An instrument which combines elements of the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba, and which resembles a baby grand piano, has been played before an audience in Krakow, Poland, 500 years after it was first designed by Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci.
Named the “viola organista,” the unique instrument was designed by da Vinci, however there are no historical records indicating that he or anyone else built it. Designs for the instrument were found in the polymath’s Codex Atlanticus, a 12-volume collection of his designs and writings.
Polish concert pianist and instrument-maker Slawomir Zubrzycki built the instrument from da Vinci’s designs. “This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,” said Zubrzycki.
Premiering the novel instrument at the Academy of Music in Krakow, the viola organista works via 61 steel strings running across a bed of golden spruce wood, with each connected to a conventional piano keyboard.
In place of a piano’s hammered dulcimers are four spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair. To turn the wheels, Zubrzycki manipulates a pedal beneath the keyboard that’s connected to a special crankshaft. As the keyboard keys are pressed, the strings press down onto the turning wheels.
The sound emitted, which da Vinci himself never heard, but which readers can hear for themselves below, is reminiscent of a cello, an accordion, or an old-style mellotron.
Watch: Viola Organista Made By Sławomir Zubrzycki