What's My Line? You
must be kidding.
When President Kennedy held a banquet once for Nobel Prize winners, he remarked that it was the greatest gathering of talent ever to assemble at the White House since the days when Thomas Jefferson had dined alone. At that, nervous laughter swept the room and left, refusing, as usual, to do windows. Renaissance Men, universal geniuses —call them what you will— the Jefferson's, von Humboldt's and Goethe's of history stand out, especially in this age of specialization when many don't seem to care that the Earth goes around the sun, because "hey, I'm into business management."
"And now, the greatest
of all: one whose calling card comes in two
volumes (plus index), the world record-holder in
the Decathlon of all Human Activity, the Gallant
with the Talent and the Most to Boast, that
Saint of Paint and Divine Design, that bold and
Golden Mean Profusion of I.Q.-sion, Fertility of
Versatility and Grand Fermento of Rinascimento—laydeeez
and gentlemen!—in this
corner, His Most Uplifted of the Gifted, His
Neverendingship of Patent-Pendingship, His Royal
Highness of All-Round-Guyness and just plain
King of Everything, weighing in at 84 kilos and
that's just his brain!—the
Tuscany Titan: Leonardo "Ambidextrous with all
the Extras" daaaah...Vinci!"
(Good. Sit down.)
Some types of genius come along once in a lifetime, once in a century, or once in some other recognizably human time-span. Leonardo, however, was beyond that. I've asked around and it seems that in this galaxy, each intelligent species gets one and only one such Mind. Leonardo was ours. (We do hope he wasn't wasted, right? My secret fantasy is that he invented television, too, so that at least some of the brightest and best of 15th century Florence have radiated out to represent us amongst the stars for a few hundred years before Benny Hill and Wheel of Fortune get there.)
But, to let you in on a secret: musicians have always been a bit smug about The Big L. How great, they ask, could he have really been? So he built airplanes and painted The Last Supper, but when have you ever heard that he composed music or played an instrument? Everyone knows that one of the true marks of greatness is intimacy with the Queen of Arts, Music, so...heh-heh.
Well, musicians, blow this out your B-flat bombardons: a little book called The Unknown Leonardo (ed. by Ladislaus Reti, 1974, McGraw-Hill). Not only was Leonardo interested in music, but he was an avid student of sound and acoustics, built musical instruments (some of them based on his definitive studies of the human larynx), played them very well, and one time showed up at a contest held by Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, with a wonderfully resonant home-made (was there ever any doubt?) silver harp in the shape of a magnificent horse's head and proceeded to improvise (!) so well that the competition shrivelled up like space-faring potato-chips approaching the surface of the sun.
Now, in this season's smash hit, Leonardo: Full Metal Jack-of-all-Trades, Part II, The Movie, we are informed that the history of Jazz may have to be rewritten, as well. Modern scholarship has revealed that Leonardo da Vinci would sit in small Renaissance dives (not to be confused with clubs for the Born-Again) until the wee hours, jamming on his home-made lute and frantically interjecting shouts of "Hey-bop-a-rebop!", "Oh, play that thing!" and "The Blues ain't nothin' but a psychological sensation produced in the eye-brain system relating to a wavelength of visible radiation of 440 nanometers!"
From there, of course,
it was only a short step to The First Blues
Stanza Ever Written and, in fact, a recent
deciphering of Leonardo's intentionally
difficult handwriting (he wrote upside-down—not
him, his handwriting—and
backwards in an obscure dialect) has revealed:
"I'm goin' to Perugia;
baby, but I can't take you. (Oh, no.)*
Said I'm goin' to Perugia;
baby, but I can't take you,
'cause there ain't nothin' there
for my sweet moanin' Lisa to do."
*(some scholars read this as "Oh, yeah.")
So, yummies (Yuseless Upwardly Mobile Monomaniacs), there you have it: another hidden wonder-blade in history's one and only Original Human Swiss Army Knife. What? You have a question? How fast did Leo run the one-hundred meters?
Sorry about that.
to index for Allegro ma non troppo