The Viola Organista of Leonardo Da Vinci in Concert, as Constructed and Played by Pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki

This may seem a bit off the beaten track, but as a writer I’m interested in other expressions of art, and I came across this courtesy of Openculture.com via LinkedIn, the world premiere performance, on November 20 2013, of an instrument invented by and built from plans by Leonardo di Vinci.  Yes, that Leonardo da Vinci.  To quote from Openculture’s description:  “As the archetypal example of the polymathic, intellectually omnivorous ‘Renaissance man,’ [da Vinci] 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 geigenwerkdomain-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.”  The piece continues, in part itself quoting builder and player, Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki, “'[t]his 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.”  To read more for possible Renaissance/steampunk/alternate history inspiration, but also simply to hear for oneself the 10 1/2 minute premiere performance, one need but plunk here.

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  1. Fascinating, Jim! I listened to parts of the pieces played and I appreciate the more variated piano or organ even more (modern times) –but this sound is indeed unique –Leonardo the genius supreme!




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