A historical fiction about Theremin,
by Canadian author Sean Michaels
Etherial, haunting, otherworldly, the theremin is a relatively young and unique instrument. Invented by Leon Theremin, born Lev Sergeyevich Termen, in 1920 and patented in 1928 etherphone, thereminophone.
It as instrument that is played entirely without actually physically contacting the surfaces,
And because even after doing a bunch or reading and research on it, I can only comprehend snip-its of the scientific wizardry involved with how it works I’m going to let someone else walk us through. From the University of Youtube. Here is a brief, and the most straightforward although it still goes over my head at times explanation on how the Theremin does its thing.
So now, let’s talk a bit about the creator and it’s creation. The theremin was the product of Soviet government-sponsored research into proximity sensors. The instrument was invented by a young Russian physicist named Lev Sergeyevich Termen, after the outbreak of the Russian Civil war.
After a lengthy tour of Europe, during which time he demonstrated his invention to packed houses, Theremin moved to the United States, where he patented his invention in 1928. Subsequently, Theremin granted commercial production rights to RCA.
Although the RCA Thereminvox (released immediately following the Stock Market Crash of 1929) was not a commercial success, it fascinated audiences in America and abroad.
Let’s hear and see the man himself playing,
Another of Termen’s inventions was the Buran eavesdropping system. A precursor to the modern laser microphone, it worked by using a low-power infrared beam from a distance to detect sound vibrations in glass windows. In 1947, Theremin was awarded the Stalin prize for inventing this advance in Soviet espionage technology.
Theremin invented another listening device called The Thing, hidden in a replica of the Great Seal of the United States carved in wood. In 1945, Soviet school children presented the concealed bug to the U.S. Ambassador as a "gesture of friendship" to the USSR's World War II ally. It hung in the ambassador’s residential office in Moscow and intercepted confidential conversations there during the first seven years of the Cold War, until it was accidentally discovered in 1952.
In the spirit of intrigue and mystery here is the opening theme from British Crime Drama “Midsomer Murders” which features some very spooky Theremin.
One of the early adopters and highly celebrated Therminists?? was Clara Rockmore
Clara Reisenberg was born in Vilnius, then in the Russian Empire, to a family of Lithuanian Jews. After the October Revolution the family obtained visas and moved to the United States in 1921.
In America, Rockmore continued to study music, however As a teenager, tendinitis affected her bow arm, attributed to childhood malnutrition, and resulted in her giving up the violin. However, after meeting fellow immigrant Léon Theremin and being introduced to the theremin, she became its most prominent player. She performed widely and helped Theremin to refine his instrument.
Termin actually proposed to her at one point, but she turned him down. Probably for the best all in all as the espionage and spy vs spy stuff never turns out well. Termin did end up being sent to Butyrka prison, sent to work in the Kolyma gold mines, and then to a secret laboratory in the Gulag Camp system, he survived all this and was eventually rehabilitated, and lived to the age of 97, passing away in 1993.
Here is Clara Rockmore playing the familiar and beautiful Gershwin piece Summertime.
After a flurry of interest in America following the end of the Second World War, the theremin soon fell into disuse with serious musicians, mainly because newer electronic instruments were introduced that were easier to play. However, a niche interest in the theremin persisted, mostly among electronics enthusiasts and kit-building hobbyists. One of these electronics enthusiasts, Robert Moog, began building theremins in the 1950s, while he was a high-school student. Moog subsequently published a number of articles about building theremins, and sold theremin kits that were intended to be assembled by the customer. Moog credited what he learned from the experience as leading directly to his groundbreaking synthesizer, the Moog.
and so to wrap up our journey I was very pleased to find a very talented, modern young man who we can watch as well as listen to, because the movement and the sound of the mechanics of this instrument are so intriguing to me.
Grégoire Blanc started to play the theremin at the age of 15 after learning about its existence during a science lesson in high school. The very first contact with the instrument was a revelation after years of cello practise. Indeed, the process of picking notes in a free, “fretless” space is very similar.
In September 2019, following six years of intense scientific studies, Grégoire took a new turn to beat the frustration of too little time for music. Holding two Master’s Degrees, one from the leading French school of Arts and another one in sciences applied to music, he decided to pursue a career in music.
I hope he is holding on in this storm.
This was filmed for the 100 year anniversary of the invention the Theremin, here is "Clare de Lune" with Orane Donnadieu on piano.
What do we do?
Join us to be inspired by music from around the world, no preparation, prerequisites, or practicing required. I’ll read a short composer bio, highlight some historically relevant material or interesting context, we’ll listen to a piece of music, and then take the time to reflect on what we heard, ask questions, and explore.