Da Vinci-designed instrument makes New York debut

Hybrid musical instrument by Renaissance inventor
comes to life

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What happens if you cross a keyboard with a bowed instrument? The answer – according to designs by 15th-century inventor Leonardo da Vinci – could be a ‘clavi-viola’. The instrument, which da Vinci designed, has been specially built for an exhibition of his work in New York’s Times Square. 

Edoardo Zanon built the musical instrument from studying da Vinci’s sketches. ‘We are in front of a completely unknown instrument,’ he says. ‘It was his own invention.’ Zanon is from Leonardo3, a Milan-based company that specialises in recreating da Vinci’s designs. 

The three-octave instrument that Leonardo3 has created has a leather harness that is attached to the player’s body so that it can be played while the player is walking, complete with a lever-controlled ‘bow’ pulley mechanism. The original 1488 design for the ‘clavi-viola’ is housed in the da Vinci collection at the Ambrosiana Library in Milan but unfortunately half a page of the design is missing. 

At an exhibition concert this week, Zanon was joined by the Piffaro Renaissance Band to perform on the instrument. They chose ‘Tiente Alora’, a popular 16th-century tune.

The instrument is currently being exhibited at the ‘Leonardo da Vinci Workshop’ in the Discovery Times Square Exposition, 226 West 44th Street, Manhattan. This will run until 14 March 2010.