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Leonardo Da Vinci's Music Technology 460 years before the Moog Synthesizer [Video]

Posted by on in Music Education Research
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As with anything that is considered change, progress or a new idea, music technology has had a difficult time being incorporated into music education. Just ask Leonardo Da Vinci who though up an epic leap forward for musical instruments in 1488! Yes, as technology applies to computers and circuitry, this movement started in the 1950's. But technology is not just electronics. It is ingenuity, creativity and engineering.


In Leonardo Da Vinci's sketchbooks (Codex Atlanticus, pg 93r), there were designs for a revolutionary combination of three major instruments of his time: the organ, the harpsichord and the viola da gamba. The instrument IS called the Viola Organista. And I say "is" because an accomplished Polish composer, musician and constructor of musical instruments, named Slawomir Zubrzycki, has brought it to life!...

Over 500 years after Da Vinci first tackled music technology, his ideas have come to life. It took the genius of Leonardo and the brilliance of Slawomir to accomplish this task but it was well worth the wait. Here he is performing on the Viola Organista.

As you can hear in the video, they flood the air with string like tones accompanied by a haunting resonance that somehow magically demands attention. While the keys are those of a piano, they are not attached to hammers. When the keys are pressed, the machines inside (driven by air being pumped through the instrument with his feet) churn wheels covered in horse hair that glide across the stream in the same way as a violin or a cello.

This movement, combined with the design of the soundboard and spruce lining of the instrument, makes the Viola Organista sound more like a Moog Synthesizer version of a string pad and less like a piano. But the sound... the sound that projects from Slawomir's and Leonardo's invention are gorgeous. Brilliant. Yet another marvelous teaching moment that demonstrates how STEM education should be integrated with music education rather than replacing it.

For more more information, visit the website of Slawomir Zubrzycki. Here is an image of one of the pages from Da Vinci's sketchbooks which was used in the design:


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  • John Mitrano Thursday, 10 July 2014

    What a beautiful instrument - both aesthetically and in sound! Leonardo DaVinci was such a true genius. And Kudos to Slawomir Zubrzycki for bringing it to life! Another one of DaVinci's inventions that sadly had to wait hundreds of years to be realized. But what a sound! Great article!

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