For several years now I have been interested in electronic music, so I have decided to publish a series of brief articles in which I try to describe what in my view are decisive steps in the evolution of this kind of music, a story of entrepreneurial inventions and artistic imagination.

The Theremin

Among the various instruments that were developed in the first half of the 20th century the most notable was the THEREMIN, invented by Leon Termen in Moscow in 1917.

This instrument is the oldest electronic instrument still in use today. Two antennas, on top of the instrument, are used to control the height and volume of sound.

The one for controlling sound height is mounted vertically on the main body of the instrument: by bringing the right hand closer to this antenna you get a sharper sound and moving it away more severe. The volume control one is mounted horizontally on the main body of the instrument: bringing the left hand closer to this antenna the volume lowers and moving it away raises it.

Termen convinced Soviet scientists and Lenin himself, in 1921 he followed a triumphant European tour to promote this instrument and in 1927 arrived in New York where musicians such as Arturo Toscanini and Sergei Rachmaninoff were present at the first performance in which he performed with the New York Philharmonic. There he met Clara Rockmore (1911-1998) who would become the first virtuoso of the instrument.

Etherwave Theremin from Robert Moog’s kit

The sound?

The theremin uses the heterodyne principle to generate an audio signal. The instrument’s pitch circuitry includes two radio frequency oscillators set below 500 kHz to minimize radio interference. One oscillator operates at a fixed frequency. The frequency of the other oscillator is almost identical, and is controlled by the performer’s distance from the pitch control antenna. (from Wikipedia)