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

Polish pianist creates replica of a Renaissance musical invention

classical music news

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.