FIVE hundred years ago Leonardo da Vinci designed a bizarre keyboard instrument. But he never built it.
Now a Polish pianist has fulfilled da Vinci’s dream. The viola organista was invented by da Vinci with characteristics of a harpsichord, an organ and a cello. In the place of a piano’s felt hammers, spinning wheels draw across the strings like a violinist’s .
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.
Slawomi Zubrzycki’s debut performance on the instrument, at the Academy of Music in Krakow, Poland, is the first time an audience of any size has heard the instrument .
Listen to it here.