Leonardo da Vinci invented this musical instrument – and it sounds remarkable

25 January 2019, 18:41 | Updated: 26 June 2019, 17:23

Leonardo’s organ-viola-harpsichord is an instrument of genius.

Introducing the viola organista, an incredible instrument conceived by Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci. Designs for the instrument were included in Codex Atlanticus, a twelve-volume set of drawings and writings by da Vinci. 

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The instrument, however, didn't become a reality for centuries. It was only in 2013 when Polish instrument-maker Sławomir Zubrzycki built the very first example (watch video above).

The fascinating instrument is a hybrid of elements from a harpsichord, an organ and a viola da gamba. It looks like a harpsichord and has a set of strings, but rather than being plucked, the strings press against rotating wheels covered in horse hair – the same mechanism that produces sound in string instruments.

Leonardo da Vinci viola organista

“I have no idea what Leonardo da Vinci might think of the instrument I’ve made, but I’d hope he’d be pleased,” Zubrzycki said, at the instrument’s unveiling concert in Krakow. He spent three years and more than 5000 hours bringing Da Vinci’s instrument to life from his Codex Atlanticus, a 12-volume collection of his manuscripts and designs for everything from weaponry to flight.

As well as its unique sound (somewhere between an organ and a string instrument), the viola organista is ornately decorated with a Latin quote in gold leaf by Hildegard of Bingen, saying, “Holy prophets and scholars immersed in the sea of arts both human and divine, dreamt up a multitude of instruments to delight the soul.”