Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘viola organista’ is played in public

Polish pianist creates replica of a Renaissance musical invention

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An instrument that was invented 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci has been played to an audience in Poland.

Polish concert pianist and instrument-maker Slawomir Zubrzycki performed a concert on Da Vinci’s musical instrument, after constructing it using the Renaissance inventor’s original sketched designs from the 15th-century.

‘This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,’ says Zubrzyci.

It took Zubrzycki 5,000 hours and over three years to construct Da Vinci’s instrument, with nearly $10,000 invested in the project.

The ‘viola organista’ look a bit like a baby grand piano and has 61 steel strings. But instead of these being connected to hammers – like a normal piano – they are linked to four spinning wheels, wrapped in horse hair. These are turned by a pedal and produce a sound resembling a bowed instrument when they press on the strings.

With a blue and gold exterior, the instrument’s lid has a quote by the 12th-century Saint, Hildegard of Bingen, with the words: ‘Holy prophets and scholars immersed in the sea of arts both human and divine, dreamt up a multitude of instruments to delight the soul’.

The instrument was never built in Da Vinci’s lifetime but there have been various attempts since, including a 16th-century version, ‘The Geigenwerk’ by German instrument-maker Hans Haiden, which is now housed in the Brussels Musical Instruments Museum. And more recently, a version was used in a concert in Italy in 2004 by Japanese instrument-builder Akio Obuchi.

Zubrzycki’s concert took place as part of the Fifth International Royal Krakow Piano Festival, at the Academy of Music in the southern Polish city.