Childs Theremin project, major works, can you help?

Posted: 2/10/2007 1:17:55 PM

Joined: 2/10/2007

Hi, hope this is ok to come and ask here. My 12 year old son had to pick a musical instrument to investigate in depth, as a school project, chose the Theremin, and is now very hooked!

He's got into it in some depth, (has decided to build one, heaven help me) He's done a great deal of research, written up a good history from Termen to Moog, and explanation of Heterodyning (I'm learning fast to keep up!) and how to cause it, similar instruments etc, but is having some problems collating a list of major works written for it, and the disputes over modern useage, and is now running out of time.

He has a few, but would be very grateful for any more suggestions. Can you offer knowledge?
Posted: 2/10/2007 3:27:40 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Heheh. This kid sounds like something of bright spark. The major works of which I can think for the instrument are:

- Andrej Filippovic Pascenko's 'Symphonic Mystery' for Theremin and Orchestra
- Anis Fuleihan's Concerto for Theremin and Orchestra
- Josef Schillinger's 'First Airphonic Suite' for Theremin and Orchestra
- Bohuslav Martinu's 'Fantasie' [sic] for Theremin and Piano Quintet

There are other shorter works, but those are the longest, most substantial pieces of which I can think. I suppose the numerous arrangements of Miklos Rosza's compositions for 'Spellbound' (which include the 'Spellbound Concerto' for Theremin and Orchestra) might qualify, but to be honest, in the original film most of the melodic lines were scored for piano and orchestra, and in my opinion they sounded much nicer that way.
Posted: 2/10/2007 3:47:05 PM

Joined: 2/10/2007

Hi Charlie, thanks for responding. (Son is a bright spark, but shouldn't be let near gunpwder!) He's found those, and Edgar Varèse, but is having problems bridging the gap between pre '47 and the current generation, other than with sci-fi scores, possibly because there aren't to many others?
Posted: 2/10/2007 4:34:50 PM

From: Undisclosed location without Dick Cheney

Joined: 2/21/2005

Arti, that's about it: you could look for the records of Samuel Hoffman (some of which are available on CD), but I don't personally think they're major works, nobody performs them any more and few people listen to the records. Clara Rockmore's work is of course spectacular, but none of the short pieces on her available CDs were written for the instrument. There really *is* a gap between the 40's and the present, in terms of works for the instrument. Remember, the instruments were almost entirely unavailable for most of their history - just a few handmade instruments here and there, and the small number that were manufactured in 1929 by RCA. It's only in the past couple of decades that Moog Music has made Theremins available in significant numbers.

In your first message, I'm not sure what you meant by "disputes over modern usage". If you could clarify what you want to know about, I'm sure we could make some comment.

I wish your son the best with his construction project, as well as his school project, and I hope you'll encourage him to come to ThereminWorld to tell us how it goes and ask questions.
Posted: 2/10/2007 4:53:55 PM

Joined: 2/10/2007

Hi, thank you Tom.
Sorry I didn't put the 'disputes' very well, I'm refering to the Brian Wilson/ beach boys argument, which we think is a no, star trek, and Simpsons? (We know about Dr Who)

Thank you, I suspect he will need no encouragement to come asking questions, but it may be some time, as the componants will have to be got bit by bit.
Posted: 2/10/2007 5:28:28 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Your son has been caught out by Varese. 'Ecuatorial' does not use a Thereminvox. It was composed originally for two *fingerboard* Theremin cellos, thus I excluded it from my listing. In 'Ameriques' there's a part which Edgard rescored for Ondes Martenot, but it was originally for a siren, not theremin.

With regards bridging the gap, permit me to explain why your son is having difficulties. The classical age of the theremin pretty much died by the 1950s. In the 1920s, the theremin was seen as the astounding signifier of the 20th century's electrification and modernity; composers were keen to write music showing off it's glorious potential - the mood of the First Airphonic Suite for example is jolly, optimistic and exciting; it really promotes the idea that the theremin is an instrument that will change the world. In the 1930s, Fuleihan and Martinu wrote music that sought to integrate the theremin into the classical idiom as Lev Termen had originally intended (and indeed following the claims of the press that the theremin would 'replace the classical orchestra'). Such music relied on the existence of skilled players . . .

Lucie Rosen and Clara Rockmore were the foremost exponents in the 40s and 50s (Martinu wrote the Fantasie for Rosen, and Rockmore premiered the Fuleihan), but Rosen was seriously injured in the 1950s in a car crash which left her unable to play (unfortunately, contemporary reviews also reveal that Lucie was a pretty mediocre player) Rockmore's stage career peaked in the late 30s/ early 40s, but for whatever reason dissolved thereafter. Her 'Art of the Theremin' recordings were made in the 70s from her New York apartment long after she retired. Besides Hoffman (who used the theremin largely as a novelty) there were no sufficiently skilled thereminists in the USA (and certainly not in Europe) for whom major works could be composed.

Hoffman's style and the obscurity of the instrument lent weight to the whole sci-fi genre etc. etc. which is why so much of the material from the 40s fits neatly into that category - obviously the theremin was quickly usurped by synthesisers in the 50s, because they were cheaper to hire, easier to play and more widely available. They could also play more complicated melodies, and were more diverse timbrally. Post 'Music out of the Moon' (i.e post 1947), Hoffman secured no more major record deals, and even the perfume/moon series can't really be called Major. The Tannerin and synthesizers replaced Hoffman's skills, and he died not long afterwards.

Furthermore, by the late 1940s/50s, the dream that the Theremin would become another orchestral instrument was dead. There was no reason to write music in the old classical idiom - in fact, the old classical idiom itself was dying, or at least evolving away from concerti and chamber music.

The Theremin resurgence was slow, and Moog's instruments didn't really reach the eyes of many prolific composers. In Russia quite a lots of music was written in the 1980s/90s by the students of Lydia Kavina (and indeed by Lydia herself), but most of this falls into the realms of ephemera and marginalia.

The overruling fact is really that there've never been enough players for major works to develop. I do feel however that such discussion probably falls outside the realms of a 12-year-old's project (although I myself recall being equally precocious doing my school projects!) Listing the aforementioned pieces should suffice – maybe he could locate some recordings of them to play? Put a CD as an appendix?

Posted: 2/10/2007 6:44:18 PM

Joined: 2/10/2007

Thanks Charlie, that's brilliant and confirms the picture he’s presented, but makes much more sense of why.

Re 1947; He’s got Andrei Paschenko, Joseph Schillinger, Bohuslav Martinu Anis Fuleihan, Nicolai Berezovsky, Jeno Szanto, Friedrich Wilkens, Isidor Achron and Nicolas Slonimsky, as writing from 1924 up to 1947, and then the score for spellbound written by Miklos Rosza in 1947 and after that for a long time the Theramin being mainly for special effects .
(he has Varesse and Ecuatorial, down as written for Theremin cello, performed in 34, rewritten and adapted for an Ondes Martenot to be performed in 61. Next main performance by Lydia Kavina in 99, and in 2003 on new Theremin cellos made by Floyd Engels.)

I know what you mean about stretching it, but his teacher has supplied section titles, such as history, how it works, major works, conclusion, bibliography etc. I think she was assuming they'd all do things like violin and trumpet. TBH most of them wont do anything and his teacher probably wont do more than scan read his, but keeping him interested in stuff has to be a good thing.
Posted: 2/10/2007 7:00:02 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

What about that work performed by Pamelia Kurstin and pianist Makoto Ozone on the Etherwave Pro DVD?

Anyone know if that was an original work for theremin, or not?
Posted: 2/10/2007 7:32:32 PM

From: Undisclosed location without Dick Cheney

Joined: 2/21/2005

Brian Wilson / Beach Boys: we're quite certain it's a "no". Plenty is known about the instrument they used, which is known as a "Tannerin" today. (A similar instrument is presently manufactured under the name "Persephone".) Actually, if you can find the old movie of what we would today call the "music video" the beach boys originally made for the song, you can even see, superimposed in the background, a finger sliding around on the instrument during parts of the song.

Star Trek: It's singers, not a Theremin. You see, the song had lyrics other than "oooo", and since it was performed with singers, the studio had to pay the royalty to the lyricist even though the lyrics weren't used. The lyricist was Gene Roddenberry. The song has been performed on the Theremin (by Robby Virus and by Armen Ra), but not on any of the soundtracks of the Star Trek television shows or films.

The Simpsons, I'm not sure if we've resolved what that one is with certainty (anyone? anyone? bueller? bueller?) but I believe the producers have expressed their interest in someday learning the Theremin and that they wish they could have a real Theremin, so we're fairly sure it's not a Theremin.

And if you know about Doctor Who, you know it's not a Theremin, right? The song was originally put together by manually splicing together bits of tape of recorded tones, and later versions were performed on a synthesizer.

If your son wants to mention uses of the Theremin in media, the best examples are probably Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, and Robert Wise's The Day The Earth Stood Still. If you want more contemporary examples, three contemporary movies I can say with certainty used real Theremin are Ed Wood (Theremin by Lydia Kavina), Hellboy (Theremin by Robby Virus), and Monster House (Theremin by Charles Richard Lester).

What design have you and your son selected for him to build, that he has to gather components for? You do know there are several kits on the market, right? I'm all for the patience-building exercise of selecting an unusual design and collecting the parts and then putting it together, but I just want to make sure you know you can also buy a kit for about $80 and it'll include everything but the soldering iron. See my Theremin web pages ( for details. Should you do the Silicon Chip / Jaycar original design, please make certain to contact me so I can give you some additional info on making it a better instrument.
Posted: 2/11/2007 4:35:29 AM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Spellbound was written/recorded '45, the Spellbound Concerto was last performed by Hoffman in '64, 4 years before he died.

If you're *really* stuck, try this, but bear in mind that many are still terribly obscure. Those featured on Lydia's CD (check Amazon) are probably the most well-known the later theremin-specific works:

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