Prelude


Magdeburg

July 1634

Magdeburg Times-Journal

July 18, 1634

The Royal Arts Council announced today that the contract for designing and constructing an organ for the new Royal Opera Hall and Fine Arts Complex has been awarded to Johann Bach of Wechmar. Herr Bach is a musician and organist of note who has studied under Herr Johann Christoph Hoffmann, Stadtpfeifer in Suhl. He has served as organist at Suhl, Arnstadt and Schweinfurt, where his responsibilities included maintenance of the organs. This is his first commission to construct an organ.

****

“Impossible.”

The word seemed to echo in the room for a moment. Johann Bach heard it, and folded his hands together before responding. “It had better not be impossible, or there will not be an organ in the opera hall.”

“But the plans are finished, the detailed drawings are almost complete, they've begun digging the trenches for the foundations.” Josef Furttenbach the architect, senior partner of Furttenbach and Parigi, clamped his jaw after making that statement. He and Carl Schockley, the general contractor’s project manager for the building project, glowered at Johann in concert. Antonio Parigi, the other architect in the partnership, had a trace of a smile on his face.

Johann smiled back at them all. “I am sorry that you seemed to have received bad advice before now. The space you have allotted for the organ is adequate as far as the organ cabinet and pipe space and the wind chest, but you have left little room for the bellows. Without the bellows, there is no wind for the wind chest. That would be like God making Adam without lungs.”

Furttenbach and Schockley continued to glare across the table at him. Lady Beth Haygood cleared her throat. “You're serious.” There was a hint of question in her tone.

Johann suppressed a sigh. “Very serious. An organ without bellows is like a flute that has been hung upon the wall: it may be made of the finest materials and the greatest of the craftsman's art, but without moving wind it makes no music.”

“Can't you . . . ” Lady Beth moved both hands in the air as if trying to shape something, “ . . . reduce the size somehow? Can we use electric fans or something?”

Johann did sigh now. “Perhaps. I will study it. But it would be best if we plan now for what I know will work. If another approach can be adopted later that will save space . . . ” he shrugged.

“So what would we do with the wasted space then?” challenged Furttenbach.

“Make storage closets,” Johann smiled. “If musicians and artists are going to be using the building, there will always be a need for more storage.”

No one else smiled, but Lady Beth did jot a note on the pad in front of her. She looked up at the architects and contractor. “Fix it.”

“But Lady Beth . . . ” Schockley began.

“Fix it, Carl. I'm not going to explain to Mary Simpson when she gets back from her trip that her opera hall doesn't have an organ in it.”

“All right, but you know that changing plans after they've been finalized and the work's begun is the first step to cost overruns. This one's not our fault, and I don't want to hear about it later.” Now he bent his glower on Lady Beth, who was singularly unaffected by it as far as Johann could tell.

“Then I suggest you get word to your excavator operator and stop digging until you know what the changes are going to be. I don't want to hear about you pouring foundations in the wrong place, either.” She closed her pad and gathered her jacket and purse. “Send me word when the revised plans are ready and I'll come and go over them with you.” She left the room.

Schockley ran his hand through his hair and looked to Furttenbach. “Fix it, she says.” He shook his head. “Well, like she says, I'd better go get the digging stopped.” His glance now included Johann. “Work it out as soon as you can. I really don't want to lose any time if we can help it.” He followed Lady Beth out the door.

Furttenbach looked at his partner, jerked his head at Johann and left. Parigi looked at Johann, sighed, and flipped through the drawing packet until he found the sheet he wanted. “Okay, show me what you need.”

The two men bent their heads together over the page. “See, this wall is too close.” Johann traced a line with his finger.

“How much room do you really need?”

“Well, I was planning on twelve bellows, each about eight feet by four feet. And we’ll need at least two feet between each to get between them.’

Parigi looked horrified. “Mio Dio, Signor Bach. Excuse me, please, but that’s over one hundred and twenty feet!”

“No, no,” Johann laughed. “I was not clear, my friend. The narrow end of the bellows connects to the wind chest. The length of them will go this way,” and his finger traced on the plan again.

“So, it is a mere seventy-two feet that we must allow for.” The Italian smiled and snapped his fingers. “That is nothing. A piece of cake, as Carl would say.”

“Perhaps a bit more difficult than that,” Johann said. “To get the most even wind pressure, it would be best if they were lined up on each side of the wind box.”

Parigi’s brow furrowed. The two of them bent over the plans again. Fingers pointed and drew lines and thumped emphatically several times before they reached agreement. The architect laid a very thin piece of paper over the plan and traced out the new dimensions that would be needed. “It is fortunate,” he said, “that this is actually outside the main support wall of the auditorium. If it had been necessary to move that, ai, old Joseph would throw a fury such as would make my old papa proud.”

“Is Master Furttenbach difficult to work with, then?” Johann was not looking forward to working with the man if the answer was yes.

“No, not so much. He dislikes changes after things are supposed to be final. He’s German.” Parigi gave a fluid shrug. “He is a good architect, though, very good. He studied with my father in Italy years ago when he was young. When I told Papa I was going to come north to work with him, he harrumphed and said that I could do worse.”

“You will get the changes made, then?”

“Two days for the foundations and walls. We will not need to settle things like doors and crawlspaces just yet.”

“Good, because I have not yet done the details for the wind chambers and wind trunks yet.”

“Well, come by my office and maybe I can help with that. I would really like to understand this organ stuff in case I have to deal with one in another design.”

“Good. Meanwhile, go tell Herr Schockley where he can dig and then let’s go find an ale.”

Un’ idea eccellente!”

****

The Green Horse tavern was busy, as it was every evening when Marla Linder and her husband Franz Sylwester and their friends came to play and sing. Johann Bach sat at a table near the front of the room. His command of up-time English was improving, so he understood most of the words, and where he didn’t he just enjoyed the music. He especially enjoyed what they called the Irish songs. There was a lilt and a bounce to them that was unique in his experience.

Marla was singing one of the best of them now. It was a song that could easily have been dreary, but somehow in her hands, with her voice, it was fun.

The song was drawing to its close. Marla, eyes sparkling, was grinning at Franz as he played his violin like a dervish.

When the Captain came downstairs, though he saw me situation
In despite of all me prayers I was marched off to the station
For me they’d take no bail, but to get home I was itchin’
And I had to tell the tale, how I came into the kitchen
With me toora loora la and me toora loora laddie
And me toora loora la and me toora loora laddie

Franz grinned back at his wife. Marla turned back to the audience and sang the last verse.

Now, I said she did invite me, but she gave a flat denial
For assault she did indict me, and I was sent for trial
She swore I robbed the house and in spite of all her schreechin’
And I got six months hard for me courtin’ in the kitchen
With me toora loora la and me toora loora laddie
And me toora loora la and me toora loora laddie
With me toora loora la and me toora loora laddie
And me toora loora la and me toora loora laddie

They finished the song with a flourish. Marla joined hands with Franz to take a bow to loud applause. She waved as the applause crested and died. “We’ll be back in a while to sing some more.”

Violins were put in cases, pipes were wiped and a harp was hung from a peg in the wall. Marla and company crowded onto the benches around a table at the front.

“Johann!”

He looked up to see Franz beckoning to him.

“Is there room?”

Franz looked around, then nodded. “We will make room. Come.” Johann picked up his mug and squeezed onto the end of the bench next to Rudolf Tuchman, exchanging a nod with the young Hanoverian.

Marla and Franz were across the table from him. He bowed to them with a grin. “Well sung, Frau Marla. Very sprightly. But was that not a man’s song?”

She laughed, then said, “You got me there. But it’s so fun to sing I just had to do it.”

“Fun it is,” Johann’s smile widened. “One could dance to it easily.”

Marla started laughing again. Johann looked to Franz with raised eyebrows. That worthy sighed. “For all that she likes to sing sacred songs, she has a devilish sense of humor, and we never know what will set it off.” Franz leaned over and poked his wife in the ribs. “Enough, woman. Either tell us the joke or leave off your laughing.”

Marla managed to stifle her laughter, wiping her eyes as she did so. “Oh . . . oh, my. That just caught me off guard.”

“So, tell.” Franz growled with a fierce expression. Marla poked him back in his own ribs.

“Okay, it goes like this: when my parents were kids, there was a television show for teenagers on Saturdays. They’d play rock and roll music for the kids to dance to, and every week they’d play at least one new song. Then they’d get a couple of the kids in the studio to come up and rate the song. And the comment they heard most of the time was . . . ” She paused for effect, causing Franz to raise a finger and aim it at her. ” . . . ‘It’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to.’ Then he hears a song I know darn well he’s never heard before,” she pointed at Johann, voice unsteady as her laughter threatened to break out again, “and what does he say?”

Everyone around the table, including Johann, chorused, “One could dance to it easily.” And laughter reigned supreme for a time.

Once they settled down to mere chuckles, Franz looked back over to Johann. “So, Johann, how goes the organ building?”

“Well enough, for a start.” He looked across at Marla. “I reviewed the plans for the organ spaces with the architects, and it is a good thing I did.” He shook his head. “They had not allowed enough room for the wind chest and bellows, and it took a bit of talking to get them to see the need for the change. In truth, if not for Frau Haygood, we’d probably still be arguing.”

“Ah, Lady Beth to the rescue,” Franz drawled.

Johann considered that statement. “Indeed.” He shrugged. “Anyway, once that got settled, I started looking for craftsmen. As it happens, the main builder, the ‘contractor’ I think they called the company, has already found most of the people I will need to build the organ. They have a good cabinet maker, and of course regular carpenters abound. So I am down to two craftsmen that I need: a bellows maker, and a whitesmith.”

“Bellows?” Marla asked.

“For the wind chest,” Franz leaned over.

“Ah. I never thought of that. The only pipe organ I’ve ever been close to is the one in the Methodist church in Grantville, and it uses electric motors and fans to force the air. I’ve never seen an old style organ.”

Johann was taken aback for a moment. He was planning on using the best and latest approaches to organ building, and to hear them called “old style” caused him a moment of disorientation. But he made note of the electric motors. This was the second time that had been mentioned. He would need to look into that.

“I know what a blacksmith is,” Marla continued. “What’s a whitesmith?”

“A metal worker who works with metals like tin.” Johann regained his aplomb.

“And you need him why?”

Johann struggled to keep incredulity from his face. “To make the pipes for the organ, of course.”

Marla giggled. “Sorry. I never thought of tin being used for that. I think of tin, I think of cans with food in them.” She giggled again.

“When do you think you will be able to begin building the organ?” Franz asked.

“We will start making the pipes and other pieces as soon as we can. Putting it together will have to wait for the building shell and roof to be complete enough to keep the weather off. That will be a while yet; several months.”

“They keep saying it will be ready in a year.” Marla made a rude noise. “Ha! I bet it takes longer.”

Johann shrugged. “It will take as long as it takes.”

A thought crossed Johann’s mind. “Fraulein Linder, can I ask you something?”

“Call me Marla, and sure.”

“Why do all the up-timers, when they first hear my name, get such strange expressions on their faces?”

The whole table broke into laughter again, with Marla’s voice skirling over the top of them all. Johann sat back and crossed his arms, offended.

“We’re sorry,” Marla said as the laughter dwindled into chuckles. “It’s just that your name . . . Have you had a chance to study any of the music history from the up-time yet?”

“Not really, no.” Johann knew he sounded surly. He uncrossed his arms and continued. “Mostly I just know what I have seen in the concert programs and heard from those of you who have been to Grantville.”

“Umm, well, you see, Bach is a pretty familiar name to us.”

Johann sat back again, this time in astonishment. He knew the Bach family was well-known in Thuringia, but how would the up-timers know of them?

“We consider Johann Sebastian Bach to be one of the greatest musicians who ever lived.”

Johann . . . Sebastian . . . Bach . . . Johann shook his head. “I do not know that name,” he murmured.

“That’s because he hasn’t been born yet.”

Now Johann was truly confused. Has not been born yet? How . . . ?

Marla and Franz both looked at him with sympathy. “Yeah, now you’re starting to understand just how weird this whole Ring of Fire thing can be,” Marla said. “You think this is weird, go talk to Kappellmeister Schütz about how he felt when he read a biography of his whole life.”

That thought had never crossed Johann’s mind—he might be able to read about his future. “Do you think I . . . “

“I don’t know,” Marla shook her head. “There might be a little information about you in the library, but probably not a lot. No offense, but I’d never heard of you before you showed up at the concert a few weeks ago.”

“But this Johann Sebastian . . . “

“Lots of information about him, sure.”

“And he was famous?”

“Yep. Wrote tons of stuff.” She frowned. “I don’t know how much of it came back through the Ring of Fire. Grantville wasn’t exactly a hotbed of musical culture, but I know some of it did. If nothing else, there are a lot of recordings, especially of the organ music.”

“Organ music?” Johann sat up straight.

“Oh, yes,” Marla grinned. “The greatest organ music ever written. I envy you,” she sighed, “getting to hear the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for the first time.”

Johann sat silent for a moment. “How do I find this organ music?”

“Go to Grantville,” everyone at the table chorused.

Grantville

Early August 1634

Johann looked at the book in front of him. “Johann Sebastian Bach. German Musician. 1685-1750.” Somehow seeing it in print in a book from the future seemed to have more weight than just hearing Marla and the others talk about it. He looked up at the young monk who was assisting him in the library. “This is the man?”

“You asked for Johann Sebastian Bach. This is the only article about him in this encyclopedia.” The monk looked apologetic.

Johann began reading the article, but after a paragraph or two realized he was struggling. The type face, the spellings, the English of it, made for hard going for him. “Please, Brother . . . ” he realized he didn’t even know the monk’s name.

“I am Brother Johann.” A smile crossed both their faces at the realization that not only did they have the same name, but so did the subject of their hunt.

“Please, can you help me read this?”

Brother Johann pulled out a chair and sat down next to him. Their heads bent together as they read through the text. At the end, Johann sat back, dissatisfied. “I was told he wrote great organ music. This man says nothing of that.”

“It is the nature of encyclopedias,” Brother Johann replied, “that they are summaries. There will be more detail available elsewhere in the library.”

“And I am not mentioned in this Encyclopedia Britannica?”

The monk shrugged. “There are five articles about Bach musicians in the encyclopedia: this one, and articles about four of his sons. Nothing about those who came before.”

Johann drummed his fingers on the table. He looked up at his namesake. “There are those who know the library, who do research?”

“Aye.”

“I want to know everything there is to know about this man and his ancestors and his music. How long to produce it?”

The monk thought for a moment. “Perhaps a week to do the initial search and indexing. Perhaps two, maybe three weeks after that to gather all the material. Another week or two to put it in final form.”

Johann frowned. “I will be back in Magdeburg before then.”

“No problem,” Brother Johann smiled as he used the up-timer phrase. “The bank offers a service. You deposit the fee into an escrow account. When we are done preparing the research, we take it to the bank, the escrow officer reviews it, and if it looks good, she releases the money to us and sends the results to you.”

“Hmm. That might work.” Johann fingered his beard.

“Oh, we do this kind of thing all the time.”

“Indeed.” Johann thought about a world where knowledge was a commodity to be bought and sold. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea.

****

The more he stared at the picture, the more disquieted Johann became. It didn’t matter if he looked from left to right or top to bottom, every time his eyes got near the center of the picture everything twisted and suddenly his perspective would change. He tried again, and it resulted in a frown. He turned to his host. “Master Wendell, please, what is the purpose for this picture?”

“Call me Marcus. It’s called Convex and Concave, and it’s by a Dutch artist named M. C. Escher who died in the 1970’s.”

“An up-timer, then.” Just as he finished his response, Johann realized that it was a silly observation. Of course the artist was an up-timer. No down-timer would think of drawing such a mind-twisting picture.

“Oh, yes,” Marcus continued. “He was well known for making drawings like this, representations of things that would be impossible in real life. Sort of like jokes on those who look at them. I keep that there to remind me that things are not always as they seem.”

“Indeed.” Johann looked at it one more time, then turned away. “I think it is a good thing the Inquisition holds no sway here. That picture might bring them visiting.” Marcus laughed, but Johann wasn’t sure he was joking.

“So, Herr Bach,” Marcus said as he led his guest to the chairs, “you are interested in old Johann Sebastian Bach.”

“Please, call me Johann.” Johann took a seat. “Of course I am. As soon as Frau Marla and Herr Franz and their friends told me of him, I knew I had to come to Grantville and learn as much as I could about him.”

“So, what do you know so far?”

` “Only what the encyclopedia could tell me. He was apparently fairly well known in his later career, fell out of favor for about a hundred years or so, then was rediscovered.”

“Are you related to him?”

“Probably, but the encyclopedia did not have that knowledge. I have asked Brother Johann at the library to find everything they can about him and his family.”

“That’s good,” Marcus nodded. “Either he or Father Nick will dig out everything there is to be found.”

“But that is still only words. Still only dry and dusty knowledge. I need to hear the man, feel him, feel his art and his passion. From the article I know that he wrote much music of different kinds, and I want to hear it all. But most of all I want to hear what he wrote for the King of Instruments.”

“The organ.” A slow smile crossed Marcus’ face. “Oh, Johann. I envy you hearing him for the first time.”

“That is what Marla said.” Johann sat forward. “Is there someone who can play for me?”

“I don’t think so,” Marcus replied, “not as the music deserves. However,” he held up a finger as disappointment crossed Johann’s face, “I do have some recordings.”

Johann’s breath came a little quicker. “Ah, yes. Fraulein Linder and the others mentioned these ‘recordings.’ I look forward to seeing and hearing them.”

Marcus levered himself to his feet. “Then come with me. No time like the present.” He pulled a few flat parcels off of a shelf, then led Johann out of the office and into the band room. “Take a seat over there while I get ready.” Johann walked to the area of chairs that Marcus’ hand had generally waved at and sat down.

“Are you ready?” Marcus looked to him from beside a cabinet loaded with up-time devices. Johann nodded, although he wasn’t sure what to expect. So far he hadn’t heard a single note. Marcus pushed on something, then lifted a thin arm and carefully positioned it over the edge of a black disk. A faint hissing sound came from a couple of large wooden boxes that flanked the cabinet. Ah . . . this is something like the Trommler player, then. But where is the horn? He was proud for a moment that he had made that deduction based on seeing a Trommler player once at a burgher’s home in Erfurt.

Music came out of the air. Marcus grinned at him, so he relaxed and listened.

The opening motif was a simple tremolo, followed by a downward run of notes. It was repeated twice, an octave lower each time.

Hmm. The registration is different each time—so the figure was played on three different manuals. Probably a three manual organ, then: Schwellwerke, Hauptwerke, Brustwerke.

Johann’s eyes widened as a pedal tone was played to lay the foundation for a chord that was rapidly built. It was a large chord, very full of resonant timbre, very loud. That the instrument in the ‘recording’ didn’t lose wind in playing that chord meant it was a good organ, well-designed and well-built.

The chord moved and changed and resolved into a D minor tonic chord. Johann wasn’t sure yet if this piece would be a Dorian mode work in the D tonality, or if it would actually be in D minor. Either way, he expected to be pleased with it.

The chord ended. The recording reproduced echoes and reverberations, as if the work was being played in a great cathedral. How odd to hear that in this square room.

The organist in the recording was a man of great skill. The next passage was a bravura passage of fingers moving in patterns up the keys, followed by several chords. This figure was repeated on a different manual. But to break pattern, the figure went down the keyboard next, played in octaves on two manuals, then melded into another of the thunderous loud chords, followed by a ripple of single notes and ended in yet another massive chord.

A new motif began, rapid runs of notes on the Brustwerke, leading into chords first on the Brustwerke, then on the Hauptwerke, finally leading into a slow run on the Pedal which culminated in a slow series of heavy resonant chords on the Hauptwerke and Pedal. The Toccata had come to its conclusion.

Johan took a slow breath in the moment of silence. Master Marcus said nothing, waiting.

The fugue began. It was a light rapid figure begun on the Schwellwerke. It began passing back and forth between the manuals, still at that rapid tempo. Johann abandoned trying to analyze the music as it was played. He sat back, closed his eyes, and let it pour into him.

It was like listening to the springtime flood of a river—ironic, since Bach meant brook. Figure followed figure, seemingly tumbling along. The voicing jumped from manual to manual to manual. The music flowed, almost bubbling. The pedals came in, like large rocks the music had to flow around.

Still it poured along, rapid, even joyous in nature. The sound invaded Johann’s mind, his heart, his soul. His fingers and feet began to twitch involuntarily, reaching for keys as he listened to this . . . this masterpiece. He had no other word for it.

The pedals came back in, rumbling along below the work of the manuals. Soon enough—or an eternity later, Johann wasn’t sure—the flow poured into a series of heavy chords. The pedals sounded again, with the Hauptwerke coming in on top of them. One more rapid figure, then chords, many chords with little ripples between them. It was as if the river had reached the sea.

A final series of massive chords sounded. Johann felt the gravitas of them as they slowly moved from one to another. The player in the recording let up on the keys, and once again Johann heard the reverberation of a great space.

Marcus had arisen toward the end and stepped to the cabinet. Now he lifted the thin arm from the disk. The hissing sound disappeared from the cabinets. He turned to Johann.

“Before the Ring of Fire, this was the single most widely known piece of organ music; not in America, not in Germany, but in the entire world. Six billion people in our world, and if they knew any organ work at all, this was it.”

Johann struggled for words. “I . . . It . . . ” He swallowed. “Magnificent. It is truly a master work. A bravura piece that tests the organist as much as the organ.”

Marcus chuckled. “Yeah, it does. I play at the piano, but I’ve never had the finger control to attempt this one, never mind the feet. Oddly enough, there are—were—some music historians who think that old Johann wrote that specifically to test organs, to test their registrations and in particular their wind delivery capabilities.”

“Indeed.” Johann nodded thoughtfully. “It definitely has me thinking about the design for the new opera house organ.”

“That’s right, you’re doing that, aren’t you? How’s it going?”

“Ideas only at this point. A few doodles on paper. I will not begin the serious work until I get back to Magdeburg.”

“Cool. Keep me posted on how it goes. I’d really like to hear it when you’re done.

“Now, what do you want to hear next by old Johann: instrumental music, choral music or more organ work?”

“Oh, organ, by all means.”

As Marcus turned back to the cabinet, Johann had a thought occur to him. “Master Marcus?”

“Yes?”

“You keep referring to ‘old’ Johann? How old was he when he wrote what we just heard?”

Marcus looked over his shoulder with a grin. “Music historians think he was twenty-two, maybe a little older, when he wrote that.”

****

It was night out. Johann wandered down the streets of Grantville with his hands in his pockets. He had been hit in the head once, hard. He remembered how he felt then; woozy, disoriented, not certain what was real and concrete.

He felt that same way now. That a Bach, a member of his family, possibly a descendant of his own loins, could write that music . . . He shook his head, trying to clear his thinking.

Marcus had explained the Butterfly Effect to him. This Bach—this Johann Sebastian—would never exist in his future. He had been stolen from them by the Ring of Fire. Marcus had explained how little of his music had come back with Grantville. Johann could weep at the knowledge of what had been lost.

But what had come back—ah, what greatness. The world of music would be changed by this.

Johann stopped at the edge of town in a place where there were no nearby houses and no bright lights. He looked up at the sky. The moon hadn’t risen yet, and the stars were shining brightly in the velvet black of the night.

“God,” he said. “All the great men say that Grantville is your doing. That the Ring of Fire is a divine work, a miracle either of blessing or of judgment. But what if it is a test?”

He lowered his head and brooded on that. After a while, he looked back up at the sky. “Are you an Escher, God? Is Grantville like that picture in Marcus’ office? We cannot see it straight on, we cannot look at it from the side, everything is different and twisted and not what we expect?”

Johann took his hands out of his pocket and pounded a fist into the opposite palm, then looked up once more.

“Escher or not, God, the music is real. You cannot play with our ears like Escher does with our eyes. I have heard the music. I have heard the work of Johann Sebastian Bach. I claim him as ours. He will not languish in our time. His renown will be as great now as it was in Grantville’s world before the fall of the Ring.”

He gave a definite nod. “He is ours.” He turned and began striding back toward Grantville, toward his room. He had work to do. And a picture to buy.

****

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About David Carrico

David 2013-03-03 small

David Carrico made his first professional SF sale to The Grantville Gazette e-magazine in 2004. His stories have also appeared in the Grantville Gazette and Ring of Fire anthologies from Baen Books and in Jim Baen’s Universe e-magazine. Baen Books has published a story collection by David entitled 1635: Music and Murder, and two novels written in collaboration with Eric Flint: 1636: The Devil’s Opera, and The Span of Empire, which was nominated for the 2017 Dragon Award for Best Military SF or Fantasy novel. David is currently working on a solo project.