A Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki has reconstructed an instrument from over 500 years ago. Viola organista, invented by Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance Era, has apparently never been built before. The model sketches are found in the Codex Atlanticus, a collection of drawings and texts by da Vinci. It took Zubrzycki three years and 5000 hours to build the viola organista.
The instrument looks somewhat like a baby grand piano and combines characteristics of the harpsichord, organ, and viola da gamba. It consists of sixty one steel strings, four spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair, and foot pedals. Unlike piano, it does not have hammers, but the spinning wheels create sound in a similar fashion to violin.
Zubrzycki premiered the viola organista in October at the Academy of Music in Krakow in Poland, playing pieces originally written for the viola da gamba as well as harpsichord. Here is a Youtube link of him playing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv3py3Ap8_Y. I respect Zubrzycki for his patience in building the viola organista. If one has the time and energy to do it, I support the projects of recreation of old instruments, or any inventions for that matter. Even if no one was enthusiastic about hearing the viola organista any more as of now, as I personally am not particularly, it adds to the richness of available sound. For composers, it could be interesting to explore its potentialities, and those explorations may inspire others further, or spark new innovations in terms of sound or instruments.