Clara Rockmore - The 'Grand Dame' of the Theremin (1911 - 1998)

Clara Rockmore (1911 - 1998)

The 'Grand Dame' of the Theremin

Don't forget that you are dealing with air! Think of your fingers as delicate butterfly wings, and you will get much further than if you use strength"- Clara Rockmore

The greatest exponent of the theremin, Clara Rockmore was more than just a performer. It was her comments and suggestions that encouraged Leon Theremin to further perfect his instrument.

Clara Rockmore was born Clara Reisenberg in Vilnius, Lithuania, on the 9th March 1911. She quickly showed an aptitude for music, and studied the violin with the distinguished Leopold Auer. At the age of only five, she was admitted to the prestigious Imperial Conservatory of Saint Petersburg, as their youngest ever student. She would often recall how she was so tiny, she stood on the table to play at her audition. Unfortunately, due to childhood malnutrition, and an injury sustained through overpracticing, Clara was unable to continue actively concertising on the violin.

It was when Clara and her sister Nadia Reisenberg took residence in New York that they witnessed a lecture-demonstration by Leon Theremin of his instrument. Clara and Nadia were both transfixed, and they both became regular visitors at Theremin's Studios. Clara showed a greater aptitude for the theremin than any other of Theremin's students. In the theremin, Clara saw an opportunity to play and concertise once more. Her years of classical training and musicianship put her in the best possible position to bring the instrument to a wider audience, and her unwavering professionalism meant she dedicated two years of her life to practice before she felt prepared for her first professional performance.

One of Rockmore's acheivements was to devise a system of 'Ariel Fingering', essentially a mixture of hand and finger positions devised in order to take the 'guesswork' out of playing the instrument, and aid speed of playing and navigation. This allowed her to perform pieces of a far greater difficulty level than other thereminists, and enabled the execution of fast passages, and large leaps without the glissando of the less skilled player.

Clara Rockmore contributed greatly to the development of the Theremin as a performing intrument in the early years. As the foremost performer, and consumate musician, she was able to understand more fully than anyone else at the time what limitations the instrument possessed, and how it may be possible to modify the design for the better. Having such a close relationship with Professor Theremin enabled her to suggest improvements to the range, stability, and attack of the volume antenna. Theremin built Clara her own, customised intrument that embodied her suggestions and improvements, and also worked very closely on the 'tone' of the instrument to ensure the theremin was the best that could be built.

Items & Reviews for Clara Rockmore

Lost Theremin Album

Theremin - An Electronic Odyssey


The Art of The Theremin
1 Review


The Swan
Song of Grusia
Clara Rockmore, commenting on Film Music and the Theremin
MP3 141 KB
Song of Grusia
MP3 1747 KB
Hebrew Melody

Related Articles

Concert Program (1936)
Miss Clara Rockmore Grants an Interview (1936)
New Instrument Heard (1937)
Clara Rockmore Theremin Recital (1938)
Miss Rockmore Gives Recital On Theremin (1938)
An Interview With Clara Rockmore (1967)
Clara Rockmore's Theremin (1989)
Robert Moog about the Theremin (1992)
Theremin Virtuoso Passes Unnoticed (1998)
Meeting Clara Rockmore (2001)

In Film

Theremin : An Electronic Odyssey


The USA Find out more about the Theremin in The USA


Mastering The Theremin
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A combined DVD of Moog's theremin videos - "Mastering the Theremin" with Lydia Kavina and "Clara Rockmore - World's Greatest Theremin Virtuosa"
Method for Theremin
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Download Clara Rockmore's Method for Theremin, newly revised by David Miller and Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson
Nadia Reisenberg / Clara Rockmore Foundation
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A tax-exempt foundation set up to enhance the legacy of Clara Rockmore, and her sister Nadia Reisenburg
Clara Rockmore Archives
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The Clara Rockmore Archives at the University of Maryland

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