Thursday, October 27, 2011

Clara Rockmore/Saint Saens - The Swan

Clara Rockmore (1911 - 1998) was a virtuoso player of the theremin, an electronic instrument. The theremin was invented and named by a Russian, Leon Theremin. The instrument was patented in 1928 and consists of two antennas connected to oscillators, a horizontal antenna used to control volume and a vertical antenna used to control pitch. The closer or farther away a hand was placed to these antenna determined the pitch and volume.  The antennas are not actually touched at all.  The widest use of the theremin has been for science fiction movies of the 1950's and 1960's, but there has been a resurgence of the instrument in rock music and avant garde music.

Clara Rockmore was a child prodigy on the violin and began studying at the St. Petersburg conservatory  at the age of five.  But due to malnutrition, she developed serious bone problems that prevented her from continuing her studies and playing the violin.
She discovered the theremin and worked with the inventor to make it a more precise instrument.  She developed an entire technique for the instrument, using her fingers to 'finger' the notes in the air.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921) was a French composer. he composed Carnival Of The Animals, a suite of pieces originally for a chamber group of instruments (a full orchestra version also exists) that musically depicts an assortment of creatures. It was composed in 1886 but Saint Saëns thought it might be too trivial and hurt his reputation as a serious composer.  He allowed only one of the vignettes to be published in his lifetime, The Swan.  The entire collection was published in 1922 after his death and remains a very popular composition.  The Swan is a melancholy song originally written for cello that depicts the legend that when a swan dies  it sings its sweetest song.  Clara Rockmore shows that the theremin can be an instrument of great expression and nuance, but it's a mystery to me how in the world she coaxes such sweet, ethereal music out if thin air.  It's magical.

Saint Saëns The Swan played by Clara Rockmore

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