Art and mu­sic meet in the world of Leonardo

The sons of Italy

Arab Times - - WHAT'S ON -

TBy Cezary Ow­erkow­icz

he dif­fer­ence is two letters: ‘da’ so lit­tle means so much. If you re­al­ize it is quite of­ten in many fields and many times, I hope you will agree.

At last I was asked if I know that Leonardo da Vinci com­posed the opera about the Pol­ish King, be­cause my in­ter­locu­tor was sur­prised by such news he read in some news­pa­per. The name like Leonardo al­ways ex­cited ex­tremely!

The Su­per Ge­nius per­son­al­ity was not only a great pain­ter, but also: sculp­tor, ar­chi­tect, in­ven­tor, sci­en­tist, math­e­ma­ti­cian, en­gi­neer, anatomist, ge­ol­o­gist, botanist, writer and tal­ented mu­si­cian: com­poser, singer, in­stru­men­tal­ist – player and con­struc­tor (and de­signer) of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. Oh, the list goes on and on… That means ev­ery­thing was pos­si­ble.

He knew how to play the flute and the lyre, which was the stringed in­stru­ment well known for its use in Greek an­tiq­uity. Ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Vasari who knew Leonardo da Vinci, ‘he sang di­vinely with­out any prepa­ra­tion’. We even have a few manuscripts that con­tain some orig­i­nal mu­si­cal com­po­si­tions that still ex­ist to­day. It is be­lieved that Leonardo da Vinci prob­a­bly had writ­ten more mu­sic but it was never found.

Leonardo also de­signed some in­stru­ments. One of them was the Vi­ola or­gan­ista, de­signed as unique per­fect in­stru­ment com­bined el­e­ments of string and key in­stru­ments. The pro­ject had to wait for re­al­iza­tion of c-a 500 years be­cause the Ge­nius had no time (and tech­ni­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties that time) to con­struct in prac­tice.



In 2012 it was con­structed based on the au­thor de­scrip­tion and sketches by Pol­ish pi­anist, Slavomir Zubrzy­cki, who tours the fes­ti­vals around the world with sen­sa­tional con­certs. Two mu­seum sam­ples are in New York Metropoli­tan Mu­seum and in Krakow.

Leonardo wrote ‘mu­sic may be called the sis­ter of paint­ing, for she is de­pen­dent upon hear­ing, the sense which comes sec­ond… paint­ing ex­cels and ranks higher than mu­sic, be­cause it does not go away as soon as it is born…’

Lis­ten­ing (mu­sic, sounds and si­lence) was sec­ond on his list of senses, and he wrote a lot about the im­por­tance of de­vel­op­ing all the senses in har­mony to achieve the high­est level of con­scious­ness. He even wrote about it and put a lot of care­ful thoughts about the bal­ance of Art and Sci­ence. Ac­cord­ing to Leonardo the two were in­di­vis­i­ble and nec­es­sary to achieve un­der­stand­ing of the logic and beauty of the world.

There was a sam­ple of An­to­nio Vi­valdi, who was long ago highly ap­pre­ci­ated as com­poser of the in­stru­men­tal mu­sic, of course es­pe­cially the fan­tas­tic pop­u­lar ‘Four Sea­sons’. Cen­turies later, af­ter the dis­cov­ery in the deep cel­lars (or high gar­rets) of old li­braries his nu­mer­ous op­eras he was pro­claimed an ex­cel­lent op­eras com­poser, pre­sented on all theaters and con­certs stages. I was sur­prised as well at the first mo­ment, how­ever thanks to some re­mem­brances, and sup­ported by re­search I got the an­swer. I found the mat­ter a bit tricky and in­ter­est­ing that I would like also to de­lib­er­ate on it.

It be­gan as a mys­tery sen­sa­tion. Jour­nal­ists in­formed many me­dia like this: ‘World pre­miere of un­known opera ‘Gis­mondo Re di Polo­nia’ by Leonardo Vinci will be per­formed at the open­ing of All’Im­pro­viso by in­ter­na­tional soloists Max Emanuel Cen­cic, Yuriy Mly­nenko, So­phie Junker, Alexan­dra Kubas-Kruk… (among oth­ers).

The in­stru­men­tal part of the Opera was per­formed by a renowned and a very good (Oh!) His­tor­i­cal Or­ches­tra (a very orig­i­nal name, isn’t it?). The Basso con­tinuo sec­tion is also very orig­i­nal: two harp­si­chordists, two cel­lists and Span­ish vir­tu­oso on the­o­rbo. (An­cient ‘arch-lute’, or bass lute with a plucked string in­stru­ment, an ex­tended neck and a sec­ond peg­box). The Opera was writ­ten cen­turies ago, for­got­ten, than dis­cov­ered at last and comes again to the lights of opera stage.

Opera li­bretto is about love and pol­i­tics, about The Pol­ish King, Sigis­mund II Au­gust, son of Ital­ian Bona Sforza and Sigis­mund I Old about po­lit­i­cal and love in­trigues on Pol­ish Court at that time. Ro­mance and crimes, themes are al­ways loved. It was writ­ten 300 years ago, for­got­ten and dis­cov­ered af­ter cen­turies and comes again to the lights of the stage…!’

Con­tin­u­a­tion of info was also in­ter­est­ing: The Opera was pre­sented for the first ever time in 1727 (it means 301 years ago) at the Teatro delle Dame in Rome. From that spec­ta­cle scores and other ma­te­ri­als, al­ready 300 years old, were used to pro­duce the Fes­ti­val All’Im­pro­viso spec­ta­cle! There was noth­ing pre­served to our time re­la­tions from the pre­miere for 18th cen­tury au­di­ence and its re­ac­tion.


Mu­sic it­self was for per­form­ers a puz­zle or a sealed book up to the first re­hearsal. Style and com­pos­ing tech­nique Opera was writ­ten and is known from sketch like spar­ing no­ta­tion. (It was a fre­quent rule at that time.) It seems dis­cov­er­ing mys­ter­ies of li­bretto but mu­sic needed care­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It doesn’t mean poor sound of score, but quite the op­po­site. The Basso con­tinuo base on im­pro­vi­sa­tion within more or less strict rules is more than a ma­jor­ity given the nowa­days in­ter­pre­ta­tion based on re­pro­duc­tion, but also as­sum­ing the in­ten­tion of com­poser. It is ex­actly along of Fes­ti­val All’Im­pro­viso idea.

Leonardo Vinci how­ever is the real com­poser of that opera. He was born at Stron­goli in 1690 near Naples, where he stud­ied. It was ex­pen­sive (36 ducats yearly), the boy was poor but tal­ented and soon he started to teach young­sters as mas­tri­cello (stu­dent – teacher).

Af­ter the stud­ies he started to work at the Duke court and – com­pose op­eras. He was known for his op­eras: se­ria (dra­matic) and buffo (comic). The buffo Op­eras were writ­ten Neapoli­tan style (and di­alect). (His fol­low­ers in Naples school were Nicola Por­pora, G. B. Per­golese and Ger­man J. A. Hasse.) His op­eras were com­mis­sioned by sev­eral rul­ing courts and per­formed around Italy and abroad. Ex­cept for it he com­posed sev­eral can­tatas, sonatas, ser­e­nade and two or­a­to­rios.

Love some­times con­tains a poison. Lit­er­ally: Vinci was ru­mored to have been poi­soned in 1730 by a jeal­ous hus­band in the wake of an ill-ad­vised af­fair, a story which is given by sev­eral re­li­able au­thor­i­ties with­out ev­i­dent con­tra­dic­tions. (‘To see Naples and die’, says a proverb?)

His bi­og­ra­phy and out­put was much shorter (and thin­ner?) than oth­ers, the ear­lier Leonardo. What was com­mon? Both were sons of sonny Italy and both loved mu­sic.


It re­ally ex­ists. I think that it is a per­fect pre­text to re­mind that code. When Leonardo da Vinci painted, he al­ways sought mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment to stim­u­late his senses. He be­lieved that when all his senses were awake, the mind could be bet­ter nour­ished and more pro­duc­tive. Prob­a­bly all the master­piece paint­ings that we are all en­joy look­ing at were given birth with mu­si­cal notes fly­ing through the air.

This begs the ques­tion: Did learn­ing how to play mu­si­cal in­stru­ments and to com­pose mu­sic put Leonardo da Vinci on a path towards be­ing a ge­nius? No one could pos­si­bly an­swer this ques­tion with the ut­most cer­tainty. But we would be­lieve mu­sic did have an im­pact.

Mu­sic is a hu­man need that cher­ishes beauty, and un­der­neath that blan­ket of beauty, lie the de­tails, the pre­ci­sion, the logic, and the code of or­ga­nized sound. For those who pur­sue an un­der­stand­ing of mu­sic and its beauty will de­velop an in­tel­lect and that can dis­cover, an­a­lyze, and ra­tio­nal­ize, and can as­pire to be cre­ative and pro­duc­tive like that of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

Both Leonardo were sons of sonny Italy, artists, lov­ing mu­sic (even one of them ‘part-time’), hav­ing the same first and fam­ily names; only those two letters ‘da’ makes such a big dif­fer­ence in mean­ing. Not by chance ‘at the be­gin­ning was The Word’.

PS. Full name of the most ver­sa­tile Ge­nius of Hu­man­ity is: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci – it means Leonardo, son of Piero from the town of Vinci … Of course, there are also dif­fer­ent dates: 1452-1519 and 1690-1730. It teaches us to read with un­der­stand­ing… and that Da Vinci Code is al­ways ex­cit­ing (not only from Dan Brown or Ron Howard and Tom Hanks).

Cezary Ow­erkow­icz is the chair­man of the Kuwait Cham­ber of Phil­har­mo­nia and tal­ented pi­anist. He reg­u­larly or­ga­nizes con­certs by well-known mu­si­cians for the ben­e­fit of mu­sic lovers and to widen the knowl­edge of mu­sic in Kuwait. His email ad­dress is: cow­erkow­[email protected]­ and cow­erkow­[email protected]­

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