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.
The rhythmicon, essentially the world’s first drum machine, built by Leon Theremin in the 1930s at the request and according to the concept of Henry Cowell. The rhythmicon, or “polyrhythmophone,” was designed to facilitate the execution of complex polyrhythms impossible for a single performer using conventional means. It works by projecting light onto photoreceptors; the rhythms are achieved by having the light pass through holes on discs which rotate at controlled speeds.