Viola Organista – an instrument credited as originally designed by Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago - is actually a reconstruction of the instrument described as a ‘Geigenwerk/GeigenInstrument, oder GeigenClavicymbel’, in the second volume of Michael Praetorius’s Syntagma Musicum.
Praetorius credits the instrument’s invention to Hans Haiden of Nuremberg.
From the Encyclopedia Britannica:
"Stringed keyboard instruments have as their principal defects an inability, first, to sustain a tone indefinitely and, secondly, to alter the tone’s loudness once a key has been depressed. Various attempts have been made to build stringed instruments sounded by other means than plucking or striking—including vibrating the strings by blowing a current of air past them, as in the piano éolien of 1837. The most successful of these other instruments adopted the principle of the hurdy-gurdy—i.e., vibrating the strings by friction.
An instrument of this kind appears in several diagrams in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). Some apparently highly successful ones (none of which, unfortunately, has survived) were made by the Nürnberg builder Hans Haiden, who described them at length in pamphlets published in 1605 and 1610. These instruments had a series of rosined wheels that rubbed the strings when they were drawn against them by the action of the keys. According to Haiden, the instrument, which he called a Geigenwerck, was capable of recreating the sound of an ensemble of viols and produced sounds of different loudness, depending on the force with which the keys were depressed."
Regardless of who invented it, this beautiful instrument combines elements of the harpsichord, organ and viola da gamba. The performer pumps a pedal that turns a crankshart. When keys are depressed, turning wheels press against strings, creating the sound of a string ensemble.
Oh yeah, a nice idea to implement the MIDI Note Off behavior in your next synth...
- Slipped Disc
- 'Keyboard Instrument' from Encyclopedia Britannica