A Most Amazing Musical Instrument

Many years ago, I did a course in harpsichord making in London, with some experience as an apprentice organ builder. Naturally, I became quite knowledgeable in keyboard instruments, their technology, building and tuning. The Viola Organista is one I had never heard of. It is described in Leonardo Da Vinci’s wacky piano is heard for the first time, after 500 years.

viola-organistaThis instrument actually is not a piano, nor is it a harpsichord, nor an organ. The pianoforte hits the strings with little wooden hammers covered in felt. The harpsichord plucks the strings with a jack containing a hinged plectrum made from a turkey feather quill. The organ blows wind into flue and reed pipes by means of a wind generating system and a mechanism operated by the keyboard.

This keyboard instrument was devised by Leonardo da Vinci, but it was never built in his time. Most of his other inventions also had no practical application at the time, like for example his helicopter and other flying machines. A Polish instrument maker and musician by the name of Slawomir Zubrzycki has built this instrument called the viola organista.

It bows the strings by means of mechanically operated wheels. The keys press the strings down onto the bowing wheels, and the sound is like the baroque viola da gamba. The notes are sustained like those of a pipe organ.

Here is the instrument being played in a concert.

The sound is very beautiful, and the instrument is beautifully built and decorated. Several instruments other than the organ and wind instruments have means of sustaining the notes. One is the hurdy gurdy that bows its strings with a wheel whilst the player presses the strings down onto the fingerboard. Another is the glass harmonica made famous by Mozart. We have all rubbed fingers on the rims of fine crystal glasses and listened to the pure notes. The glass harmonica takes it all a step further.

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One Response to A Most Amazing Musical Instrument

  1. Rubricarius says:

    Fascinating. Its case is the same shape as a Flemish harpsichord but very different inside. Thank you for alerting readers to this.

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