Art and music meet in the world of Leonardo
The sons of Italy
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]hoo.com and cowerkow[email protected]mail.com