“A lot of trial and error went into it, but the theremin saved my musical sanity by giving me an outlet in music.” — Clara Rockmore
Clara Rockmore (1911-1998) was a Lithuanian musician who became the most famous and accomplished performer of the electronic instrument, the theremin. As a child, Clara had been a violin prodigy, admitted to the Imperial Conservatory of Saint Petersburg at the age of five. Though she was poised for a life as a professional violinist, tendinitis in her bow arm (caused by childhood malnutrition) forced her to abandon the instrument. After her Jewish family fled Russia to live in America, Clara met another immigrant, Léon Theremin, who had invented the self-named theremin. With her refined violin skills, she became the most prominent theremin player, performing widely, bringing attention to the strange instrument, and helping Leon improve his invention. While the theremin is mostly known for spooky sounds used in vintage science fiction movies, under Clara’s control, it sounded like a classical stringed instrument or even a singing voice.