Weird, or wonderful? Rachmaninov played by Leon Theremin on his hands-free machine

Weird, or wonderful? Rachmaninov played by Leon Theremin on his hands-free machine


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2014



  • cabbagejuice says:

    Clara Rockmore, in my opinion, does a more musically and tonally developed Vocalise on the Theremin:
    A fine musican herself, Clara Reisenberg, studied violin at a young age as her sister Nadia who accompanies her in this recording, studied piano in Moscow.
    The two of them immigrated to the US and there were contacts with Theremin who came to demonstrate his instrument several times and on one occasion who proposed to Clara.
    The mystic qualities of the sound go very well with the quasi spiritual presentations and facial expressions of the performers.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Bayerischer Rundfunk broadcast a very interesting potted biography of Theremin the other day, including his work in the USA, producing and selling his extraordinary instrument as well as spying for the Soviets. When he suggested that Nazi Germany posed a much greater threat to the Soviet Union than the USA he was ordered back to the USSR and imprisoned in a Siberian labour camp in, I think, 1938. He received an award for his work while in prison but was only released and rehabilitated on Stalin’s death (or Prokofiev’s; you choose) whereupon he resumed his career with great success, but only joining the Communist Party a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Extraordinary story.

  • cabbagejuice says:

    Real cloak and dagger stuff, too. Lavinia Williams, the Afro-American ballerina, whom he married while in the US, claimed he was kidnapped by the KGB from New York and repatriated to Russia in 1938 (although it seems that his ancestry was originally German-French Hugenot).
    Besides being a pioneer of TV back in the 1920’s, “Theremin invented another listening device called The Thing.”
    This is hilarious: “Disguised in a replica of the Great Seal of the United States carved in wood, in 1945 Soviet school children presented the concealed bug to 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.” Wikipedia

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I would like to know what happened after they discovered The Thing in the US embassy. Did they let the Russian authorities know they discovered it? Did they leave it at the embassy but maybe in a place where it couldn’t pick up any conversations to frustrate the listeners on the other end? It would also have been funny if they had sent it back to the Russian (“we believe this belongs to you”).

  • Hank Drake says:

    Just as Liszt was a greater pianist than Cristofori, Clara Rockmore was probably the greatest Thereminist who ever lived.

    Robert Glinsky’s impeccably researched book, Theremin, Ether Music and Espionage makes it pretty clear that Theremin was left the United States to avoid prosecution for tax evasion.

  • Beckmesser says:

    I think you mean Albert Glinsky. But I agree completely that Clara Rockmore’s artistry was on a higher level. That said, hearing Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise on the theremin is no substitute for hearing it performed by a great singer.