Editor's note: Giacomo Carissimi and Girolamo Zenti are historical characters. They each gave important contributions to classic music. The first is considered the most important composer of the Roman baroque movement, an innovator of the era; the second was a well-traveled harpsichord maker, renowned for the invention of the bentside spinet. Some of his instruments are still used and copied today. In 1631 they are both in their prime and at the beginning of bright and important careers. Then the Ring of Fire came. Its effects slowly but inexorably spread all over Europe, changing the lives of millions of people. This story, the first of several episodes, tells the beginnings of their new lives.
Very Reverend Father Fitzherbert,
How are you?
I only now have time to write you this letter before leaving tomorrow morning headed for the Holy Roman Empire first and then to Thuringia, in Germany. My final destination is the town of Grantville where I am going to learn and study.
I hope this letter will find you once back from Amalfi as I hope your residence in the costiera gave you some relief from the sickness that affects your lungs. You know I have always preferred to sharpen my quills to write music and not words, but I feel the need to share with you all the events that brought me to leave Rome.
I'm writing you in English to show you how the months you spent trying to hammer this language into my hard head have not gone wasted.
This letter and the ones that will follow are maybe another way to make my English fluent, especially if you will feel free to correct any mistakes you will find in my prose with your usual and blessed Jesuitical iron discipline.
I have been told that many inhabitants of Grantville are Germans and, grazie alla Divina Provvidenza, the four years I spent as master of chapel at the Collegium Germanicum made my German more than passable and I can always use some French and some Latin. If I am lucky some of them will speak Italian, too!
Anyway, with the prices of parchment these times, I better stop rambling and go to the point. Sometimes it seems there isn't enough paper in the whole world to write all the thoughts and feelings, the joy and the turmoil, that are nowadays in my mind.
It's strange to think how a single evening can change a man's approach to life and how an encounter made a man who felt uncomfortable leaving the Aurelian's walls (you know how much I hated my position in Assisi) travel hundreds of miles to reach a far, almost mythical town. But if there is a man who can make a lazy, contemplative man leave all behind for adventure this is Messer Giulio Mazarini.
I had never met the man before. I only knew him for his fame of being one of the finest diplomats in Europe, a man with a golden tongue and of sharp wits. I have been told that he had just arrived from a mission in Germany. So I wasn't at all surprised once I came to know he would have lectured the students of our seminary in the latest developments in the Holy Roman Empire.
After all, the Collegium Germanicum, where I have the honor to teach sacred music and to direct the choir, has been created to prepare the German clergy to better deal with the dangers of the Reformation.
I wasn't surprised when he attended a concert we gave in his honor in Saint Apollinare, as I wasn't surprised when he visited me in my studio after the cantate and motets were over. Paying compliments to the author is customary and polite behavior, after all. But it was what he brought with him that shocked me.
He handed me a parchment of paper and let me unroll it. While my hands and eyes were busy opening it, he asked: "Many say you are the brightest musician here in Rome, maestro. Can you tell me what is this?"
I stared at it for a while before answering. "It's part of a music composition, it seems. But the writing, it is slightly different; some of the symbols are more complex than the ones I use, more structured, more evoluted. The printing quality is awesome. Where did you get this, if I may ask?"
"Grantville. You did hear about it, didn't you?" Mazarini walked closer to the fireplace where I keep some comfortable armchairs.
"Of course I did. Everybody is talking about it. Yet I think most of what I heard are rumors, like the one that says they are a bunch of demons or warlocks riding monsters who spit flames." Then I added, shaking my head, "Are they really from the future?"
"Yes, they are, and the music you hold is from a piece called the Goldberg Variations, a series of sonatas composed by an artist who will live more than fifty years from now. I think his name is Bach."
I was completely amazed by his words. I confess that I don't know what was shaking more, my hands or my voice.
"Can I borrow it? I want to copy it and try to play it."
"Unfortunately, I am not sure you will be able to do it. The American lady who gave it to me described it as a transcription for pianoforte. It will need another adaptation to be played on an harpsichord or an organ."
"A pianoforte? What is that?"
"A musical instrument from the future I listened to while in the American town. It looks like an harpsichord or a spinet but it sounds quite different: richer, more full, less metallic. They told me it will be invented by an Italian at the beginning of the next century. But that's not the only amazing mechanical thing these people have. You should hear their music recordings, too; it's like . . . Well it's hard to explain. The sound of a whole orchestra coming out loudly from a box. They call it a `CD player.' It can play music and sounds over and over again."
"I'm not sure how it works, but it's as if you play something on the organ and somebody captures this sound and writes it down on a machine like printing does with words. Then, then to listen again what you played, they only have to use again the machine."
"It's hard to believe. A machine that captures sounds?"
"Hard to believe, but nonetheless perfectly real. One of them told me they had been a good help in beating the Spanish army last year."
"A music that defeats an army! Sounds like some kind of joke. That's something I'd like to hear!"
I think he realized how much he had succeeded in capturing my interest and offered to stay longer to talk about that strange place if I had more of my questions. I couldn't quiet my curiosity, so I went to one of the drawers and took a bottle of that smooth muscat from Montefiascone called "Est Est Est" you know I love so much. I poured the wine into two pewter cups I keep at hand and lighted a series of candles to have more light in the room.