Discover more from Pass Along Songs
Weird, Wacky, and Wonderful-Part I
How many ways can music be made?
“Setting my mind on a musical instrument was like falling in love. All the world seemed bright and changed. - William Christopher Handy
Pass Along Songs has been full of rather heavy and introspective themes of late, so I thought I’d give us a break with some instruments that most of us have never heard of or listened to. The picture above is of a “Viola Organista,” an instrument designed but never built by Leonardo Da Vinci. The notes and sketches for the instrument are included in the 1,000-page Codex Atlanticus, the largest set of Da Vinci’s notes from the years 1489-1492.
Some 500 years later, an enterprising Polish pianist named Sławomir Zubrzycki became intrigued with the idea of creating a Viola Organista and put his knack for building to work. Here is how he described his process:
“The fact that the viola organista was rejected and forgotten, but every now and then someone returned to it, and then it fell into oblivion again, was extremely motivating for me. When I started thinking about building it anew, I was full of enthusiasm; it became a real obsession for me.”
The instrument’s exterior is painted a rich midnight blue adorned with golden swirls painted on the sides. The inside of its lid is a deep raspberry color inscribed in gold leaf with a Latin quote by 12th-century German nun, mystic and philosopher, Saint Hildegard. As for the sound, Zubrezyski describes it like this: “This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ, and the viola da gamba,’’
Zubrzycki has come to refer to the sound created by the Viola Organista as “The Da Vinci Sound.” Here is his 2020 TEDTalk: https://www.ted.com/talks/slawomir_zubrzycki_the_da_vinci_sound
What fascinates me more than almost anything is how the darn thing works. Read this!
”Viola organista basically functions by pulling the instrument strings with the help of a string and keyboard mechanism towards the set of wheel-shaped bows, or a bow in the form of an endless belt with horsehair with some rosin rubbed in. The bows are propelled by a device that is connected to the pedal to be set in motion and make the strings vibrate. Thus is the sound produced. The keyboard mechanism can control dynamics, articulation, and vibrato, and the movement speed of bows additionally increases dynamics and changes the colour of the sound.” - from http://www.violaorganista.com/
By now you must be intensely curious about the music this instrument can make. Below are two examples. The first is the world premiere of the Viola Organista being played without accompaniment.
The second is the Viola Organista taking part in a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
So tell me…
What do you think of Da Vinci’s piano?
Now that you’ve heard the kinds of sounds it makes, what else would you like to hear played on it? Maybe “Switched-On Bach?”
Does it remind you of any other instrument, other than the piano of course?
Do you have any other odd or interesting instruments you are fond of?
Website Devoted to the Instrument: http://www.violaorganista.com/en/home/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ViolaOrganista
Article The Sydney Morning Herald: https://bit.ly/3s3QezC
Be sure to read the author’s description (about 3/4 of the way through about how the Viola Organista is operated. Just describing it is a challenging task!
Sławomir Zubrzycki Bio: http://www.violaorganista.com/en/slawomir_zubrzycki/biography/
Let the discussion begin!
Copyright 2021 by Jean Ball. All Rights Reserved.