THE JULIUS GOLDBERG

RCA THEREMIN

 

 

The Julius Goldberg theremin today. This is a video of me playing

HYMNE A L'AMOUR (one of French singer Edith Piaf's biggest hits).

 

 

This is the THE THEREMIN ELECTRO-ENSEMBLE later called THE ELECTRIO circa 1932. The thereminist on the left is Leon Theremin's assistant, Julius Goldberg, playing his RCA theremin with the customized "lightning bolt" art deco, brass nickel chrome antennas. The musician seated in the center of the photo playing the "theremin cello" is the late Leonid Bolotine with whom I studied in New York City in the mid 1960's. Pianist Gleb Yellin is on the right playing a theremin keyboard. In 1932, the ensemble could be heard on the radio every Monday afternoon at 2:15 over the Columbia Network, KMBC. The picture was taken in the broadcast studio and is from the collection of thereminist David McCornack.

 

WHO WAS JULIUS GOLDBERG?


Not a great deal is known about Leon Theremin’s assistant, Julius Goldberg. Leon Theremin’s biographer, Albert Glinsky, told me that during the research for his book THEREMIN, ETHER MUSIC AND ESPIONAGE, he was unable to find much information about Goldberg and could not even locate any official U.S. government record of his death, even though Goldberg lived in New York State with his wife and family.


Julius Goldberg was born “Yuri Mikhailovich Goldberg” in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1888. He was educated as a mechanical engineer at a polytechnical school in Germany and it was in Germany that he later assumed the name “George Julius Goldberg”. In the mid 1920’s, Leon Theremin formed a business relationship with the German company, M. J. Goldberg and Sons (in which George was a partner) and signed away a substantial interest in the invention we would later know as the “theremin” for the token sum of five dollars.


At that time, Russians were regarded with suspicion by American authorities but ironically, post World War I Germany was not perceived as a threat and was widely viewed as an excellent place to invest. It was Leon Theremin’s association with the German company Goldberg and Sons that facilitated his entry into the United States. The truth of the matter was that Goldberg and Sons, although officially registered in Berlin, was owned and operated entirely by Russians and had probable associations with Russian intelligence agencies.


When Leon Theremin and Julius Goldberg came to New York City in December of 1927 to present their new musical invention to the American public, Theremin was 31 and Goldberg was 39. The details of their extraordinary saga in the United States are recounted in THEREMIN, ETHER MUSIC AND ESPIONAGE. It is my impression from everything I have learned that Leon Theremin, apart from being a genius, was a dreamer (and a little bit of an opportunist) while Julius Goldberg was an opportunist (and a little bit of a dreamer).


Once the Victor theremin had been put onto the market in the fall of 1929, Julius Goldberg went to work promoting it. We do not know how proficient he was on the instrument but he was part of the group consisting of ten theremins and performed on stage at Carnegie Hall in the spring of 1930. As mentioned above, he was also part of the ELECTRIO.

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In 1938, after a series of ill-fated business ventures in New York, Leon Theremin left America and returned to Russia, abandoning Lavinia Williams, his wife of less than six months. Many people believe that Theremin never emotionally recovered from Clara Reisenberg’s marriage to New York lawyer Robert Rockmore, and that he married dancer Lavinia Williams on the rebound.


Julius Goldberg also married in America. I do not have the details of exactly when he married, but it is probable that it was in the late 1930’s. By the time Leon Theremin returned to Russia, Goldberg was already known under two aliases: “George Goreff” and “George Gorham”. The information about Goldberg’s life after Theremin’s departure is sketchy at best.


Thereminist John Snyder purchased the RCA theremin that had once been the property of Julius Goldberg from Goldberg’s widow in New York in the early 1980’s. At that time, John did not know that the woman (who called herself Mrs. Gorham) had been the wife of the late Julius Goldberg. John has been kind enough to write down his recollection of the events surrounding his acquisition of the instrument. Here is what he said about it.

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“In January of 1982 I was fortunate to acquire what is apparently the last instrument that Julius Goldberg, alias George Gorham, used and owned.


In Dec. 1981 I placed an ad in the local Pennysaver looking for a 1929 vintage RCA theremin. I received a phone call from an old woman (88 at the time) who had just happened to have seen my ad. She was not well but would call back soon to arrange for my visit. In January 1982 she called back and invited me to visit. Her name was Mrs. Gorham.

With great anticipation I drove further upstate to her house near Poughkeepsie, NY. She was a very sweet, short old lady, not at all well, and she had this theremin that had belonged to her husband, George Gorham. I couldn't believe it when she ushered me into the room where it was and she turned it on to demonstrate that it still worked. It was so ugly, having been painted in that horrible 1950's so-called antiquing style of streaked greenish/yellowish paint, but it had a rather unique feature in that the volume loop was partially in the shape of a lightening bolt!


She gave me copies of two pictures along with the instrument, one was a signed picture of Theremin Dec. 1927 and the other was from a newspaper article showing her husband playing in the Theremin Electro-Ensemble, heard each Monday afternoon at 2:15 over KMBC and the Columbia network. In that newspaper photo her husband, named George Goreff in the caption, was playing a theremin whose pitch rod was in the shape of a lightning bolt!


Sometime after I had purchased the instrument I met a dealer in unusual antique musical instruments who also had a theremin, unfortunately not in working condition. He did, however, have some studio photographs of Theremin and Mrs. Gorham's husband, named on the back of the photos ‘Julius Goldberg’. I immediately called Mrs. Gorham to point this out and she was quite impressed that I had found out that her husband's name had been Julius Goldberg and he had changed it to George Gorham.”

It is probable that Julius Goldberg, in the 1950’s and 60’s, ended up doing something fairly menial. He would undoubtedly have been investigated by the FBI and found to be an individual of questionable loyalties and associations. Julius Goldberg is a footnote in the colorful story of Leon Theremin. Efforts were made to find some surviving children or grandchildren in the New York area but none were located.


There are a number of theremin enthusiasts, including myself, who would very much appreciate any information that anyone reading this article might have about the late Julius Goldberg and his family.

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