clara/1.html

CLARA ROCKMORE

 

There are all sorts of sources where you can find out everything you ever wanted to know about the great virtuoso thereminist of the 20th century, CLARA ROCKMORE (in the LINKS page of this website I will point you to several of them). What I really wanted to do here, is show you some photos that you have perhaps not seen before. Clara Rockmore was born "Clara Reisenberg" in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1911. It was evident from a very early age that she was extremely talented and had a natural gift for performing. The photo above shows little Clara (standing in front, just left of center stage) performing in a fairy tale play at the CHILDREN'S THEATER in Berlin, Germany, sometime around 1919. Clara herself said once in an interview that when she was a child, she looked "like a doll".

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I am not absolutely certain that the girl in the above photo is Clara Reisenberg, nor do I know exactly what the Russian writing says. This photo, however, definitely came from Mrs. Rockmore and is still in the archive.

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The Reisenberg family emigrated to the United States in 1921 and settled in New York City. This is Clara's class picture taken in New York sometime around 1923. By this time, Clara was an accomplished young violinist but as it turned out, she eventually had to abandon the instrument because of chronic physical difficulties and she took up the theremin. Later in her life she said that Leon Theremin saved her "musical sanity" by introducing her to the theremin. Clara is in the second row from the front, seated on the far left.

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This is the front page from a concert program for a recital at New York City's TOWN HALL in 1938. It is easy to understand why Leon Theremin, the inventor of the instrument that bears his name, was deeply in love with Clara. Apart from being brilliantly talented as a musician and thereminist, she was strikingly beautiful. According to Clara, Leon Theremin proposed to her several times but she refused his offers of marriage. This was perhaps fortunate. We now know that his private life at that time was a complicated affair. The extraordinary details of his connections to the Russian KGB are most interestingly revealed in Albert Glinsky's excellent biography THEREMIN, ETHER MUSIC AND ESPIONAGE (published by the University of Illinois Press).

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The article above is from THE CAMDEN HERALD in Camden, Maine, Thursday, Sept. 3, 1936. Clara frequently astounded critics with her theremin artistry because, by the late 1930's, many people had heard the theremin (played by thereminists other than Clara Rockmore) and had come to rather negative conclusions about what was possible on the instrument. There were a number of actively concertizing thereminists at that time whose enthusiasm for the instrument greatly exceeded their ability to play it. It is ironic that many of these touring thereminists did more to hinder than to encourage public acceptance of the instrument they loved. Several critics admitted openly that, after attending recitals by Clara Rockmore, they had changed their minds about the potential of the theremin.

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Clara Rockmore was a pioneer in electronic music. Her artistry and technique on the theremin, in my opinion, put her in the same league as some of the other legendary women instrumentalists of 20th century - musicians like pianist Dame Myra Hess, the great Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska and harpist Lily Laskine. Clara Rockmore died in the spring of 1998 leaving a small but important legacy of her recordings which include THE ART OF THE THEREMIN (produced by Robert Moog in 1977) and a stunning, live, 1945 performance of the CONCERTO FOR THEREMIN AND ORCHESTRA by the American composer Anis Fuleihan (with the orchestra under the direction of the great Leopold Stokowski). Both these recordings have been reissued on CD.

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