The Theremin

schematical fuction of the theremin

The theremin was invented in 1919 and became the first electronic musical instrument that had a career in the XX-century and it is still the only instrument which can be played without any mechanical touching. The theremin-player moves his hands near two antennas. The proximity of the right hand to the vertical antenna changes the electromagnetic field thus changing the pitch of the sound over a six-octave range. Left hand controls the volume. Theremin's sound remembers sometimes the cello or violin, sometime the flute and often the human voice. The instruments circuit uses a beat frequency oscillator, in which an audible musical tone is derived from the beating between two high-frequency oscillators. The frequency of one of the oscillators is fixed. The frequency of the other is altered by the performer's proximity to the pitch antenna.


Leon Theremin


Lev Theremin plays the theremin in 1926 1896 Lev S. Theremin was born in St. Petersburg.
1919 He invented the theremin. He did entertaining demonstrations of the theremin and gave a lot of concerts all over Russia, Europe and USA.
1927-1937 He had a studio, students and organized production of his instruments in New York.
1938 He returned to Russia, where he was arrested for no apparent reason and imprisoned. After one year in Siberia he was moved to a labor camp at Omsk and later to Moscow, where a special center for scientists under arrest had been set up. Theremin worked there as a prisoner until 1947 and then as civilian until 1964.
1964 He went to the Acoustic Research and Tape Recording Department of Moscow State Tschaikovsky Conservatory.
1971 The last twenty years of his life Lev Theremin worked at the Acoustics Department in the Moscow Lomonosov University.
In the 1990s Lev Theremin was beginning to be rediscovered. He was invited to Bourges, Stockholm,USA, The Hague. S. Martin, an American filmmaker has created a documentary"Theremin - an Electronic Odyssey" in 1993.
1993 Leon Theremin died in Moscow

Lev Theremin in 1980, photo by S. Zorin, Moscow
Books and publications on Leon Theremin









"He was easygoing and humorous, while also soft-spoken and modest. His great idealism did not preclude his practical nature: he built his inventions with his own hands." L.K.


Most famous uses of theremin:
concert performance of Clara Rockmore in the USA and Konstantin Kovalsky in Russia
film music: "Lost weekend", Spellbound", "Ed Wood", "Mars Attack"
popmusic: Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Portishead
compositions by Edgar Varese, Alfred Schnittke, John Cage, Boguslav Martinu
use in the theater: "Alice" by Tom Waits and Robert Wilson
Lev Theremin and Constantin Kovalsky

link to more instruments