The fourth movement was the most passionate of the work. You could hear the passion in the music, but you could also see it in Marla. That tall, almost regal figure in a white Empire gown—her favorite style—was bending and swaying—now slightly, now slowly, now deeper, now faster—in time with the music. Much as one of Frau Bitty's dancers would move in the dance on stage, so Marla moved in the dance of the music in the air. Even Hermann was caught up in it, hunching forward as his hands rushed up and down the keyboard in places, in others leaning back almost languidly.
The ending was a complete surprise, as all of the storm and passion seemed to fade away to a calm, almost placid theme, with both musicians playing lightly, lyrically, to a final soft chord.
Applause began as soon as Marla lowered her flute. She stood, smiling that brilliant smile that lit every corner of the room. After a moment, she bowed two or three times in response.
Giacomo could see that his friend was breathing deeply. Despite her apparent facility with the instrument, she had worked very hard to play this piece. To his perceptive eye, it showed.
Marla waved her hand to Hermann. He stood at the piano keyboard to take his bow. She bowed one final time, and together they left.
Once again there was a brief moment between the performances. Giacomo leaned over to his friend. He had no need to glance at the programme; he knew well what the next work was.
“Wake up, Girolamo.”
“You slander me, maestro, if you think I would dare to doze off now.”
The side door opened again. Their mutual friend Master Andrea Abati strode forth confidently—as if he could walk any other way—followed by Franz Sylwester. As Franz assumed the podium, Andrea bowed to the applause. The corners of Giacomo's mouth bent upwards in a smile. Despite his changes in outward appearance and demeanor during the last year or so, Andrea still bowed as if he were a king acknowledging the fealty and praise of his subjects. Some things might never change.
Andrea looked to Franz. The music began.
A vocalise, Giacomo remembered from the conversation with Marla when the concert programme was developed, was a vocal exercise sung on an open syllable. But when Marla or Mary Simpson said “the vocalise,” they referred to a work by one of the greater composers of the up-time twentieth century, a Russian named Rachmaninoff. It was titled simply “Vocalise” and was on the programme tonight at Mary's personal request. In fact, it was the first piece chosen, thus determining the theme.
After two chords from the accompaniment, Andrea opened his mouth and the melody began. Within six notes of the beginning he had everyone's rapt attention. Quiet, contemplative, not quite mournful, the sound of his voice lifted quietly, ebbing and flowing.
Giacomo closed his eyes, listening to one of the two finest voices in Germany—in the known world, for that matter. Andrea's voice had always had that classic castrato silkiness, a timbre that just wasn't found in a woman's voice. Tonight, however, without words to get in the way, without the baroque ornamentation that pre-Ring of Fire music required, he was free to pour all of his art, all of his passion, all of his being into realizing a powerful melody. It was as if he was a living flute, equal to that which Marla had played early, but warm with life, fountaining song forth from his heart and soul.
To Giacomo, Andrea's pride had always been forgivable. To be able to sing with that voice—ah, what a gift.
He opened his eyes again and watched as Andrea sang, his hands before him, body and hands moving slowly as if in a dance. As Marla had done before him, the passion of the music flowed through Andrea as well. It could well have been a study for the ballet, watching the minimal movements of that tall slim figure clad in black velvet that nonetheless evoked so much in partnership with his voice.
Chills chased up and down Giacomo's spine as he listened to trills that were so fast they seemed indeed to be played on a flute. He seemed to float like an eagle, soaring higher and higher, riding currents of song until a final pinnacle was reached where for a timeless moment he seemed released from the bonds of earth.
After the barest of pauses, there was a slow descent to a final syllable that faded to infinity. Franz closed his hand—the orchestra stopped. Andrea was frozen in his final position. No one moved—it seemed that no one breathed. Giacomo watched as Andrea, timing by an internal clock, finally broke his position, which instantly triggered a massive applause from the audience. Hoch-Adel were on their feet, clapping as fervently as any of the burghers and guildsmen. Some of the stolid Germans were roaring as loudly as the excitable Italian standing to his right.
Andrea gave bow after bow, grinning widely. At length he stood to one side and waved to the orchestra. Franz stepped from the podium to give a bow. In turn, he gestured to his players. As one, they stood to receive their just acclaim.
Franz stepped forward once more. Joined by Andrea, they gave one more bow, then exited through the side door.
Giacomo and Girolamo dropped back into their seats.
“God and all his angels.” Giacomo mopped his brow. “I am as limp as a wet rag, my friend.”
“Not me, maestro,” Girolamo declared. “I quiver like a bell that has just been sounded.”
“Well, it is a good thing for both of us that we have reached the Intermissio. Perhaps we can regain our composure before they begin again.”
“We had better,” Girolamo intoned. “Marla has yet to sing. Mind you, I don't see how she could do better than Master Andrea. But by all that is holy, if she equals him, I will be in a state of grace for weeks.”
Giacomo laughed. “I somehow doubt that the Holy Father would agree that hearing heavenly music will forgive your sins and pay your penance. Not that I disagree with your opinion of the quality.”
“Well, he should. I think he would if he only heard what we will hear tonight.”
“Enough! You border on sacrilege.” Giacomo's smile belied his words. “If you would earn merit, go find me a glass of wine, for I am as dry and dusty as the Via Appia in high summer.”
“At your command, maestro. Just see to it that you mention this to Saint Peter.”
The intermission concluded just after Giacomo received his wine. Ushers walked through the throng waving gold and silver fans on high, signaling everyone to be seated.
Girolamo settled at his side with a sigh, and whispered, “When do we hear Marla sing?”
“Shhh. After the Pastorale. Minutes only.”
Franz returned to the podium and took his bow. The orchestra began the performance of the Pastorale from Messiah, by Georg Friederich Händel. An international programme indeed, Giacomo thought, with works by an Englishman, a Russian and two Germans having been played, and works from a Frenchman and a German of Jewish descent yet to be heard. Hmmm, no Italian. How had that slipped by him? He'd have to have words with Franz about that, he thought with a smile, before returning his attention to the music.
The Händel piece was almost soothing. It came from a time not too far in advance of their own and by now should sound familiar to the audience, as it had received two other performances in the last ten months. It opened with a very formal stately theme, almost a processional, which came to a moment of pause, then entered into a fugal section that had a joyful feel to it. The various string sections passed themes back and forth with a verve and élan that was . . . refreshing, Giacomo decided. All too soon, the Pastorale was completed. There was reasonable applause from the audience, after which Franz left the room again.
Giacomo waited, knowing what to expect but still scarcely daring to breathe. Finally, Franz reentered from the side door, his wife Marla on his arm. The applause began the moment she was seen, and crested as he handed her off to stand before the audience alone. She bowed again, smiled that illuminating smile of hers, then stood expectantly. Giacomo sat immediately, going to so far as to lay a hand on Girolamo's arm to encourage him to sit also. The remaining audience caught on. Within moments the room was almost as still as a mausoleum. Marla looked to Franz. He caught the regal nod, and began.
It was Andrea's idea, actually. After agreeing to perform the Vocalise, he had insisted that Marla should sing also. Giacomo put it down to the master teacher being protective of his stellar student. Of course, when that student was as popular as Marla, not including her might have caused a riot. Passionate music lovers had done stranger things, he had learned from the history of the future.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff