Da Vinci’s String Organ Must Be Heard To Be Believed

Pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki presents the 'viola organista' on Oct. 18, 2013 in Krakow, Poland. Zubrzycki spent almost four years building the instrument, which is based on a late 15th-century design by Leonardo da Vinci. Image: Tomasz Wiech/AFP/Getty Images

Pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki presents the ‘viola organista’ on Oct. 18, 2013 in Krakow, Poland. Zubrzycki spent almost four years building the instrument, which is based on a late 15th-century design by Leonardo da Vinci. Image: Tomasz Wiech/AFP/Getty Images

The man who painted the Mona Lisa, and was the first to sketch out the helicopter and the submarine, also dabbled in music. So here’s the question: What musical instrument did Leonardo Da Vinci design?

There isn’t an easy answer. His 15th century sketches indicate something between a harpsichord and a cello, where spinning wheels of horsehair run along the strings. He named it the “viola organista.”

Da Vinci never did build the instrument. Others tried, with varied results. Now, after four years, Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki has managed to bring the curious instrument to life. Last month he unveiled the organista, revealing its unique sounds to an enthusiastic audience in Krakow, Poland.

” … The drawing by Leonardo DaVinci that is the basis for this instrument,” Zubrzycki recently told the AFP news agency, “is not a technical drawing. It does not contain all the necessary information. But it is more than enough to understand the concept of this instrument.”

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