Celestial Music

From the web: Culture & History

A musical instrument invention by Leonardo da Vinci comes to life.

Five hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci designed a viola organista, a musical instrument combining a piano and cello. Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki painstakingly created the actual instrument and the effect is a sound that da Vinci dreamt of, but never heard; there are no historical records suggesting he or anyone else of his time built the instrument he designed.

“This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,” said Zubrzycki when he debuted the instrument at the Academy of Music in Crakow, Poland a couple of years ago.

Leonardo Piano
Take a bow: The viola organista’s strings are played in the same way as a cello.
Photo: Tomasz Wiech/AFP

The instrument’s exterior is painted in a rich midnight blue, adorned with golden swirls painted on the side. The inside of its lid is a deep raspberry inscribed with a Latin quote in gold leaf by 12th-century German nun, mystic and philosopher, Saint Hildegard of Bingen:

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 flat bed of the interior is lined with golden spruce. Sixty-one gleaming steel strings run across it, similar to the inside of a baby grand. Each is connected to the keyboard, complete with smaller black keys for sharp and flat notes. But unlike a piano, it has no hammered dulcimers. Instead, there are four spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair, like violin bows.

To turn them, Zubrzycki pumps a pedal below the keyboard connected to a crankshaft. As he tinkles the keys, they press the strings down onto the wheels, emitting rich, sonorous tones reminiscent of a cello, an organ and even an accordion.

A sketch and notes in da Vinci’s characteristic inverted script is found in his Codex Atlanticus, a 12-volume collection of his manuscripts and designs for everything from weaponry to flight.

“I have no idea what Leonardo da Vinci might think of the instrument I’ve made, but I’d hope he’d be pleased,” said Zubrzycki, who spent three years and 5000 hours bringing da Vinci’s creation to life.

Watch on YouTube

First performance of the viola organista made by Sławomir Zubrzycki at the International Royal Cracow Piano Festival on October 18, 2013, Aula Florianka.

From AFP reports, with Nick Galvin – violaorganista.com

Comments are closed.