Listen to Leonardo da Vinci's 500-year-old piano-cello hybrid

Drawings from the Codex Atlanticus were used by a Polish pianist to resurrect the 'mythical' instrument

Jochan Embley
Monday 25 November 2013 19:11
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A musical instrument that was devised by the Italian luminary Leonardo da Vinci over 500 years ago has been constructed and played in Poland for the first time.

Sławomir Zubrzycki, a pianist and composer, crafted the ‘viola organista’ from the plans that were sketched by da Vinci in around 1470. The plans come from the Codex Atlanticus, an 11-volume collection of da Vinci’s drawings and writings, comprising work on a range of subjects from botany to physics.

There have been a number of attempts to recreate the viola organista in the past, but each time the instrument “fell into oblivion”, Zubrzycki said in an interview.

So, the Polish musician set upon creating his own version of the “mythical” instrument. Starting the project in 2009, Zubrzycki only completed it last year after overcoming a number of practical complications.

The instrument, which resembles a baby grand piano, is a hybrid of sorts, combining the piano and the cello. To play it, a foot pedal is continuously pumped, spinning four wheels inside the instrument that are wrapped in horse tail hair (the same material that is used for violin bows). When a key is pressed, the corresponding metal string presses down onto the wheel, creating a sound similar to a cello.

The viola organista was debuted by Zubrzycki last month at the Academy of Music in Krakow, the academy from which he graduated in 1988.

Speaking at the event, Zubrzycki said: “I have no idea what Leonardo Da Vinci might think of the instrument I’ve made, but I’d hope he’d be pleased.”

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