Clara Rockmore

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Clara Rockmore's Lost Theremin Album

Clara Rockmore (March 9, 1911 – May 10, 1998[1]) was a Lithuanian virtuoso performer of the theremin, an electronic musical instrument.[2][3][4][5][6]


Early years[edit]

Born as Clara Reisenberg in Vilnius, Vilna Governorate (now Lithuania), Rockmore was a child prodigy on the violin and entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory at the age of five. She remains to this day the youngest student ever to be admitted to the institution. She studied violin under the virtuoso Leopold Auer. Unfortunately, bone problems due to childhood malnutrition forced her to abandon violin performance past her teen years. That, however, led her to discover the newborn electronic instrument the theremin, and become perhaps its most renowned player.


Rockmore made orchestral appearances in New York and Philadelphia and amazed audiences in coast-to-coast tours with Paul Robeson, but it wasn’t until 1977 that she released a commercial recording called The Art of the Theremin. The album was recorded at the behest of Bob Moog and the record featured Rockmore performing with her sister Nadia Reisenberg, with whom she was accompanied at several of her concerts.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Although Léon Theremin had proposed to her several times, Rockmore married attorney Robert Rockmore, and thereafter used his name professionally.[8]

She died in New York City on May 10, 1998, at age 87. Though her health had been in rapid decline for almost a year she professed her determination to live to see the birth of her grandniece, who was born just two days before her death.[7]

Contributions to the theremin[edit]

Rockmore's classical training gave her an advantage over the many other theremin performers of the time. She possessed absolute pitch, helpful in playing an instrument that generates tones of any pitch throughout its range, not just those defined by equal temperament.[7] She had extremely precise, rapid control of her movements, important in playing an instrument that depends on the performer's motion and proximity rather than touch. She developed a unique technique for playing the instrument, including a fingering system, which allowed her to perform accurately fast passages and large note leaps without the more familiar portamento or glide on theremin.[9]

Developmental influence[edit]

Rockmore saw limitations of the original instrument and helped to develop the instrument to fulfill her needs, and because of her close personal relationship with Léon Theremin, she was able to influence the design and evolution of the instrument, suggesting changes such as lowering the profile of the instrument so the performer is more visible, increasing the sensitivity of the pitch antenna, and increasing range from three octaves to five.[9]

Public influence[edit]

By the time Rockmore was playing large scale public concerts such as New York City's Town Hall in 1938, she was becoming increasingly known for impressing critics with her artistry of the theremin during a time in which much of the general public had come to rather negative conclusions of what was possible on the instrument.[4]


Film and video[edit]

Popular culture[edit]

The Irish electropop band, The Garland Cult included the song "Clare Rockmore" on their 2007 album Protect Yourself from Hollywood.

Sean Michaels' novel Us Conductors, the winner of the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize, is a fictionalized account of the relationship between Rockmore and Léon Theremin.


  1. ^ Glinsky, p. 340
  2. ^ Ostertag, Bob (December 2002). "Human bodies, computer music" (PDF). Leonardo Music Journal (MIT Press) 12: 13. doi:10.1162/096112102762295070. Retrieved 2009-09-10. Clara Rockmore, in particular, became a bona fide theremin virtuoso by any definition of the word 
  3. ^ Paradiso, Joseph A.; Gershenfeld, Neil (Summer 1997). "Musical Applications of Electric Field Sensing". Computer Music Journal. series (MIT Press) 21:2 (2): 69–89. JSTOR 3681109. few things since have matched Clara Rockmore's lyrical dynamics 
  4. ^ a b Pringle, Peter. "Clara Rockmore". Retrieved 2009-09-10. great virtuoso thereminist of the 20th century ... astounded critics with her theremin artistry 
  5. ^ Bailey, Bill (2004-10-15). "Weird science". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-09-10. Clara Rockmore was rightly hailed in her time as a true star. ... Rockmore gained more recognition for her playing of the instrument than Theremin himself ever did for inventing it. ... warm praise from music critics 
  6. ^ Ramone, Phil; Evin, Danielle (2008-07-11). "Dog Ears Music: Volume Twenty-Eight". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-09-10. Genius thereminist Clara Rockmore 
  7. ^ a b c "Remembering Clara Rockmore". Retrieved 2014-10-07. 
  8. ^ "The Nadia Reisenberg & Clara Rockmore Foundation". Retrieved 2011-05-18. 
  9. ^ a b Robert Moog, The Art of the Theremin, liner notes, 1977


External links[edit]