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Born as Clara Reisenberg in Vilnius, Vilna Governorate (now Lithuania), Rockmore was a child prodigy on the violin and entered the Imperial conservatory of Saint Petersburg at the age of five. She studied violin under the virtuoso Leopold Auer, and remains to this day the youngest student ever to be admitted to the institution. Unfortunately, bone problems due to childhood malnutrition forced her to abandon violin performance past her teen years. That however led her to discover the newborn electronic instrument and become perhaps the most renowned player of the theremin.
Rockmore made orchestral appearances in New York and Philadelphia and amazed audiences in coast-to-coast tours with Paul Robeson, but it wasn’t until 1977 that she released a commercial recording called The Art of the Theremin. The album was recorded at the behest of Bob Moog and the record featured Rockmore performing with her sister Nadia Reisenberg, with whom she was accompanied at several of her concerts.
She died in New York City on May 10, 1998, at age 87. Though her health had been in rapid decline for almost a year she professed her determination to live to see the birth of her grandniece, who was born just two days later.
Rockmore's classical training gave her an advantage over the many other theremin performers of the time. She possessed absolute pitch, helpful in playing an instrument that generates tones of any pitch throughout its range, not just those defined by equal temperament. She had extremely precise, rapid control of her movements, important in playing an instrument that depends on the performer's motion and proximity rather than touch. She developed a unique technique for playing the instrument, including a fingering system, which allowed her to perform accurately fast passages and large note leaps without the much known portamento on theremin.
Rockmore saw limitations of the original instrument and helped to develop the instrument to fulfill her needs, and because of her close personal relationship with Léon Theremin, she was able to influence the design and evolution of the instrument, suggesting changes such as lowering the profile of the instrument so the performer is more visible, increasing the sensitivity of the pitch antenna, and increasing range from three octaves to five. .
By the time Rockmore was playing large scale public concerts such as New York City's Town Hall in 1938, she was becoming increasingly known for impressing critics with her artistry of the theremin during a time in which much of the general public had come to rather negative conclusions of what was possible on the instrument.
The Irish electro-pop band, The Garland Cult included the song "Clare Rockmore" on their 2007 album Protect Yourself from Hollywood.