Leonardo da Vinci invented the first (as far as we know) bowed keyboard instrument, the viola organista, but his instrument remained a sketch in the Codex Atlanticus and descriptions in his notebooks from 1488-9. The first working viola organista wasn’t built until 2004. Now an even better one has been built by Polish concert pianist Sławomir Zubrzycki.
This viola organista has characteristics of a harpsichord, an organ, and a viol, and Zubrzycki debuted his instrument during an excellent recital at the International Royal Cracow Piano Festival in Krakow, Poland, on October 19th, 2013. He later added a video of the performance to YouTube, available below.
For some reason, several news outlets are trying to pump up this story by claiming a viola organista has never been built before. Or perhaps they’re just exceedingly lazy, because ten seconds on Google taught me that Akio Obuchi built one in 2004 for a concert in Italy.
And there’s no reason for these outlets to falsely claim da Vinci’s viola organista had never been built before. Sławomir Zubrzycki’s version of the instrument is beautiful enough to justify a news story, regardless of whether or not smaller, less ornate versions have been built before. Dude spent 5000 hours building a gorgeous viola organista the size of a baby grand, and it sounds miraculous. That’s enough of a story on its own.
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. “Holy prophets and scholars immersed in the sea of arts both human and divine, dreamt up a multitude of instruments to delight the soul,” it says.
The flat bed of its 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. [The Age via Gizmodo]
I just want to lick that beautiful thing and see if the snozzberries taste like snozzberries.
You can hear this elegant instrument in the video below. It sounds like a quartet, not just one guy, playing these classical pieces.
(Banner picture via Getty Images.)