Post and Courier
September 15, 2014

Music as da Vinci dreamed it

Posted: 12/03/2013 12:01 a.m.

Calling Leonardo da Vinci a generalist would be like calling Warren Buffett financially stable.

The painter (“Mona Lisa,” “The Last Supper”), sculptor, mathematician, inventor, cartographer, writer and engineer didn’t just dabble in different disciplines. He excelled in them.

He envisioned a flying machine, a tank and an adding machine. He mastered human anatomy.

And now, 500 years after he designed it, his viola organista has turned out to be a huge success. Add musical instruments to his Renaissance man credentials.

Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki spent the last three years — more than 5,000 hours and some $9,700 — building the piano-shaped instrument that Leonardo da Vinci dreamt up but never built. Mr. Zubrzycki played his creation recently at the Academy of Music in Krakow.

The reaction?

Musicians described it with words like “velvety,” “goose bumps,” “the dream of all pianists” and “sensational.”

It is played on a keyboard, but instead of hammers, its strings are sounded by four spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair (like violin bows).

The performer pumps a pedal, which is connected to a crankshaft that turns the wheels.

So the sound is reminiscent of a cello, an organ and, some suggest, an accordion.

A few other attempts were made to follow his plans for a viola organista — once in the 16th and once in the 17th century.

So now, thanks to the master’s genius and Mr. Zubrzycki’s talents and hard work, 21st century ears can hear the musical sounds that Leonardo da Vinci dreamed of, and marvel at the extraordinary gifts of this Renaissance man.