Described by the press as “alien” and like “a fox let loose in a chicken shack,” the sounds of the Moog synthesizer filled MoMA’s Sculpture Garden during the final event of the 1969 Jazz in the Garden concert series.
[View of the concert performed by Robert Moog and the Moog Synthesizer, part of the Jazz in the Garden series, The Museum of Modern Art, August 28, 1969. Photographer: Peter Moore. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York]
Clara Rockmore (March 9, 1911 – May 10, 1998) was a pioneer in electronic music. Her artistry and technique on the theremin 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.
From a very early age, Clara was an accomplished young violinist but as it turned out, she eventually had to abandon the instrument because of chronic physical difficulties due to childhood malnutrition 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. 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 also had the advantage of working directly with Léon Theremin from the early days of the instrument’s commercial development in the United States.
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.
Clara Rockmore died in the spring of 1998 leaving a small but important legacy of her recordings which include The Art of 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.