In 1920, Russian engineer Leon Theremin put the finishing touches on an electronic musical instrument that was something of a forerunner of the synthesizer: the theremin. It consists of a box, which contains the electronics, and two antennas, one for controlling the pitch and the other the volume. To play the instrument, performers position their hands near the antennas, producing ethereal whisps of sound whose soft timbre approaches that of the human voice. Often heard in science fiction movies and rock concerts, the theremin has increasingly attracted the interest of modern-day composers.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the theremin’s invention, Quebec composer Simon Bertrand decided to illustrate in music key moments from its inventor’s extraordinary life.
“For me, the life of Leon Theremin is a formidable example of the 20th century ‘man of the world’ and his great innovations, but also of the pitfalls he is prone to.” – Simon Bertrand.
The concerto is designed as a musical reconstruction of Leon Theremin’s career. The melodic and harmonic material draws on masterworks of 20th century music by composers such as Berg, Ives and Vivier. A transformed quotation from Saint-Saëns’ Le cygne refers to one of the first tunes played by Theremin and Clara Rockmore when introducing the instrument to the United States. A few elements drawn from Russian music and film scores round out this most original portrait.
The Theremin Concerto is dedicated to Thorwald Jørgensen, the theremin virtuoso for whom Simon Bertrand composed La voix invisible in 2017.
© 2022 Florence Leyssieux
Translation by Craig Schweickert