|Viola organista (Codex Atlanticus, 1488–1489)|
Watch Leonardo da Vinci’s Musical Invention, the Viola Organista, Being Played for the Very First Time
First performance of the viola organista made by Sławomir Zubrzycki. INTERNATIONAL ROYAL CRACOW PIANO FESTIVAL 18TH OCTOBER 2013, Aula Florianka.
As the archetypal example of the polymathic, intellectually omnivorous “Renaissance man,” he not only attained mastery of a wide range of disciplines, but did his most impressive work in the spaces between them. Given the voluminousness of his output (not to mention the technical limitations of fifteenth-century Europe), many of his multiple domain-spanning ideas and inventions never became a reality during his lifetime. However, just this year, 494 years after Leonardo’s death, we now have the chance to see, and more importantly hear, one of them: the viola organista, an elaborate musical instrument that had previously only existed in his notebooks.
We owe this thrill not just to Leonardo himself, who left behind detailed plans for the (to him, purely theoretical) construction of such devices as this behind, but to a reported 5000 hours of physical effort by Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki, who actually put the thing together.
You can read more at the Sydney Morning Herald, whose article (on “Leonardo Da Vinci’s wacky piano“) quotes Zubrzycki: “This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,” and playing it, which involves hitting keys connected to “spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair,” and turning those wheels by pumping a pedal below the keyboard, produces exciting unusual waves of cello-like sounds.