Composer and Theorist who wrote a number of works for theremin
plus electricity equals the sound of the 20th
- Joseph Schillinger, 1918
Another project Leon Theremin was involved in was the mechanical realisation of the ideas of the composer Joseph Schillinger.
Schillinger (1891 - 1943) left Russia in 1928, and settled in New York, where he taught music, mathematics, art history, and his own rhythmic theories at the New School for Social Research (NY University), and Columbia University Teacher's College.
In the 1920s and 30s, Schillinger devised a system of composition that reduced the elements of rhythm, melody, and harmony to 'geometric phase relationships', and in his theoretical writings he catalogued each conceivable permutation.
Eventually, he expanded this idea to orchestration, emotion in music, theatre,design, and the moving image.
It was Schillinger's experiments with complex rhythms that led him to Leon Theremin. These were realised on an instrument termed the 'Rhythmicon', which was constructed by Theremin to Henry Cowell's specifications.
This system of Schillinger's was taught to his private pupils, who included Tommy Dorsey, Vernon Duke, George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Oscar Levant, Eubie Blake, John Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, and Glenn Miller.
Despite Schillinger's grand ambitions, it is perhaps ironic that he doesn't employ the ideas in his own music, rather only in some classroom exercises and theoretical writings. We know that he collaborated with Mary Ellen Bute on an unfinished animation project.
His works for the theremin are detailed below.
A copy of the First Airphonic Suite by Schillinger is available in the Fleischer Music Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.1 From Dr. Mel Gordon's chapter "Songs From the Museum of the Future Russian Sound Creation (1910-1930)", published in Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde. Perhaps sourced from a 1920s German article on Soviet experimental music, the origin remains unclear.
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