Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Viola Organista” in Concert
People still flock to the Louvre in Paris to see perhaps the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa. Now, people can hear a musical instrument conceived by the same brilliant mind, the “viola organista” from Leonardo da Vinci.
The instrument is a hybrid that combines characteristics of the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba. This version of the instrument looks much like a grand piano from the outside and was built by Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki. You can see and hear the instrument in a performance here.
Zubrzycki used plans that came from da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, a twelve volume set of drawings and writings. Several years ago, another inventive admirer of da Vinci came up with a rather different instrument using the same ideas. That one is portable and reminds me a bit of a hurdy-gurdy. You can see Jennifer Hambrick’s blog post about that version here.
I had heard about da Vinci’s ideas and designs for flying machines, parachutes, tanks, adding machines, and other engineering innovations before, but it seems appropriate that the great Renaissance man also had an active interest in music as well.
Here is the “viola organista” in it’s modern realization: