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Alexandra Stepanoff

A short biography of Léon Théremin’s first theremin student in the United States Alexandra Stepanoff.

Alexandra Stepanoff (photo courtesy of Alexander Breton).

Alexandra Stepanoff was one of Léon Théremin’s first theremin students in the United States. Formerly a concert singer, around the late twenties, she moved from Russia to New York, where, thanks to the local Russian community, she met Léon Théremin.

Stepanoff participated in the 1928 open-air concert at New York’s Lewisohn Stadium, as a member of the theremin quartet (formed, besides her, by Théremin himself, Julius Goldberg and the Russian emigrant Moissaye Olgin) that played along with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra.

From 1929 to 1930, being involved in the RCA marketing effort to “popularize the theremin as an instrument available to any unskilled person with a love for music but who is not trained in any instrument requiring years of study” (see Albert Glinsky, Theremin. Ether Music and Espionage, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2000, 101), Stepanoff gave presentations of the RCA Theremin at Radio Fairs.

In 1929, along with Zenaide Hanenfeldt (another immigrant from Russia to New York City, later to become George Gershwin’s secretary), she gave presentations four time a day at the RCA demonstration booth at the Boston Radio Exposition, playing “Mother Machree,” “The Pink Lady,” and “Because.”

In 1930, Stepanoff’s presentations at the eighth annual Chicago Radio Show were broadcasted over the NBC radio network and heard by twenty-six major cities from New York to San Francisco.

*Original photography caption: “The lovely Miss Stepanov, a trained musician, draws music from the air by means of the Theremin, while Dr. Paul R. Heyl explains the phenomenon before the science forum of the New York Electrical Society.”

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