Paul Newham - Life and Work of Alfred Wolfsohn
 

The Life and Work of Alfred Wolfsohn

Alfred Wolfsohn was a German Jewish man who at eighteen years old suffered harrowing war trauma, following his service as a stretcher-bearer in the trenches of World War I.

For several years after the war, Wolfsohn suffered aural hallucinations of crying, screaming soldiers, which no treatment could alleviate. Wolfsohn's cure began when he started to sing out these inner sounds through spontaneous improvised singing. Years later, after escaping Nazi Germany and fighting for the British in World War II, Wolfsohn set up a singing studio in London. There, he evolved a therapeutic approach to singing lessons, influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, which was popular and radical at the time. In particular, Wolfsohn envisioned the possibility that the human voice could express in sound the various aspects of our character, comparable to the way dreams present them visually.

Inspired by this work, Paul Newham interviewed all those who had worked with Wolfsohn, and combined this material with all available written documentation, to produce this monograph. It follows the development of Wolfsohn's work from his early experiences in the trenches, to his death in 1962, a few weeks before Paul Newham was born.


Chapter 1: From Primal Scream to Boyhood

Alfred Wolfsohn was born in Berlin in 1896.

As a child he was, from the start, a loner – content without friends, fulfilled by his own thoughts and fantasies and uncomfortable when called upon to speak out in a group. His solitary and self-sufficient disposition was, no doubt, one of the two main factors which made him a prime target for harassment, bullying and victimisation as a child. The second factor was his Jewish creed.

In his manuscripts, Wolfsohn repeatedly describes himself as an exceptionally 'detached' person, an 'outsider' and an 'observer', and he traces this to his childhood experiences as a Jew. At school Wolfsohn was highly self-conscious of being Jewish; he was made to feel an outcast and was frequently ridiculed and persecuted.

In a letter which constitutes part of one of his manuscripts, he records:

Once, when I was a little boy, I went on a school holiday with the boys and masters from the school. I was the only Jew amongst them. What happened was a repetition of what had occurred so often before – I experienced the lonely feeling of the minority boycotted by the majority, the isolation of the individual up against the mass.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Being Jewish in Germany in the early nineteen hundreds, though less overtly precarious than it was to become by the mid-twentieth century, was still not the most secure of positions. At school Wolfsohn was ridiculed, taunted and berated, primarily for his Jewishness, and his meek, withdrawn and unsociable nature provided him with no defences.

This combination of the young Alfred's position as a victim of persecution at school, and his seeming inability to defend himself against it, led to a complex relationship with his father. The major event and self-proclaimed central achievement in the life of Mr. Wolfsohn senior was his valiant contribution as a rifleman to the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. Alfred was raised on stories about his father's bravery, stamina and necessary brutality; and like many fathers with a military background, Wolfsohn senior could not warm to his son's innate passivity and reticence when it came to retaliating against his aggressors. At the same time, however, his father was passionately sympathetic towards Alfred's position as a victim of anti-Semitism. Wolfsohn junior was caused to recollect:

My resistance towards war heroism probably sprang from a kind of opposition to my father, who had, with heart and soul, been a soldier. The 1870/71 war was the climax of his life. I had been over-fed with stories about it and, being of a somewhat different nature, it must have upset my stomach. On the other hand, there was something which my father impressed upon me which stuck forever: I should always try to prove that the prejudices against Jews are unjustified.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Wolfsohn was forever adamant, in his writings and in what he said to his friends and pupils, that the experience of being an outsider in an environment which at any one time in his life was, at best, tolerant of his creed, was instrumental in leading him to a deeper understanding of himself. On the subject of being an outcast he wrote:

I have learnt to regard this fate as my best and hardest school, to look upon the ever-recurring experience not as an excuse for self-pity but as a spur towards the education and development of myself as an individual.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

It was, originally, his father who instilled in Wolfsohn the awareness – even the self-consciousness – that he was Jewish and consequently separated from the masses. Because it was from his outcast position that Wolfsohn drew the fuel for his life's work, his father may therefore be credited with having made an indirect contribution to his son's later personal and professional journey.

However, it was also the relationship between the young Alfred and his father that contained the blue-print for the tension, the struggle for recognition and the battle for survival which Wolfsohn fought with the patriarchal society in which his adult years were spent. Because of their overtly different temperaments, Wolfsohn never felt he gained the approval and acceptance of his father. The helpless and unfulfilled attempt to gain it was to be transferred to his struggle for professional recognition by a cynical and disapproving array of surrogate fathers in the form of journalists, musicians, scientists and psychologists, culminating in what Wolfsohn saw as rejection by Jung himself. It was only really months before his death that Wolfsohn received the blessing he had always sought, when a famous Jewish laryngologist acknowledged the significance of his research.

Whilst Wolfsohn's relationship with his father was one of tension and struggle, his mother was, by comparison, much less demanding, more introverted and a source of comfort and assurance. Wolfsohn remembered his mother's meekness as clearly as he recalled his father's fiery temperament, and it would be her protective interventions that would stave off the tension between father and son and prevent them from erupting into uncontrollably volatile exchanges.

But, most importantly, it is in relation to his mother that Wolfsohn records his first reference to the human voice.


Chapter 2: A Vocal Calling


There are two recorded childhood experiences which Wolfsohn identified as having first brought his attention to the significance of the human voice. Both of them occurred when he was an infant.

The earliest one is recorded in an undated, hand-written fragment entitled The Biography of an Idea, written some time between 1920 and 1936:

My earliest childhood memory is how I, as a very small child – almost still a baby – laughed when my mother sang a certain song to me. She would tell me how I never stopped begging her again and again to sing me this song, and how any time she wanted to get me to sleep, she only had to sing it and I would fall asleep. All I remember of this song are four lines:
Then all the little angels laughed,
Hee-hee, hee-hee-hee; hee-hee, hee-hee, hee-hee.
And Peter fell in with their joy,
Ho-ho, ho-ho-ho; ho-ho, ho-ho-ho.

There is no doubt for me that in this earliest childhood memory the latent idea made its first appearance for the first time – the idea that there exists a universal human voice of much broader circumference than has hitherto been imagined.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Biography of an Idea. Germany, undated

The second recorded reflection was written as part of Die Brücke, a manuscript of letters composed and compiled during 1947. It is in this fragment that we hear the seriousness of, and gain an insight into, Wolfsohn's perceptions of the darker sides of life for which, as a teacher, he was to become so respected by others who had suffered adversity:

As a small boy I slept in the room next to my parents' bedroom. One night I awoke and heard screams coming from their room, screams of different natures – the one a passionate moaning which must have come from my father, the other my mother's voice, a painful, groaning whimper. It would be quite impossible for me to reconstruct in detail my reactions at the time. I only remember one thing clearly: I guessed that my parents were together. Even to this day I can see myself sitting up in bed stiff with terror, anxiously listening to the noise, tense from head to foot. This incident has never paled in my memory; the sound of the screams has never dimmed in my ears.
Maybe this impression would not have taken such deep roots in me had I not been forced to hear endless variations of my mother's screams during the war. In later years when this childhood memory came back to me, I could not help imagining that I had been procreated amidst just such a discord of screams. It was this thought which helped me towards a deeper understanding of myself and of the intricate disharmonies within me. It became increasingly clear to me that out of the depths of my parents' souls something, determined by them in their cries, had emerged... Without any doubt the incident became decisive for my development.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Wolfsohn's record of 'the endless variations of my mother's screams during the war' refers to the experiences he underwent during the Great War of 1914–1918 which precipitated his later work on the human voice.


Chapter 3: War


At the outbreak of the war Wolfsohn, at that time seventeen years old, was called to serve as a soldier in the front-line trenches, serving on both the French and the Russian borders with Germany.

During this time, Wolfsohn became both horrified and fascinated by the emotive sounds of suffering which the adverse conditions elicited from the voices of dying and wounded soldiers. Twice he recorded in detail the significance of these vocal sounds in his manuscripts.

Firstly:

We had to carry wounded soldiers on stretchers to the first-aid post. The very first mission was really heart-rending; we had to carry a very young boy with a serious abdominal wound. He was still conscious and cried in agony with every movement we made. He screamed and screamed and called for his mother. This was the most awful thing – we were so helpless, nobody really knew what to do. The first-aid lance corporal tried to fix a bandage, but it didn't help. Eventually we had to put the stretcher down; we could stand the screaming no longer. Then suddenly I felt compelled to take the young man's head in my hands and stroke it gently. A genuine, burning desire gave me strength to concentrate to my utmost.
Oh, don't think this feeling was motivated by Christian charity! I had suffered too much to retain a belief in the blessings of religion. Hell was in me, not heaven – hell. A playground of agonies, I was dead yet still alive, my soul lost. I had become hard, insensitive. All the time we were carrying him, I could not stop thinking: 'He is so young'. Strangely enough, it did not occur to me that I was only two years older; because he had only just come to the front I felt an old hand compared with him.
He screamed for his mother like a small child. I think this got me most of all. Why oh why butcher these children? This horror strengthened me, and convinced me that at least one person must take a stand against this child-butchery.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Wolfsohn was little more than a child himself when this experience occurred; the German government of the era enlisted many boys barely out of adolescence to work as riflemen, medical aids and stretcher-bearers in life-threatening conditions – few of whom survived to see their adult years. Wolfsohn was therefore amongst the minority in that he lived to record his experiences. In addition, his records were also quite original in drawing attention to the shocking vocal sounds heard from dying and wounded soldiers.

In the years following the war, much was written about the acoustic assault which soldiers of the Great War battles had endured. But this was almost always concerned with the noise of canon fire, gun shots and explosions, which caused deafness, neurological disorder and psychological breakdown amongst many of the fighting artillery. Wolfsohn's concern was with the equally intense human acoustic response to the experience of pain.
In the second reference to vocal sound in his manuscripts, he records:

We are now in a foreign country. Here in this foreign country are trenches; trenches are everywhere. I am living in these trenches. Every now and then the darkness of the night is lit up by very bright lights, strange stars made by man. Shells burst right and left.
I throw myself on the ground, my hands clawing the earth. Often, someone next to me is hit. Each time I am astonished that I have been spared!
Once I sink down in a trench – I sink into the mud. My comrades, like phantoms in the darkness, pass me by and do not help me. I am stuck in the morass and I am alone. Everything depends on my army boots – they have become my greatest enemies, for they hinder me in every movement. I rip open the sides of my boots with my bayonet and begin to crawl on all fours.
Barrage all around me. The guns from which it is coming are manned by four or five Frenchmen. I don't know where they come from, I don't know who they are. They don't even know how easily they could kill me. They have to take a certain stretch of earth under fire. It's no good shouting: 'Jean-Baptiste – Maurice – Pierre – I have done you no wrong, what do you want from me?' I keep crawling.
The hours pass. The firing is getting stronger and my peril greater. I pray to God but He doesn't hear me. From somewhere I hear a voice shouting: 'Comrade! Comrade!' I close my eyes shaking with terror, thinking: how can a human voice utter such a sound, a voice in extremis!

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

In addition to the voices he heard from other soldiers, he was also aware that his own suffering and fear caused him to use his voice in a way which fascinated him. Speaking to himself in the third person he wrote:

Do you remember how on several occasions you were in immediate danger of death? Each time you let out a soft little cry in a high-pitched child's voice. You were amazed to hear this voice and tried to analyse its reactions in the face of death.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Although the general occurrence of these incredible vocal utterances, this 'voice in extremis', elicited in the face of death on a daily basis fascinated him, there were two particular incidents which Wolfsohn recorded as the most formative. The first was the occasion on which he believed he came the closest to death. Again, speaking of himself in the third person, he wrote:

I have not forgotten all you told me about the most decisive experience of your life. It was during the first war. You lay helpless in the marshy trenches buried so deep in the mud you could not move. There followed the most bitter sounds of agony, a fight of life and death whilst the barrage went on over your head. You were unable to act, you could only hold still. In your death agony all you could do was to howl loudly, 'What have I done to deserve this? I am innocent, I am innocent! I have been raped!' As men had abandoned you there was only God left to whom you could turn, to whom you could speak – and you did not mince matters: you cursed Him, you accused Him, instead of submitting to your fate. I do not have to rub it in; many men are subject to such martyrdom. Then a so-called miracle happened! Your life was saved – or rather I should say, your existence was saved; after all, you fought for your existence, not for your life...
The breakdown of the illusion of comradeship had cut you to the quick; you had shouted in vain for help from the luckier comrades who had escaped unharmed from the hell of the foremost trenches, driven only by the thought of saving their own skins. No one had listened to you and you were left stuck in the mud, wriggling like a fish thrown onto dry land. At that time you swore never to do what your comrades had done; you thought you could be an exception.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Wolfsohn, horrified by this experience of being abandoned, was determined not to leave any of his comrades in their hour of need and he wrote:

All I know is that I, in the bitter agony of death, was once forsaken by men. I must not do likewise.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

However, Wolfsohn later found himself doing exactly what he did not want to do. He heard a comrade calling for help but did not attempt to save him. He records the experience as follows:

The year was 1917. We were entrenched somewhere at the front – we did not know where – under heavy bombardment. At long last came the relay. Heavy rain had turned the trenches into swamps of mud and in a short while I became trapped in it. I called to my comrades for help, but no one heard, and soon I was quite alone. Hour after hour, inch by inch, I crawled back. After a while I heard a voice nearby moaning incessantly, 'Help, help, help'. I fought a terrible struggle with myself: should I try to crawl to him or not? I did not do it. After an agony of more than twenty hours I reached a reserve dugout. I do not remember what happened after that, except that I learnt later I had been hit and buried by a grenade, and I awoke the next morning in the cellar of a house in St. Quentin, amongst a heap of corpses.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Problem of Limitations. London, 1958

Although rationally Wolfsohn knew that had he returned in an attempt to save his comrade he would surely have been killed, the incident nevertheless left him consumed by a deep sense of guilt.


Chapter 4: The Pain and the Damage


Like thousands of others, Wolfsohn returned from the war in a state of mental anguish and suffering. He recorded that:

After the First World War I was sick for many years. I had not only seen but had experienced every kind of human torture and disgrace of which mankind is capable.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Further, he stated:

Although I got away with my life, I died all the same, and walked around as a living corpse.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Wolfsohn was diagnosed as suffering from 'war neurosis' and 'shell-shock' he was hospitalised in Berlin for a short period, where he received psychiatric consultations and hypnosis and was frequently tranquillised with drugs.

In addition to the miserable and barren time he had during this period of hospitalisation, Wolfsohn resented the terms 'war neurosis' and 'shell shock'.

He felt that the terms deprecated and minimised the severe experiences which he and his comrades had suffered. He wrote:

I see myself in the consulting room of a psychoanalyst. I have been sent to him in the hope that he perhaps can cure me from the after-effects of my having been buried alive during the war, a fact which has made me unable to execute a job or a profession for any length of time.
I say to the doctor: 'May I tell you what I believe myself to be suffering from?' And I speak of my war experience. During the second consultation I respond to his questions in the following manner: 'I have heard from your colleague who has sent me to you that the medical name for my illness is 'war neurosis'. I cannot argue against the correctness of a medical term, but from my point of view I have the following objection: do you call it an illness when a man is tortured physically and psychically not just for a little while but for four years, and who in response rages and screams and falls into convulsions?'

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask .Germany, 1936–1938

For Wolfsohn, the word 'neurosis' did not sum up the magnitude of his state. In addition to this objection, Wolfsohn was adamant that his illness was due to the deep sense of guilt instigated by the failure to save his comrade. Marita Günther, who became his student in 1949, and who is now guardian of his estate, records that, though his doctors grouped Wolfsohn with many others suffering from the after effects of war:

In his own mind, however, he had no doubt that his illness arose from an intense feeling of guilt. He had denied help to someone who had cried out for it. He was sent to doctors and psychiatrists who tried to argue him out of it, for, had he crawled to his comrade, both would have drowned in the mud for certain.

Marita Günther, The Human Voice: On Alfred Wolfsohn, 1990

Further fuelling his guilt was a deeper and more general sense of having made what he considered to be 'general murderous contributions' to the war. He records an event which occurred toward the end of the first world war:

I was stationed on the Russian front. A gas attack was planned and we received orders to take the gas canisters to the front line. The attack was a complete success; when we stormed the trenches we found every soldier dead and all other living things therein dead also. I could have silenced my conscience by telling myself that I had only carried out orders like thousands of others; but deep inside I would always be conscious of the fact that I had done my share of increasing the stink in the world.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

In the year following the war, Wolfsohn's illness worsened. He suffered continual headaches, his limbs were weak, he experienced intermittent muscular spasms, found breathing difficult and painful and suffered from frequent bouts of bronchitis. In addition, the cold, damp, harsh conditions of the trenches had left his joints stiff and inflexible.

But more daunting than all of this was his concern with the way that his mental anguish and trauma affected his senses. For, during this period, Wolfsohn became plagued by aural hallucinations of the extreme vocal sounds which he had heard in the trenches. Alone in his hospital bed, in a bubble of blurred vision and loneliness, Wolfsohn's ears and head rang with cries, groans, screams and yells – a tragic and cacophonous recapitulation of those voices which he had heard catapulting forth from the throats of dying and wounded men. Paula Salomon-Lindberg, the opera singer who gave Wolfsohn his first position as a singing teacher after the First World War, records:

He spoke of the memory of his inner world becoming bombarded, like a mine field of terrible plaguing sounds. Sometimes I think he was frightened to close his eyes it was so real. Mainly it was the voice of his comrade that he could hear, and he blamed himself for having not tried to save him. Of course, he was better when I knew him but I know that the memory was still very much alive.

Paula Salomon-Lindberg, Interview with Paul Newham. Amsterdam, 1981

Wolfsohn became further convinced that the hallucinated voices continued to sound in his mind despite prolonged medical treatment to ensure that he would not forget the 'murderous contribution' he had made.

The one fortunate aspect to Wolfsohn's illness was its intermittent nature. Periods of intense hallucination and bodily pain were relieved by short periods of relative peace and stillness. During such periods, Wolfsohn gathered the resolve and found the mental faculty to examine the idea that his illness was the result of a complex interconnection between the psychological and the physical.

Whilst in hospital, Wolfsohn was able to obtain and read some of Freud's early pre-psychoanalytic writings and made the acquaintance of a few members of the clinical staff who seemed to be informed about the development of psychoanalysis. For Wolfsohn, the most appropriate aspect of this new science, as he understood it at the time, was the concept of catharsis – the release of 'bottled up' and 'unabreacted' energy and the consequent relief of somatic symptoms.


Chapter 5: In Search of a Freudian Catharsis


Freud's claim to have cured what he considered to have been a physical injury caused by psychic damage left Wolfsohn with a firm belief in a connection between psychic and physical illness. He wrote:

I am sure that it is possible for psychical injuries to cause the same bodily illnesses as physical ones...psychical bachili undermine the body in the same way as the so-called real ones.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Wolfsohn gives a remarkable example of an incident that occurred later, after the Second World War, which affirmed this belief:

After my discharge from the army, a swelling gradually came up on the right side of my face between my ear and my neck. I took no notice of it at first as it it did not cause me any pain, but gradually it grew so large I was advised to have it removed. The operation was in Amsterdam. It was not as simple as I had been led to believe. At the end, the surgeon removed the towels from my face, and I can still see the enormous, bloody growth he held up for my inspection.
I saw myself many years before in the First World War, wounded, bleeding, forsaken by my comrades, crawling inch by inch through the muddy swamps, looking death in the face as the barrage blazed around me, cursing God and life in my agony. I finally found some shelter and lay there exhausted. A few minutes later a young soldier came dancing in mad circles towards me. He stopped and stared at me. 'How can this man still be alive?' I asked myself aghast as I looked into his face. The right lower half of his face was non-existent – there was just a gaping hole. The next minute I lost consciousness. The shelter had been shelled. I awoke to find myself amongst a heap of corpses in a field dressing station; the soldier's face was before me. I uttered a terrible cry!
A strange thought interrupted my immediate contemplation of the relation between the 'face' and the young soldier. Could the shock of seeing the soldier's torn face have caused my growth? I was at the lowest possible ebb in every way, after struggling through hell – what if the psychic injury I received at that time had gone on festering? What if my experiences of the Second World War had been transformed from psychic into physical injury? The constant air-raids, the continual bomb explosions, life in miserable quarters devoid of protection against mortal dangers – were not these horrors during the last phase of the Second World War a continuation of the extreme terror epitomised in the field dressing station of the First War? After all, what was my most shattering impression of World War II? I was sitting in a bus full of children; suddenly a bomb exploded. The bus stopped abruptly. I saw the terror of those children, the horror, the incomprehension, the silent accusation against the attack on their life; I saw all this and raved inwardly. 'Why the children?' I screamed silently. 'Why them?' What is the difference between seeing this and the insanely dancing soldier with the mutilated face or the other young boy soldier with the belly wound, whom I held in my arms?
I thought of what my doctor had said when he reported the result of the cancer test: he smiled as he told me that the growth on my face was most unusual, that it normally appeared only in the female breast. Was this not another indication that my assumption was correct, that the growth was the physical result of a psychic injury?

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

It was this sense of having suffered a psychic injury which was expressing itself as a body wracked with pain and an inner voicescape of terrifying sound, which engaged Wolfsohn during the period towards the end of his hospitalisation. He felt he had been forced to 'bottle-up' and retain enormous quantities of emotional excitation in the trenches and that his psyche had become saturated with the affects of terror and of guilt which he had never been able to express. He described himself as having had to 'lie dumb' while the torment went on around him. Wolfsohn wondered whether his aural hallucinations and the accompanying headaches were an expression of this accumulated energy, and considered how he might give himself a 'second chance' to 'complete his reaction' and 'let off steam', as Freud had put it.

However, having found neither the various talking cures nor the prescribed drugs of any use, Wolfsohn wanted to find an alternative method. Marita Günther records that, finding the treatment of medical psychiatry to have been of no help, Wolfsohn 'came to the conclusion that it finally depended on him to find the cure for his illness'. In this connection, he remembered an incident which had occurred when he was a child and which he recorded as follows:

I see myself at the seaside, for the first time after many years. I am alone on an evening stroll. I no longer remember what kind of evening it was, whether the sea was calm or whether big waves were washing ashore. What kind of sunset? What colour was the sea? What I can still feel in my very sinews is the wind blowing up against me, setting my body in motion, making me dance and do wild leaps, making me utter words and elicit ecstatic screams the origin of which was unknown to me; making me sing from my innermost being.
Coming to myself again I feel a strange sensation of shame. I can't comprehend how my usually stiff body has been able to let go and sing out in such a strangely wondrous way.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

Inspired by the memory of this incident, Wolfsohn became engaged by the possibility of a catharsis that might relieve him of his mental turmoil. The specifics of his plan involved the notion that he might be able to replicate the vocal sounds which he had heard in the trenches and which now haunted his inner world, and in so doing embody them, express them and disperse them.

In his attempt to put this notion to the test, Wolfsohn decided that what he needed was not a therapist or a doctor, but a singing teacher. And, as Marita Günther states:

Wolfsohn's inner healing process began when he decided to take singing lessons.

Marita Günther, The Human Voice: On Alfred Wolfsohn, 1990


Chapter 6: In Search of a Singing Soul


So, earning his money from a variety of jobs – which included rent-collector, bank teller, piano player for silent movies and cantor at synagogue funerals – he went in search of teachers.

Wolfsohn despaired at the approaches to vocal work which he found amongst German singing teachers. He felt that their relentless attention to the throat had little to do with singing – though at this stage he could not articulate why. He recorded:

I see myself in a singing lesson. I have been on a long journey and I am now singing to a well known singing teacher in order to be tested. The well known teacher tells me that I possess beautiful material and that with sufficient training the study will be worthwhile. The sufficient training of my voice consists of three half-hour periods a week, of which ten minutes are spent talking. The teaching is based on a particular method and the voice is trained to use Caruso's glottal stop technique.
At home I am allowed to practice extensively – 'ho-oh' and 'fu-fu' – to which end I retire to a certain quiet place, partly out of consideration for my family, partly because of the well known and favourable acoustics there which unfailingly convince a young singer that his voice sounds marvellous.
In the struggle between me and my larynx the latter, being the wiser of us, gives in. It simply refuses to utter anything but strong sounds and tells me through passive resistance – spelt hoarseness – that things can't go on like this.
Thereupon I consult another well known singing teacher who tells me that the way I am using my voice is absolutely impossible and the method I have followed completely wrong. He tells me that I possess beautiful material and with sufficient training the study will be worthwhile.
The sufficient training of my voice consists of three half-hour periods a week, of which ten minutes are spent talking. I am not allowed to practice at home; instead I sing the same vowels, scales and vocal exercises in every lesson and all I learn in three years are two arias and ten songs which I do not master.
Nevertheless, I am very grateful to both my teachers. Both kindled a certain belief in myself, both gave me hope. I am grateful to my first teacher because he did let me shout. Albeit unintentionally, he allowed me – who had suppressed my real vocal strength and who had suffered from this dumbness – to sing full out.
I am grateful to my second teacher because he did teach me a certain technique which stood me in good stead – although he himself was never quite sure of its validity or even its correctness.
Again, I am grateful to both of them for teaching me how not to do it and thus pointing out problems to me, the solution for which completely new ways would have to be found – new ways which would not only be relevant to singing but to the problems of human nature in general.
I began my search by following a certain line of thought. I said to myself: you have had a voice which, judging by the effect it has had on other people, could have rightly led you to believe that you could become a good singer. You are musical, artistically not ungifted, you have the drive and the concentration necessary for such a career. Yet you have not in the remotest way achieved what seemed possible and what, to a certain extent, you have seen happen in others. Why? Why did you not achieve your aim? My answer: you have not been able to find the right teacher who could have guided you. You have encountered people who used their method on you, a method mainly focused on the larynx which is an organ that confounds doctors to this very day, as is shown by its malfunction during a common cold. How to make a sound is still a mystery which no one has yet solved. This is a fact we should not forget.
Experts know and point out that the singer, unique amongst reproductive artists, has the task of using his own body as an instrument, in contrast, let us say, to the violinist or pianist who finds his instrument concretely outside himself and therefore at his disposal independently of his inner physical or psychic state of being.
To build a good instrument is an art in itself. Violin-builders to this day muse over where the secret of a Stradavari or an Amati lies.
Voice-producers and singing teachers seem to have no need of that as they are apparently in possession of the one and only foolproof recipe! This in turn gives the ardent young singing student assurance that his teacher knows all the secrets of the trade which he only has to learn in order to himself become an accomplished singer.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

This typifies the frustration which Wolfsohn felt in his search for a way into himself via the voice. Günther records that he:

...found a singing teacher who let him shout out his agony; then another teacher who didn't let him shout. Over and above, they made him do scales and exercises, which in his mind brought him not much further...he sensed that there must be another way of exploring vocal possibilities, another and more dynamic way of bringing out a voice.

Marita Günther, The Human Voice: On Alfred Wolfsohn, 1990

In response to his frustration and disappointment, and his recognition that none of his singing teachers were adequately equipped to deal with the strength of his mission and the overwhelming burden of his mental state, Wolfsohn supplemented the lessons with a process of individual investigation. He began to work upon himself, training his voice to go a little higher and a little lower day by day, fuelled by the belief that:

There exists a universal human voice of much broader circumference than has hitherto been imagined.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Biography of an Idea. Germany, undated

Through this process, Wolfsohn discovered that his voice was capable of a range of tonal qualities far in excess of anything even he had imagined, and he heard himself make sounds both higher and lower than the extreme ends of the grand piano, which he used as a measure. Moreover, he realised that his voice could express an extensive collage of emotions, moods and characters which embraced not only the dark and agonising sounds of suffering but those of the utmost joy and pleasure. The excitement which his experimentation generated fuelled him more and more and, within several years, Wolfsohn's illness and its physical manifestations were alleviated. Paula Salomon-Lindberg says:

He spoke of this as his 'oral exorcism'; by getting his own voice to go through all these extreme sounds that he had heard, he thought he was bringing about a catharsis, a release. Well, who knows if he was right, but it certainly cured him, or so he believed.

Paul Salomon-Lindberg, Interview with Paul Newham. Amsterdam, 1991

There was something else which occurred within Wolfsohn during this period of soulful self-searching: he regained some faith in both God and his fellows, facilitated in no small measure by his growing acquaintance with a group of Quakers.

As a child it had been his mother rather than his father who had instilled in him a certain reverence for God, and his struggles with spirituality preoccupied him in his early teens. Of his youthful relationship with God he wrote:

I contemplated God, the God of my forefathers, the God of Moses. How well I remembered the headaches this God caused me in my youth; how he chased me, made me ill, what restlessness he created in me! I thought I would go mad at times. I wanted to love Him so much, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my being. But what does a child know of heart or soul or being, not to mention love?

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

The experiences of the First World War seriously depleted Wolfsohn's faith and what had been a youthful search and struggle for belief and understanding became a bitter sense of having been abandoned by the very God whom he had once struggled to love.

How could one love when one was hated, so it seemed, by this merciless master? He did not hear me when once, in the most bitter distress of my life, I called for Him in the agony of death...For someone like me who, from the First World War, had lost all concepts of home or homeland, this realisation held the deepest meaning. When I returned from the war to the peace and home of my family, I remained a wanderer in the desert. For me the experience of war culminated in those terrible hours when I was forsaken by men, when God forsook me too, even though I prayed for help. I cursed him. I ceased believing in Him. It seems that when I lost Him I lost everything, myself included.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

However, as though by some divine intention that his faith in a God of some kind was intended to be rekindled, Wolfsohn became associated with a small group of Quakers who, in the destitute aftermath of the Great War, shone a light on Wolfsohn's shadowy soul and assisted him in rescuing his spirituality. He records:

While I was studying in Berlin after the end of the First World War, I daily ate a meal prepared by the English Quakers – enemies of yesterday. Never have I forgotten, nor will I cease to be grateful to, these people who showed me and my fellow students that it is possible to give the word 'human' a higher meaning than just 'living object'. Their attitude reawakened my belief in mankind, a belief that had been shaken to the utmost by the experiences of war.
What was the effect upon my fellow students? They did not learn from it. I even venture to say that some of them had successful careers as S.S. men. To me it does not seem sufficient that at least one of them, in this case me, understood with thankfulness the Quakers' actions.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947


Chapter 7: The Early Teaching


Having regained both his sanity and a sense of faith in God, Wolfsohn began to search for opportunities to investigate further the idea that singing might act as an aid to psychological discovery.

Having been denied the opportunity for professional training by the untimely outbreak of the First World War, Wolfsohn found it difficult to find a context for his work. His lack of professional status also made him highly vulnerable in the face of the growing anti-Semitic attitude of those around him, for Jews who were not ensconced in a state-recognised profession were the first target for harassment in the early thirties.

An important Jewish figure at that time was Dr. Kurt Singer, founder of the Kulturbund Deutscher Juden, the Jewish Cultural Association, promoting Jewish art and culture. Singer was a formidable and prolific man: a physician, psychiatrist, hypnotist, professor, director of the Berlin Municipal Opera, and much published musicologist.

Singer's mission was to answer anti-Semitism with massive Jewish attention to the arts, he continually visited the government, the police, the Gestapo and convinced the Nazis to permit a separate creative space, a kind of haven for Jewish artists where they could perform for an exclusively Jewish public in community centres, in synagogues, and sometimes in private homes. He also said that these arts would help Jews wake up from what he described as widespread depression and isolation.

Singer was deeply involved in the politics of the arts and its funding strategies. He had been successful in attracting sponsorship money from abroad, especially from America, and was regarded highly by Goring despite the latter's fundamental stance against the Jewish race.

Like many others, Wolfsohn went to this reputed saviour and entrepreneur in the hope of finding a professional position; but Singer could find no place for this unusual man. He did, however, put Wolfsohn in touch with Paula Salomon-Lindberg, a renowned Jewish opera singer and teacher with whom Singer had a very close relationship. In fact, Singer had hoped that Salomon-Lindberg would be his wife and had suffered distress and disappointment when, in 1930, she decided to marry someone else. Nonetheless, they continued an intimate friendship, playing music and singing together and sharing an acute political commitment to resisting the growing anti-Semitism at all costs. When Singer contacted Salomon-Lindberg requesting assistance in helping Wolfsohn, she responded with enthusiasm and compassion:

I remember him telling me that he had a most unusual man, a little strange, not easy to disguise or hide...that he could do nothing with him, he had no space and no use for Wolfsohn who had no real skills. Singer said this man kept talking, talking, talking all the time about the voice. Well, I said I would see him and try to offer some shelter, to keep him occupied in some way. This man was Alfred Wolfsohn.

Paul Salomon-Lindberg, Iinterview with Paul Newham. Amsterdam, 1991

It was then, in 1933, that Salomon-Lindberg gave Wolfsohn a job teaching singing to some of her younger students, and this enabled him to embark on the process of passing on to others the results of his own investigations.
Between 1936 and 1938 Wolfsohn spent almost every day at the home of Paula Salomon-Lindberg and her husband Professor Albert Salomon, a talented and respected surgeon. And it was during this period that three major processes unfolded.

Firstly, Wolfsohn wrote a manuscript for a book entitled Orpheus, oder der Weg zu einer Maske (Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask). In this manuscript, which has never been published, he weaves together his autobiography with his views on life, music, painting, birth, death and, ultimately, the overcoming of suffering.

Secondly, he forged an intense and magical relationship with Charlotte, Professor Salomon's daughter by his first marriage. Charlotte Salomon was sixteen years old when Wolfsohn came to the household in 1933. She was a unique individual, prone to long pperiods of deep depression during which she questioned the significance of her existence so deeply that sustaining her life often seemed futile to her. Her real mother had, unbeknown to her, committed suicide when Charlotte was nine years old; Charlotte had been told that her mother died of influenza. Wolfsohn became Charlotte's first love – indeed, he was her idol; she worshipped him as a father, a lover, a teacher and a spiritual emissary. She was a highly gifted painter and Wolfsohn spent many hours nurturing her belief in the significance of her life and in the worth and value of her paintings. In fact, it was only her art that saved her from an all-consuming melancholia.

But the third and most important process of that period occurred in response to Wolfsohn's recognition that the only way to further develop his investigation into the voice was by taking on his own students and experimenting with what he had learnt – that:

The voice was capable of expressing itself over a much wider range, emotionally as well as dynamically.

Marita Günther, The Human Voice: On Alfred Wolfsohn, 1990


During his time at the Salomon residence, Wolfsohn took on a number of students, some of whose voices he believed had been broken by years of wrong training and others whom he described as having 'suffered mental damage. Referring to this latter category Wolfsohn wrote:

I discovered that you cannot make progress and succeed unless you are able to correct and alleviate the mental damage they suffered, to build up their belief in themselves and their own strength.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

His development during that time brought him to formulate a fundamental link between the artistic process of singing and the psychological maturation of the individual.

Against a backdrop of increasingly violent anti-Semitism, the Jewish arts increased and Alfred Wolfsohn's teaching and Paula Salomon-Lindberg's singing went on in spite of all. Under the pioneering and indomitable spirit of Kurt Singer, seventy thousand Jews joined thirty-six Kulturbund branches in forty-nine locales, with twenty thousand members in Berlin alone.


Chapter 8: Jungian Connections


It was during this period that Wolfsohn began to deepen his understanding of the work developed by Jung, a process catalysed by his experience with a pupil to whom he refers in his writings as Mrs. B. This student came to Wolfsohn with what he described as:

A voice which lacked all facility of expression and could best be described as completely dead.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Notes on Orpheus. London, 1949

She had once possessed a good singing voice which had been lost through a 'severe cardiac neurosis'.48 She had, however, undergone successful treatment of her 'cardiac neurosis' by Jungian analysis, and now wanted to reclaim her voice.

Initially Wolfsohn felt that her intellectual knowledge of psychology formed a barrier which hindered his attempts to help her, and he further wondered how it was possible for her to claim to have successfully undergone analysis and yet possess a voice which, as far as he was concerned, was completely lacking in 'soul'. However, as the work progressed her voice did re-emerge.

In Orpheus, oder der Weg zu einer Maske, Wolfsohn cites her as having written the following remarks regarding his work:

During the treatment of cardiac neurosis in Jungian analysis, I was made to practice meditation. I was urged to concentrate on my inner breathing. As up to then I had lived exclusively in the outside world, this journey inside myself was an extraordinarily impressive experience for me. I saw visions coming from another world and experienced the depth in which these visions had their origin. I realised that by the concentration of breathing in a centre lying somewhere below the solar plexus, a language of pictures was evoked – a language arising from contact with the subconscious, which alone made possible psychic development. When I started to sing, once again there began the concentration on that mysterious centre. When I was asked to train my consciousness on the source of sound, I felt the origin of the sung note to be in that self-same place. As time went on, I realised more and more that the road taken in the development of my voice was similar to that taken in following the psychology of Jung... In this [Wolfsohn's] work of developing the human voice, the singer penetrates deeper and deeper into the depths of his body and so arrives at the new, unknown sound of his voice, to which he listens as to a strange voice.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Notes on Orpheus. London, 1949

As a result of his work with Mrs. B., Wolfsohn said:

I have observed this process of psychological growth in its depth and breadth during the development of the tone of the voice. It rests in principle on the deepening of the tone in every sense.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

By 'the deepening of the tone in every sense' he meant not the lowering of the pitch range, but the imbuing of each pitch with a depth of emotional essence. Around twenty five years later, Wolfsohn acknowledged the importance of his encounter with the student Mrs. B. and credited her with having brought his attention to Jung and for contributing to his belief that his approach to working with the human voice ran parallel to the basic principles of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.

Wolfsohn received further confirmation of the link between Jung's psychology and the expressive capacity of the human voice when he worked with another pupil between 1938 and 1939. Wolfsohn records:

A doctor, one of C.G. Jung's pupils who happened to read my manuscript, became so interested in my thesis that he asked me to work with him. He had never sung seriously before and had hardly any interest in music. Yet, not only was it possible for this pupil who had thought he had no voice to discover that he possessed a full-sounding voice; what is more, he recognised the possibility of finding the principles of his own branch of science confirmed through this very process of developing his voice. This particular case seemed to me to indicate how much and in what way singing could be regarded as an adjunct to psychoanalysis.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Notes on Orpheus. London, 1949

Another important student who came to the Salomon residence to work regularly with Wolfsohn was Alice Croner, a Jewish woman who, in her younger years, had possessed a fine contralto voice and had sung lieder and light opera in small concerts throughout Germany, but whose voice had been left weak and frail by a prolonged physical illness.

Wolfsohn immediately intuited that the depletion of her vocal expressiveness was related to deep psychological issues of grief, fear and longing. Together, day by day, they stood at the piano climbing and descending the scales, exploring gently but incisively the many aspects of her vocal timbre. She sang lightly with a breathy, desperate quality, then she sang as in a groan with longing and need; she fluttered with a faint vibrato and then sustained a continuous timbre without any inner movement. The voice work made her laugh, made her cry, made her remember and made her forget. Gradually, her vocal agility and dexterity returned, and with it her sense of self.

It was during this work that Wolfsohn began to nurture Croner's voice down the scale into a pitch range normally sung exclusively by men. At first, Croner found this difficult because the pitches were beyond what was comfortable to sing, difficult to reach and rather unpleasing to the ear.

Croner complained, at first, that they 'were of no musical value' and would simply ruin the piece which they were singing. But what Wolfsohn observed was not the artistic value of her voice, but the qualities of her being, expressed in her posture, facial expression and radiance when she braved to take her voice lower than was considered acceptable for a woman. In some way the deeper notes masculinised her and provoked in her the emergence of a masculine self which Wolfsohn believed to be the beginning of the potential for vocalising the animus, which he was later to explore in more depth.

The work which Wolfsohn and Croner did together brought them into close and intimate proximity and there emerged between them a friendship founded in that unique process of self-exploration. Fifty years after this work, Croner recorded that Wolfsohn had the profound capacity to sense 'in each person possibilities they never knew about themselves'.58 For Wolfsohn, Croner represented the first example of a completed vocal process of psychological investigation and recovery through singing. By the completion of his manuscript in 1938, he had formulated the following:

When I speak of singing, I do not consider singing to be an artistic exercise but the possibility and the means by which to recognise oneself and to transform this recognition into conscious life.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

But with every step towards developing his vocal work grounded in an increased understanding of Jung's unfolding analytical psychology, with every further paragraph added to his manuscript, with each moment of intimacy deepening his emotional connection to both the young Charlotte and Alice Croner – there was an equivalent degree of increased tension in the ever-worsening political environment.

The Nazis were urged by a fantasy that one day they would have their Reich swept clean of Jews. Each phase of that escapist plot bore down on the Salomons. In 1933 they were fired from their jobs; in 1934 they were squeezed into segregated space – Albert in the Jewish hospital, Paula in the Kulturbund, Charlotte in the Fashion Design School; in 1935 they were excluded from citizenship and public work; in 1938 they were barred from institutions like the academy.


Chapter 9: The Nazis


During 1936 and 1937 Wolfsohn saw many of his Jewish friends, pupils and associates flee Germany for France, Holland and Britain while both he and the Salomons remained; and if the sheer number of Jews departing was not enough to cause Wolfsohn to take a step back from his artistic and psychological journey and consider the reality of his plight, then the departure of two people very close to him certainly was.

The first person whose presence Wolfsohn was denied in this way was Alice Croner, who escaped to London in 1936. In her biography of Charlotte Salomon, Mary Löwenthal Felstiner wrote:

By 1938 it was almost too late to leave. Everywhere immigration tightened and the Salomons had lost their passports.

Mary Löwenthal Felstiner, To Paint her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Mirror, 1994

It may well have been possible for Paula and her husband to have escaped Germany prior to 1938. However, both were dedicated to the work at home, as Paula recalled:

My husband is a surgeon in the Jewish hospital, and I have my work with the Kulturbund. As long as we are needed here, we can't leave, we said.

Paul Salomon-Lindberg, Interview with Mary Löwenthal Felstiner, 1984

Therefore, despite opportunities to escape, the Salomons remained and became increasingly active in helping others to emigrate by procuring false papers and arranging journeys which minimised the chance of discovery at the increasingly proliferate Nazi check points.

The second person from whom Wolfsohn was separated was his dear Charlotte, who escaped to France in 1939 expecting her father and stepmother to follow.

Concern for Charlotte had arisen earlier in 1935 when she was admitted to the State Academy of Fine Arts. In the course of her studies she was awarded the Academy prize, but the award was later revoked for 'racial reasons'. As the anti-Semitism of Berlin acquired an ever-escalating ferocity, the members of the Salomon household were forced to consider plans for Charlotte's escape.

In January 1939 her father and stepmother sent her to the south of France to join her grandparents where, they thought, she would be safe from Nazi persecution. Her grandparents had been living in the southern French village of Villefranche for several years, thanks to the generosity of a wealthy American woman, Mrs. Moore.

Mrs. Moore had originally met Charlotte's grandparents on holiday in Spain and when she later went to Berlin to visit them in 1933, she witnessed the historical torchlit parade in honour of the National Socialist seizure of power. Aware of the impending and inevitable terrorisation of the Jews, Mrs. Moore invited the elderly couple to come and stay in a cottage on her estate near Nice. In the Spring of 1934 they arrived. When Charlotte joined them in 1938, the plan was for her to spend just a few weeks there and then leave via Marseilles for America with her father and stepmother.
Whilst the Salomons had remained in Berlin to dedicate themselves to a cause both personal and political – Albert healing Jews in the hospital and Paula assisting healthy ones to escape – Wolfsohn's reason seems to have been his dedication to supporting his frail and blind mother and his sister. However, soon after Charlotte's departure, when Wolfsohn realised he had no future and probably no life in Germany, Alice Croner contacted him with advice, papers and assistance in escaping. His mother had by now died and so, having less reason to remain in Germany, he left for London.

He was unsuccessful in persuading his sister to come with him, and left her behind. Shortly afterwards, she was killed at Auschwitz.

Early in 1939 Wolfsohn joined Alice Croner in London and very soon after his arrival, at the age of forty-three, he enlisted with the Pioneer Corps of the British forces and fought against the Nazis from whom he had so narrowly escaped.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, separated from the man she had worshipped and whose outlook on life she had come to emulate, isolated in the tiny French village, and forced into a relationship with her grandparents which was strained and difficult, experienced severe depression. Charlotte's grandmother was also deeply depressive and contemplated suicide consistently towards the end of her years. Charlotte nursed her and nurtured in her the will to continue living, but shortly after the declaration of war in September 1939 the old lady fell into illness and despondency and in March 1940 she threw herself to her death from a bedroom window.

It was only then that Charlotte learnt from her grandfather that both her own mother and her aunt Charlotte, after whom she was named, had committed suicide. The news lured Charlotte into a state of contemplative melancholia. She lost hope in life. She was lonely, without friends, torn away from her country and stranded. She too felt suicidal.
By May 1940 the German offensive had overrun France. Unbeknown to Wolfsohn, thousands of Jews from many European countries who had sought safety in Southern France now faced internment. Among these thousands, Charlotte and her grandfather were sent to a make-shift camp at Gurs, in the Pyrenees. However, on account of his age the elderly man was allowed to leave and Charlotte was permitted to escort him back to Southern France.
Though she was relieved to be out of the camp, Charlotte was nonetheless consumed by despair and on the verge of taking her own life. She became reflective on the suicide of her grandmother and of her mother. But, in a letter written at this time she says:

My life commenced when my grandmother wanted to take her own life, when I found out that I was the only survivor and when deep within me I felt the same inclination, the urge towards despair and towards dying.

Charlotte Salomon, cited in Charlotte: Life or Theatre, 1981

In the face of family doom and increasing threat from the Nazis what prevented Charlotte from suicidal despair?
Speaking of herself in the third person Charlotte wrote in her diary:

And she found herself facing the question of whether to commit suicide or to undertake something wildly eccentric...she had to vanish for a while from the human plane and make every sacrifice in order to create her world anew out of the depths.

Charlotte Salomon, cited in Charlotte: Life or Theatre, 1981

Charlotte had absorbed from her beloved Alfred Wolfsohn the notion of taking the courage to build oneself afresh from the painful remnants of suffering. She remembered his words and his wisdom clearly and it was this memory above all that led her out of her despair. Speaking of Wolfsohn, and again writing in the third person, she wrote further:

...she still loved him as much as ever …according to his method one can be resurrected – in fact, in order to love life still more, one should once have died. So she was in fact the living model for his theories.

Charlotte Salomon, cited in Charlotte: Life or Theatre, 1981

Saved by the memory of Wolfsohn and his own success in overcoming severe trauma through artistic endeavour, Charlotte embarked upon the 'wildly eccentric' task of painting her life in pictures. She produced painting after painting, accompanied by written captions, which told her autobiography, starting before her birth in 1917 and continuing through to 1940.

As Charlotte painted, the estate filled with fugitives to whom Mrs. Moore was offering shelter, including many Jewish refugee children whom she fostered. She also gave lodging and protection to a number of young adults, one of whom was an Austrian Jewish refugee, Alexander Nagler. In Nagler, Charlotte found the closest thing to a companion that she had experienced since Wolfsohn. They gave each other support, friendship and love.

When Mrs. Moore left for America with her foster children, Charlotte and Nagler were left to look after four remaining children.

By the autumn of 1942 the whole of the French coast as far as Marseilles was occupied by the Italian military and the Italian Secret Police. Patrols stopped people at random and demanded papers and all Jews had their identity papers stamped with the indelible mark 'JEW'. The Italian Secret Police collaborated with the Gestapo and offered local people rewards for identifying the whereabouts of foreign refugees. Jews and French alike lived in terror. The pressure was too much for Charlotte's grandfather and in February 1943 he died.

Charlotte's relationship with her grandfather had been very strained and he had frowned upon her proposed marriage to Nagler. But now, Charlotte and Nagler were intent upon a wedding.

In order to increase his chances of survival, Nagler had managed to procure false identity papers without the stamp of 'JEW' on them. Consequently, when he applied for a marriage licence the official in charge told him that as an Aryan he was not permitted to marry a Jewish girl. Then Nagler made a fatal mistake that was to prove the irreversible downfall of himself and of Charlotte – he declared that he was himself a Jew. He received permission to marry but was obliged to leave his faked identity card and his address at police headquarters. He and Charlotte were married at the Town Hall, Nice, in May 1943.

Charlotte's father and stepmother had no communication with her during this time, but were planning to escape Berlin and join her later. However, plans went amiss.

As mayhem in Germany escalated, the Nazis rounded up thousands of people and incarcerated them without reason or explanation. Among them was Albert Salomon. However, immediately after Albert Salomon's brief incarceration in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, his wife Paula used all of her power and influence to have him released and they both escaped with false passports to Amsterdam in 1939. Later they were both taken to the Dutch camp of Westerbork, from which they escaped. Aided by the underground they spent the remainder of the war in hiding.
In September 1943 German troops occupied the French coast and the police headquarters and Town Hall were placed under the control of the Gestapo. At seven o'clock in the evening of 21 September 1943 the Gestapo took Charlotte and her husband to a concentration camp. They were both murdered at Auschwitz.

Only after the war, when the Salomons went to France to see what had happened to Charlotte, did they discover that she had been killed. But they also discovered her paintings. Charlotte had, with great foresight, given them to the village doctor to look after. Thus, the Salomons returned to Holland with 1,325 sheets of work. Among them were 769 completed paintings with accompanying text which Charlotte intended to depict the story of her life. All 1,325 originals are now in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam and the 769 paintings and text are published in a limited edition book entitled Charlotte: Life or Theatre.

The figure of Alfred Wolfsohn who, like all the characters in the pictorial autobiography, is given a fictitious name, dominates the entire autobiography, appearing in nearly 500 of the 769 scenes. He is named Amadeus Daberlohn and is portrayed as a seer and a mystic, a teacher and philosopher, a musician and a poet, a friend and a lover. But what is remarkable is the clarity and detail with which Charlotte remembered Wolfsohn's ideas as recorded in his manuscript.

In addition to these paintings and the accompanying text published in Charlotte: Life or Theatre, excerpts from her diary and a selection of her paintings were published in 1963 in A Diary in Pictures;68 also, the story of the relationship between Wolfsohn and Charlotte was told in a film called Charlotte by Franz Weisz. Wolfsohn knew nothing of Charlotte's death or her paintings until several years after the war.


Chapter 10: Discovering the Dream in London


When Wolfsohn returned to London after three years of fighting against those who had precipitated his departure from Germany, he found himself a refugee in the wilderness. He did not know which of his German Jewish friends had survived the Nazi genocide and had no idea of the whereabouts of those who might have escaped. He was, more or less, alone in a foreign country whose language he found difficult, whose customs he was ill-acquainted with, whose landscape lay in desolate ruins and yet whose ideals he had fought for as a soldier as though they were his own.

Exhausted now from two world wars and uprooted from any sense of physical or psychological homeland, Wolfsohn was befriended by Thomas Faraday and his wife Ingrid, who gave him a home. They were intrigued and fascinated by his ideas on the human voice. It was Thomas Faraday who took Wolfsohn to Amsterdam in 1947, where he made contact again and exchanged stories with Paula and her husband. However, they had not at this time acquired Charlotte's paintings, and Wolfsohn had no idea of her fate or of his profound influence upon her.

In 1947 Wolfsohn suggested to Alice Croner, the woman who had been his first student and his passport to safety, that they resume their work together. On most days, for anything from one to three hours, Alice would gently sing a piece of light opera or lieder and Wolfsohn would listen attentively, guiding her around the emotional undertones of the piece at hand in the manner of director, agent provocateur, conductor and interpreter. The lessons, or encounters, would always lead into tangential discussions about thematic concerns such as love, beauty, death, suffering and the tranquillity of transcending human needs.

For Alice, the discussions which took them away from the actual vocal work served another purpose: they gave her a rest from the task of singing which she now found draining and fatiguing. Alice had again grown weak and frail; the pressures and disappointments of leaving her homeland and of living during war time in a foreign country had taken a toll which may not have depleted her voice and soul had her health been in good form – but it was not.

A process began to unfold which catapulted Wolfsohn forwards and at the same time forced him to resume his reflections upon the relationship between Jung's unfolding ideas on the notion of an analytical psychology and his own work with the affective and psychological aspects of the singing lesson.

Alice Croner began to notice that on most nights following a voice session she would have the most detailed and vivid dreams which, though they rarely involved explicit images of her singing, felt as though their content was being forged, provoked and elicited by the creative energy released through the process of working on her voice.
Wolfsohn started each vocal session by asking her to recount her dream from the previous night; and he would often ask her to imbue her voice with the qualities of one of the dream characters or figures, and allow the voice to bring an acoustic dimension to a hitherto silent, optical phenomenon. Increasingly convinced of a profound relationship between singing and psyche, Wolfsohn said directly to Croner:

I'd like to see if the development of your dreams parallels the development of your voice.

Alice Croner, Interviewed with Mary Löwenthal Felstiner, 1984

But Alice's voice grew weaker and her health declined as her dreams became richer and more frequent. So Wolfsohn suggested that she terminate the vocal aspect of their work together and in its place concentrate on writing down her dreams and engaging with him in a lay analysis of their significance.

It was after Wolfsohn's death that the significance of this work was acknowledged by the C.G. Jung Institute, members of which saw in Croner's records the ability of the imaginative psyche to maintain a continuity of expression. Her dreams were collated and published in a book, extending a doctoral thesis, in which she was cited as exemplifying an unusual case of an extraordinarily protracted and continuous 'unbroken line' of thematically linked dreams.

Alice Croner was interviewed on 30 separate occasions during 1980 and 1981 by Franz Weisz in preparation for the film Charlotte. In these interviews, of which the transcriptions are extant,72 Croner discusses her relationship to and her work with Wolfsohn.

The work with Croner fuelled Wolfsohn's interest in dreams as a generator of pictures and he linked the unconscious process of dreaming with the act of artistic creation. He was particularly fascinated by the application of Jung's analysis of paintings and may possibly have been influenced by Jung's analysis of a patient's paintings as an allegorical reflection of her psychological development, published in German in 1933.

Wolfsohn said that:

The dream is a dynamo which creates pictures and is thereby the centre or rather the prime source of what we call art. Art ' is but the ability to dream and to fashion these dreams.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

He went on to explain that:

...the dream, first and foremost, means the expression of man's artistic ability; man becomes a painter when he fabricates his dreams.

Alfred Wolfsohn, The Bridge. London, 1947

Wolfsohn did not confine the significance of dreams to painting:

Everything that we understand as art – music, poetry, painting, all inventions – are born out of dreams. The locomotive, the spinning wheel, the electric light are born of fantasy and pictures, the spring of creation that we have inside us.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

Intrigued by the connection between dreaming and art, Wolfsohn was led to propose:

I would not deny that dreams are an important expression of our subconscious artistic powers, but I am convinced that the analysis of dreams is not the only way to reach ourself. I take the concept of the dream as a conversion of this creative power much further.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

By taking it further Wolfsohn meant fusing the idea of a passive verbal analysis of the dream for psychological reasons with the tangible expression of the dream's content through art. He believed that verbal therapy did little to develop the faculties of expression and that, conversely, artistic expression devoid of analysis contributed little to psychological development. He sought to find a process that was at once artistic and psychological. Most pertinently, he believed that the art form of psychological expression need not be only the optical one of painting but could be the audible one of singing.

At this stage of his thinking, however, Wolfsohn was closely associating the act of making sung sounds with the act of applying these sounds to the articulation of musical pieces. He believed that the primary opportunity for using the voice as an expression of deeply rooted psychological and imaginative constructs lay in applying the voice to the embodiment of the epic and mythical dimension of character and emotion in opera, and he sought therefore to extend the singer's vocal tone and timbre in response to the demands of such compositions.


Chapter 11: Orpheus and the Unconscious


Through a comparison of individual fantasies with mythical narratives in which a character is transformed, Jung proposed, in 1912, that the fantasies produced by the unconscious in a state of disturbance contain the seed for psychological transformation, rebirth and growth.

Influenced by this idea Wolfsohn became particularly interested in the myth of Orpheus as a way in which to understand the underworld as symbolic of a battlefield of the inner self. Furthermore, Wolfsohn believed that the Orpheus myth was a classic example of Jung's anima theory in which a woman acts as the embodiment of a man's own soul, and he proposed that when Orpheus lost Eurydice he lamented not the death of a woman but the loss of his own soul. It was due to this, according to Wolfsohn, that Orpheus lost the ability to sing.

Wolfsohn consequently construed that the myth contained the idea that by gaining or regaining a voice through singing one could reclaim or rediscover one's soul. In his manuscripts he refers a number of times to a male tenor who lost his voice on the death of his wife and through the process of working with Wolfsohn to regain it, overcame his bereavement.

Whilst Jung was preoccupied with the pictorial, visual expression of psychological images, Wolfsohn felt that singing was a way of making them audible through the sounds of the human voice and that this, in effect, was what opera did. In the following excerpt from his manuscripts he speaks at length about his beliefs regarding the psychic function of opera:

The conception of opera gains its full importance in that it stylises the human relationship but does not nullify its foundation. It is shown from a different side, in a different light which leads to unreality and the fairy-tale. In fact, these are the elements of opera, destined to serve as a means of expression for the collective contents of the psyche...The function of opera is nothing other than to recreate anew the myths and fairy-tales through music, to give expression to the sublime world of sublime passion, joy and grief. The individual gives place to the typical – so much so, that the parts for an opera are ingeniously written for tenor, soprano, contralto, baritone and bass. These are the four basic voices around which opera is composed to this very day.
If in modern psychology one speaks of archetypes – i.e. primal images – which constantly recur in the dreams of all nations and all races, then we find its counterpart in the human voice, where the four basic voices represent the primal images. This made sense to me – I, who comprehend the voice as a direct form of the manifestation of the soul.
For better understanding I repeat Jung's definition of the concept of the archetype. According to him they are 'the residue of ever recurring experiences of humanity', with the effect that all human beings possess a 'typical form of comprehension'. Furthermore, they are to be considered 'as an inborn form of perception', and to be equal to all the categories of the psyche as a whole. If one looks again at these four basic voices to see which typical forms they repeat...
The prototype behind the bass voice is the archetype of the father, varying from the king to the priest to the drunkard...It is the depth of the earth to which the bass is most closely connected...
The most frequent ideation of the female voice is the soprano which represents the archetype of the anima figure in all its aspects...ranging from the servant-girl to the princess, from the saintly woman to the prostitute...

Alfred Wolfsohn, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask. Germany, 1936–1938

However, Wolfsohn now faced a problem. For Jung, the anima, or the female part of a man, had to be brought into consciousness in order for the individual to come to terms and 'integrate' with it; and the same was proposed for the animus, or masculine aspects of a woman. To translate this into Wolfsohn's views regarding the operatic voice registers meant that a man would have to sing soprano and a woman bass.

Wolfsohn believed he had heard men transcend their traditional registers in the trenches and was convinced that the voice was therefore capable of a wider register than that used in every-day life. Because he now believed that the anima and animus were capable of expressing themselves visually in dreams, and because he further believed that artistic expression through singing entailed only the practical fashioning of these dreams, he thought that it would be possible for a single voice to encompass the full range from soprano to bass. An important part of Wolfsohn's work therefore involved a translation of visual dream-images into sound, so as to produce in each student a vocal range which spanned registers normally associated with the other gender.

In his work in 1934 with the student Alice Croner, Wolfsohn recognised that to fully embody the animus involved developing her voice beyond the range acceptable for a woman. Wolfsohn thus invested belief in the idea that every voice is composed of female and male elements and that it only requires committed psychological and vocal work to synthesise or weld together both elements and thereby transcend voice specialisations and produce 'the whole voice'.

Though Wolfsohn was able to deepen his intuitive analytic understanding of the psyche's imagery through his dream work with Croner, they could both see that Wolfsohn needed to take the step of working vocally with other students if he was to continue his search to link the voice with the image-producing centre of the human soul. Wolfsohn and Croner therefore contemplated the idea that Wolfsohn, formally untrained and unqualified, should offer an unknown and undefined service, which stood somewhere between psychotherapy and singing training, to others who might perhaps sense that their own key to liberation and personal development lay in the freeing of their voice.

As though by magic, and as though this teaching was both necessary and inevitable, no sooner had Wolfsohn and Croner mentioned it to a few people than Wolfsohn had a group of three students. Between the end of 1948 and the end of 1949 this group had grown to fifteen – most of whom remained his students, working nearly every day on the emerging process of a vocal therapy, until Wolfsohn's death in 1962.


Chapter 12: Voicing the Archetypes


All of those who came to work with Wolfsohn were to gain a first impression of great intensity, recognising themselves to be in a situation without precedent. One such impression is recorded by Marita Günther, who says:

I was twenty-one when I came to England in 1949. I had with me the address of Alfred Wolfsohn, which my mother had given me on the way should I need help and advice. I contacted him and a meeting was arranged.
He had at this time his own small studio, his first, a tiny sparse cell in a suburb of London. At first I only really saw his head, his lion-like black head of hair. It seemed to me as if all his strength was gathered there. And then it was his eyes, the look he gave me, or rather the way he looked into my very being.
This first encounter left a deep impression on me – not that I could have explained or analysed it. I was content to keep it as a personal experience which allowed me to look into a world unknown to me and to listen to this man who had built up something in this post-war time that pointed to a way at once life-giving and life-affirming.
For the first time in this studio, I heard how Alfred Wolfsohn worked with his pupils. At that time there were about fifteen men and women of different age groups, people in jobs, amateurs mostly, who came in their spare time. A few were actors, amongst them Roy Hart, who later continued his work and who had started already to give drama classes.
What all his pupils had in common was that they could reach with their voices heights and depths that I had never heard before. They produced within that range different colours of sound which moved me deeply. But what appealed to me even more than the virtuosity of their voices' range was the witnessing of what was happening between teacher and pupil. It was the give and take on both sides, an incredible concentration and intensity emanating from both. It was the extreme physical effort which seemed to transform their bodies and facial expressions. And then came the day I had my first singing lesson – i.e. the day that I too had a voice of such a nature that I knew that I must follow this path!

Marita Günther, The Human Voice: On Alfred Wolfsohn, 1990

It was with this group of devoted students, clients or patients that the work on gender and archetype that had begun in Germany with Alice Croner and others began to develop further. Through this work, Wolfsohn challenged the popular preconceptions regarding the expressive limits implied and imposed by a misconception of human gender, and drew support from a belief in the existence of the archetypes anima and animus proposed by Jung, who said:

It is a well known fact that sex is determined by a majority of male or female genes, as the case may be. But the minority of genes belonging to the other sex does not simply disappear. A man therefore has in him a feminine side, an unconscious feminine figure – a fact of which he is generally quite unaware. I may take it as known that I have called this figure the 'anima', and its counterpart in a woman the 'animus'.

C. G. Jung, 1953

Like all unconscious attributes, the anima and animus can only be experienced through projection; that is, they can only be apprehended through phonic or visual images which appear to exist outside ourselves. The many forms of projection identified by Jung include the motifs of painting, the characters of literature and the images of dreams. In addition, the apparent personality traits of another person often contain aspects of the beholder's projection. For example, Jung pointed out that the qualities which a man longs for and idolises in a woman reflect more the quality of his own anima than the true qualities of the lover upon whom he projects them. For Wolfsohn, the sounds of the voice too contained the fabric of human projections which could be apprehended by an attentive ear.

In the normal course of events a person is unaware of the process by which images are projected out from the depths of the psyche into the world – hence the term 'unconscious'. However, in order to facilitate psychological maturity and to realise fully our potential creativity, Jung believed that it is important to make an attempt to integrate these images into consciousness; only then can we become aware of the particular shape which our archetypal influences take. Jung called the process of becoming conscious of our hidden dynamics 'individuation', and he believed this to be the very goal and purpose of analytical psychology.

While Freud regarded verbal discourse as the mainstay of psychotherapeutic dialogue, Jung had incorporated into the analytical process other forms of psychological expression, particularly painting. In his work The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, he recorded a whole case study through which the paintings produced by a client over the period of her therapy were analysed as a parallel expression of her psychological development.

Wolfsohn's thoughts, then, were entirely in line with Jung's when he conceived of the idea that the anima and animus were potentially audible through the human voice. Wolfsohn believed that, in giving a voice to the other sex, the anima or animus could be projected into sound, confronted audibly and aurally and, finally, accepted and integrated into consciousness.

By contacting and expressing the other sex within, Wolfsohn's pupils were able to develop singing registers which are normally associated with the opposite gender; he nurtured a bass voice in women and a soprano voice in men. Marita Günther records:

We must remember that at that time one hardly spoke of the range of a voice. It was generally understood that, let us say, a baritone was singing in the middle of his register between tenor and bass. It was of much greater importance that a voice simply had to beautiful. A man therefore who also produces distinctly female sounds, and a woman who goes down into a deep register, after all run the risk of venturing into the grotesque; at best something for a variety show. Although we understand, and accept quite easily from the psychological aspect, that in every female being there is also a male side – in some stronger, in some weaker – and, vice versa, that every man also possesses female qualities – nevertheless it was then a big step to search for these parts in oneself and to express them audibly, not as a parody or as a sensation, but as a serious attempt to find these other sides and thus to learn more about oneself.

Marita Günther, The Human Voice: On Alfred Wolfsohn, 1990

It was this learning more about oneself that, for Wolfsohn, was more important than the medium through which one achieved it. It is symbolic that Wolfsohn's first sphere of influence was with the young Charlotte Salomon, helping her remain committed to developing her painting. The way he was as happy to work with Alice Croner on her dreams as he was to work on her voice also reveals that the heart of his fascination was with the psyche's ability to reveal itself expressivelythrough the form most appropriate to the individual. Furthermore, Wolfsohn discovered through his students that the work on the voice not only catalysed dreaming but also excavated creativity in other areas towards which the students hitherto had no inclination and in which they had shown no ability.

The following testimony of Irena Landry, one of Wolfsohn's students, further illustrates Wolfsohn's attitude to the creative process:

I did not go to Wolfsohn's studio in Golders Green to become a singer but to exercise my lungs after having recovered from tuberculosis in 1953. Wolfsohn himself had suggested it. He said that I might benefit from his lessons in more than one way. Having by now come to know me and my circumstances very well, and being aware that, as the mother of six children, I had not had much chance of developing further my latent creative possibilities (I refer here to a talent for painting and writing) he insisted on taking me on as a pupil. His claim was that singing also stimulates other art forms such as painting and writing. And it is true – since I had started going to Wolfsohn's studio my interest in painting had grown. I was – and still am – always fascinated by the human face, and encouraged by my teacher I began to draw and paint in oil.
Wolfsohn always showed a great interest in everything I did. He wanted to see my work, commented on it, criticised when necessary, bullied me when I got tired, at the same time energising my will to continue. As time went on and my work improved he showed himself most generous in his praise.
I left England in 1959. Three years later Wolfsohn died. In the time to come I rarely used my voice for singing, and when I did it was at house-parties when high spirits prevailed and everyone tried to show off a bit. Painting on the other hand has remained my favourite hobby. I reached a certain proficiency in making (creating) a little work of art out of a painted stone. Two small books about my work as a decorator and 'interpreter' of stones in their various shapes have been published in Germany.

Irena Landry, Letter to Paul Newham, 1991

Underpinning Wolfsohn's work was the deep-set belief that the dream represented the gateway to a fluid and ever transforming reservoir of primary imaginative sources which were capable of finding an audible manifestation through the human voice. One of Wolfsohn's students, Sheila Braggins, who became a practising physiotherapist in London, recounts an anecdote regarding another student which provides a poignant insight into this process of making acoustic the optical dream image.

During a vocal session with Wolfsohn, a student commented on a dream she had had in which she was in the spell of an enormous queen bee. The student described in detail for Wolfsohn the shape and colour of the insect's wings, its movements, its spatial relationship to her, its beady eyes and its overwhelming size. Some weeks later, during another voice session, Wolfsohn felt that there was a certain quality of prowess, regality and dominance lacking in the timbre of the student's voice and asked her to imbue her singing with the quality of the queen bee which had appeared in her dream. Immediately her voice took on a 'dominating edge', it became 'hard but diligent with a certain sting' in it. As her voice took on the timbre of status and flight, so her 'face lit up with a shimmer', her eyes seemed to 'bulge and flutter', her arms moved in an 'undulating and wave-like motion' and her 'chest protruded' as she indeed personified the essence of the queen bee.

From that point on, in their singing lessons Wolfsohn would refer to the queen bee whenever he felt it right for the student to imbue the sound with those qualities which the image had first provoked in the voice. As time progressed, the student built a vocabulary of images which first originated in dreams and, through the process of singing, found acoustic expression. Each quality of voice which she was able to produce through the emerging dexterity of her vocal instrument emanated from a deeply personal level of her self-experience initially apprehended optically through the dream image. Thus, the malleability of her voice was not a result of technical virtuosity and the employment of tricks but rather came from her increasing ability to connect the voice to the reservoir of imaginative and psychological contents which made their first appearance upon the nocturnal canvass of the painted dream.


Chapter 13: Tone and Timbre


One of the most central features of Wolfsohn's research, yet the one unanimously ignored and resisted by those journalists reporting upon his work, was his incisive attendance to the difference between vocal tone and vocal timbre.

Despite the fact that Wolfsohn's pupils developed pitch ranges which superseded those facilitated by other singing teachers, this was by no means the objective of the work. Wolfsohn was less interested in the pitch of the sound – that is, how high or low the tone of the voice was – and much more concerned with the timbre – that is, the quality with which any given pitch is sung.

In the classical tradition of singing training, the human voice is perceived as having a given pitch range as well as a particular register. The pitch range is simply the spectrum of notes which a voice can produce comfortably and with a pleasing musical quality. Naturally, some people have pitch ranges which are quite high and others have ranges which are lower. In addition to this range of the voice there is also the register in which the range is sung. In classical singing there are two main registers, modal and falsetto, which are sometimes referred to as 'chest register' and 'head register' respectively. The modal register is the quality with which a tenor, baritone or bass sings. The falsetto register is that quality of voice with which a female soprano or a male counter-tenor sings.

Although it is true to say that a falsetto quality is easier to produce in a higher pitch range and, conversely, that a modal register is produced more comfortably in a low pitch range, the registers are not equivalent to pitch range. This is made overtly apparent when two voices sing the same pitch range, one in falsetto and one in modal. For example, what often distinguishes the tenor from the counter-tenor in opera is not that they are singing different notes, but that they are singing the same pitches in the two different registers.

A single person too can sing the same range of notes in both modal and falsetto; in yodelling, practised in the Swiss Alps, and in the country-and-western styles of singing originating in the south-western states of the USA, one hears both men and women flipping quickly between the modal and falsetto registers throughout their songs.
Within these given registers there are endless unique qualities to each person's voice. No two voices singing the same song in the same pitch range and in the same register will sound in any way alike; this is due to the complex and subtle nature of voice quality or vocal timbre.

An enlightening example of Wolfsohn's concern with register and timbre and its relationship to the dream image is offered by a student who worked with Wolfsohn on four particular dream images over a series of lessons. The student had dreamt over a period of a week about a series of encounters with vivid figures. The first dream involved a meeting with a wizened old tramp who was filthy, unshaven and badly wounded. The second dream involved a romantic and sexual encounter with a young girl in which the student then had to meet the girl's mother, an older, large and full-breasted woman who disapproved of him and frightened him. In the third dream the student had to fight an Arabian man whose face was veiled and who was an expert in a special kind of self-defence involving a long sword.

During the singing lesson, all four of these figures found acoustic expression through voices with distinctly different timbres. The image of the wizened tramp provoked a voice which sounded brittle, bitter, decrepit and aged. Drawing upon the image of the young girl, meanwhile, yielded a voice which was light and airy, sweet and maidenly. The mother of the girl led to a voice which, though still feminine, had a rounder, fuller maturity to it; and the Arabian sounded strong, full of rage and challenging.

In an analysis of the student's voice quality or vocal timbre during the vocalisation of the four characters, it was apparent that both the young girl and the mother were sung in falsetto register whilst the tramp and the Arabian swordsman were sung in modal register. But, what Wolfsohn discovered was that the identification of changes in register from falsetto to modal were terribly imprecise blanket terms which did no justice to the detailed subtlety of timbral changes. For although both the young girl and the mother evoked falsetto voices in the student, the two qualities of the falsetto shaped by the two feminine dream images were very different. By the same token, the tramp and the Arabian both had modal voices yet they too were markedly different from each other.

However, the crucial discovery was that all the voices could be sung on the same pitch. The young girl, the mother, the tramp and the Arabian were not higher or lower than one another and, therefore, the student was not raising or lowering the pitch of the voice in order to give expression to very different images and aspects of himself. Rather, the voice was changing its subtle components and thereby was able to sing the same pitch with a number of different timbres in order to serve the acoustic personification of radically different imaginative contents.


Chapter 14: The Sound of the Shadow


Following his work on vocalising the archetypes of anima and animus, Wolfsohn became particularly interested in an archetype which Jung called the 'shadow' and which represents the 'dark side' of our personality – that which we would never wish to become. Jung said that:

The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself.

C. G. Jung, 1953

This was for Jung, the personal level to the shadow which has different ramifications in each person. For the overtly heroic man of bravado, the shadow is a shy and vulnerable boy; for the orderly and punctilious woman of sobriety and intellect, the shadow is an intuitive and inspired poet; for the kindly and devoted husband who exercises consistent but controlled affection, the shadow is the passionate and promiscuous lover. For each individual, the shadow takes on a different shape. Consequently, part of Wolfsohn's work in this area involved encouraging pupils to imbue their vocal timbre with qualities which belonged to their personal shadow.

But there was deeper work on the shadow.

For Jung, the shadow also had a collective universal level; it was everything that the human species refuses to acknowledge about itself: the savage, wild, unsophisticated, unadapted and animal aspects of universal human significance.

Because the shadow is an archetype, it possesses certain fundamental structural elements which are the same in all people of every culture. The shadow belongs to the same pantheon of universal figures as the Trickster and the Mother; and one of the definitive and universal aspects of the shadow is its animalistic quality. The shadow provides a counterbalance, indeed an opposite, to the overly sophisticated and so-called 'civilised' nature of human behaviour. It is the werewolf and the child-eating mother; it is the monster and the alien; it is, in essence, the beast and represents the sum total of those aspects of our psyche which preserve the residue of an early time in the evolutionary process, a time when the distinction between humanity and animality was not so great. By 'shadow' Jung meant:

The inferior personality, the lowest levels of which are indistinguishable from the instinctuality of an animal.

C. G. Jung, 1953

The psychological concept of the shadow corresponds to the aesthetic concept of ugliness. The shadow is thus a constellation of images which constitute the darker, torrid, perverse and 'downward-pointing' part of the personality and to it belong all those aspects of oneself which tend to remain disguised and hidden beneath the grace and manner of the persona, or the public face.

Wolfsohn recognised that if the voice was to be employed as an expression of the true nature of the psyche in its entirety, it would have to establish a connection with the shadow. This meant that the voice had to be permitted to yell, scream, sob, and give vocal expression to the animalistic, primal, pre-verbal utterances which are part of the rightful expression of the shadow. It was the prohibition of the shadow in the voice, which had been upheld by the tradition of singing training inherited from the demands of opera and a misinterpretation of the bel canto tradition of singing, that Wolfsohn's work challenged; and it was these so-called primal noises that his teaching nurtured, until a voice emerged in his pupils that was wider and more malleable than any ever heard before.

When a singer reaches the higher or lower end of his or her easily-accessible singing range, the voice begins to express a change in quality or an initial inability to sing the note. It is at this point that the voice breaks down into what many singing teachers call noise in contradistinction to music. The continual attempt to convert these noises to clear musical notes and thereby extend the breadth of the pitch range has always been considered a damaging process. Because so many singing teachers had believed it to be unnatural to 'force' a voice to encapsulate more than one of these registers, particularly if it meant attempting to sing in a range associated with the opposite sex, singers had always been encouraged to specialise from the very beginning of their training.

Consequently, by tradition, singers had been confined to the process of perfecting the timbral quality of their comfortably available register. But Wolfsohn was of the opposite opinion, claiming that 'what is unnatural is the tradition of specialisation in the area of the human voice and the way in which it is artificially restrained'.92
Wolfsohn's work involved nurturing and extending the so-called 'noises' which were released at the very places where the voice apparently breaks down. He was not concerned with a judgement of their degree of aesthetic beauty or their musical use or value but rather, he perceived them in psychological terms as a viable expression of shadow-laden aspects of the psyche. Marita Günther records:

This was a far cry from singing beautifully. In the beginning it was a squeaking and a squeezing, a screaming and a peeping; and out of this developed a different kind of beauty, the beauty of the dared expression.
Like out of the days of the creation, something emerged that was not only beautiful, it was authentic, and this authenticity was nurtured, polished and repeated until the ear got accustomed to it; or let us say the ability to hear underwent an equally intensive training.

Marita Günther, The Human Voice: On Alfred Wolfsohn, 1990

Wolfsohn was concerned with discovering a process by which it would be possible to re-connect the voice to the psyche's most deeply buried images of darkness. His experiences in the trenches had left him with an indelible belief that only in confronting and overcoming the dark side of oneself is it possible to achieve true artistic expression. To concern oneself only with the 'beautiful' is to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the true nature of life, which is always a combination of dark and light.

As a result of this auditory archaeology of the soul, Wolfsohn was able to release in his students sounds which gave authentic expression to the deepest and most elemental levels of the psyche. Marita Günther records the emergence of some of these archetypal sounds:

Another aspect of the breaking of sound barriers was the spontaneous emergence of an extraordinary variety of animal, bird and mechanical motor sounds. These had a very special meaning for each pupil, almost a certain life experience, as if suddenly a deeper strata of a past evolutionary process had been touched upon and was being relived.

Marita Günther, The Human Voice: On Alfred Wolfsohn, 1990

In essence then, Wolfsohn was keen to systematically oppose the tradition of specialisation upon which classical singing had been founded, a tradition which nurtured a voice to possess a qualitative beauty of timbre within a given pitch range – usually around two to two-and-a-half octaves. Because these so-called natural ranges had been traditionally divided and allotted according to gender – soprano, mezzo-soprano and alto for women, and tenor, baritone and bass for men – Wolfsohn's work inevitably challenged both the psycho-sexual underpinnings and the sexual politics upon which vocal expression rested. And because the process of seeking this end involved the expression of sounds which had been discouraged within the framework of traditional classical singing, Wolfsohn invited the shadow in, shifting an artistic process into a psychological context.


Chapter 15: The Instrumental Body


On hearing a number of students vocally evoke and personify different moods, qualities and characters, Wolfsohn asked them to tell him where in the body they felt the sound was originating from or was primarily resonating. From this investigation he discovered that the sound always appeared to the singer to be coming from specific places in the head and torso, ranging from the top of the skull to the pit of the stomach. Furthermore, he observed that there was a common quality to the sounds which all students felt resonating in the head, and the same could be said of the middle chest or solar plexus and the stomach. That is to say that a 'head-centred' voice always sounded similar, regardless of which particular student produced it; a sound felt to originate in the chest had a trans-personal quality to it which could be recognised in all students; and there was also a particular essence to an 'abdominally placed' sound.

This notion of a 'bodily centre' of sound began very early in Wolfsohn's experiments when he discovered the significance of the solar plexus in his work with Mrs. B. in Berlin. It is also possible that this aspect of Wolfsohn's methodology was a sublimated expression of his vivid memory of the young man on the battlefield with the severe abdominal wound, of which he speaks in his manuscripts and which have been quoted earlier.

Wolfsohn now began experimenting with these body placements. Not only would he ask a student to sing the same pitch range or tonal scale imbued with different psychic images, he would also often refrain from suggesting any image at all and ask the student to sing the same scale or pitch range repeatedly, each time imagining that the source of the sound was a different specific place in the body.

From this, Wolfsohn became convinced that the timbral malleability of the voice could be extended by the process of imagining the centre or source of the sound to be rooted in different physical centres, as well as through the suggestion of images. Furthermore, he observed that using these imagined centres also helped to increase the pitch range. In particular, he discovered that students could sing lower if they imagined the sound to resonate or originate in the abdominal area and they could singer higher if they imagined the sound to resonate or originate in the head.
The final stage in the discovery of a 'bodily voice' was the idea of giving an instrumental name to the three trans-personal voice qualities which arose from imagining a shifting centre of sound. He observed that sounds made in the head, chest and abdomen compared with one another in quality in the same way as the timbres of a violin, viola and cello respectively. Consequently, the group of students began to share the common terms 'violin', 'viola' and 'cello' to describe the basic voice timbres.

Working with students up until 1949, Wolfsohn had located the source and origin of all voice qualities in the same physical centre – the solar plexus – and he had not attempted to systematically categorise or classify these different qualities. However, in 1949, as a result of realising the potential for other imagined centres and the significance of the instrumental metaphor, Wolfsohn introduced a more systematic aspect to the singing lesson. In addition to using images of personal relevance to each student to locate new voice qualities, Wolfsohn now introduced the 'universal terms' for certain qualities that everyone understood: violin, viola and cello. Wolfsohn would now ask the students to sing the same tonal scales repeatedly, each time in one of the three instrumental qualities. Through the singing lesson, these basic timbres could be varied endlessly in quality by colouring them with the individual detail of personal imagery, often originating in the dream.


Chapter 16: Wolfsohn Makes the News


On 22 November 1953, after eight years of intense investigation behind the closed doors of the small room in Golders Green, news of Wolfsohn's work finally came to the attention of the public when the first ever newspaper report appeared. A journalist had visited Wolfsohn and observed him working with two of his pupils, Jennifer and Jill Johnson. The journalist wrote:

They can sing DEEPER than Paul Robeson and HIGHER than Yma Sumac. In fact, they have crashed through the musical sound barrier.
I know. Yesterday I listened to the sisters' amazing tonal qualities at their Golders Green home and saw how Alfred Wolfsohn, the 57 year old genius behind their voices and those of many other pupils, has pulled-off a musical coup before thought impossible.
Let him explain: 'I can get the human voice ranging up and down the scale using seven octaves. Usually the range for professional singers is two.
'How exactly I do this is my secret, but I 'hit' them in the diaphragm – it does not hurt – to get their muscles relaxed'.

He Gives the Girls 7-Octave Voices, UK Newspaper, 22 November 1953

The brief reference to being hit in the diaphragm trivialises a significant aspect of Wolfsohn's teaching method. As I have described, Wolfsohn was concerned with locating in the pupil the bodily centre of different sounds; as though the vocal tone was being generated not from the larynx but from deep inside the frame of the torso. In order to facilitate this, Wolfsohn would often place his fist at various points on a vertical line between the bottom of the sternum and the lower abdominal regions, and exert a consistent pressure. This had the effect of imploding the muscles of the abdominal wall, increasing the pressure in the lungs and the speed of expiration and causing a vocal timbre which, to the ear, was guttural and crude and in turn gave the pupil a sense of having a voice which was rooted in the depths of their biology.

This newspaper article in many ways set the tone for the articles which followed. Seemingly uninterested in the complex psychological research behind the work, and even less interested in the autobiography of the work's initiator, visitors latched on to the obvious and the novel: that is, the fact that Wolfsohn's pupils had a vocal pitch range which went beyond that of previous singers such as Robeson and Sumac.

On 3 April 1954 the second article appeared, in The Illustrated. It read:


Jennifer Johnson is just sixteen years old, and she can sing as deep as Paul Robeson or as high as Joan Hammond. But that isn't so remarkable says her voice teacher, Alfred Wolfsohn.
Wolfsohn's pupils are probably the most versatile in London. For, although many professional singers are happy with a range of two octaves, this fifty-seven year old Berliner asks for eight – and gets them.
His exact method is a secret, but he does have one favourite trick. If a singer balks at the required note, he leaves his piano and as he puts it himself, 'I hit them in the diaphragm.' It doesn't hurt. A little pressure, a little jerk, and out comes the note. 'Muscles must be properly relaxed', says Wolfsohn. Then the voice is capable of ranges once thought impossible.

Eight Octaves High: No Strain at all, the Wolfsohn Way, The Illustrated, 3 April 1954

In fact Jennifer Johnson was not 16 but 21, and was steadily becoming the most frequently used 'guinea pig' when members of the public came to observe the fruits of Wolfsohn's teaching. This is easily understandable; in the only pieces of film footage showing Wolfsohn teaching, one can hear and observe in Johnson an astounding radiance and beauty, a grace and finesse as typical of her era as her vocal work is untypical of any. It seems that all who visited became entranced by her.

However, many of those who visited and witnessed the work disagreed between themselves on the actual breadth of Johnson's register. Each demonstration that was given revealed a different range and the method of measurement consisted of the subjective analysis of the reporter, who simply plotted her voice against a piano. The imprecision of the reporting instigated the legend of the 'eight octave voice' which became a term used to describe the results of Wolfsohn's teaching and was latterly used in much of the promotional literature of The Roy Hart Theatre.

One of these articles appeared in Die Weltwoche in September 195599 after Wolfsohn and Johnson had gone to Paris to give a demonstration to Eric Weiser, who claimed to have heard Johnson sing beyond the entire seven octaves of the piano. Weiser records:

Beside him [Wolfsohn] stood a tall, slim young woman possessed of a strange and radiant kind of beauty. Her name was Jenny Johnson...
The three of us went to the attic flat of a Parisian singer who had put her old, slightly out of tune piano at our disposal. Jenny climbed the five flights of stairs and wasn't at all out of breath when she got to the top. She was smoking a strong American cigarette and didn't have to clear her throat once before she began to sing, accompanied by her teacher. With a voice as clear as a bell, she sang the highest and lowest notes the piano could produce. The piano with its seven octaves fell silent, since Jenny Johnson's voice had a range of between eight and nine octaves. The impossibly high notes of a coloratura soprano, which can only be compared with the song of the nightingale, then rang out unaccompanied – the next minute we were treated to a full, deep male voice.

Eric Weiser, Stimme Ohne Fessel, Die Weltwoche, 1955

Again in this article, as in the others which had preceded and those which were to follow it, Johnson's voice was compared to those of singers before her who had astounded listeners with ranges beyond those normally heard:

The voice of the Peruvian nightingale Yma Sumac has a range of three octaves and one note (from f to f sharp three lines above the stave). In the meantime, the English woman Jenny Johnson, her voice recently assessed by musicians and examined by a Swiss laryngologist, is capable of between eight and nine octaves...Only after two hundred years had Mado Robin, a coloratura soprano with the Paris Opera, recently succeeded in topping by two notes the top B last achieved by Lucrezia Ajugari, a discovery of Mozart's; Jenny Johnson can sing a whole octave higher than Robin.

Eric Weiser, Stimme Ohne Fessel, Die Weltwoche, 1955

Lucrezia Ajugari, 1734 – 1783, was the first European singer to be noted for possessing an exceptionally high voice and was initially noticed by W.A. Mozart, who wrote about her in a letter to his sister in 1770 and who wrote a passage for her. After hearing this passage, Mozart's father, Leopold Mozart, reported:

I was unable to believe that she could sing up to the c sopra acuta [c4]; but my ears have convinced me. Her aria contained the passage written by Wolfgang and she sang this, though rather more softly than the low notes, so beautifully, like the octave pipe of an organ.

J. Jones, The letters of Leopold Mozart Undated.

As a result of this analogy it became suspected that exceptionally high notes were produced by air passing through a very small space between non-vibrating vocal cords, and they became known as a 'pipe register'. However, investigations carried out by the expert voice clinician E. Garde on the voice of Mado Robin discovered definite vibration of the vocal cords during the production of high notes f3 (1381 c.p.s.) and g3 (1550 c.p.s.). Consequently, Garde proposed that such a register should not be called 'pipe register' but 'small register'.

Unlike the unusual singers with whom she was compared, such as Robin, Sumac and Ajugari, Johnson could not only hit extraordinary heights but also plummet incredible depths and this gave her voice access to those classical parts normally sung exclusively by men. As Weiser wrote:

Jenny Johnson's voice, however, takes in both the male and the female ranges, allowing her, for example, to sing all the parts of the Magic Flute, from the coloratura soprano role of the Queen of the Night right the way down to Sarastro's bass...
'Where on earth do you get those deep notes from?' asked our hostess with professional interest.
'From my stomach', answered Jenny sweetly, as though it were the most natural thing in the world for such a beautiful, very feminine young woman to produce a deep male voice from her stomach.

Eric Weiser, Stimme Ohne Fessel, Die Weltwoche, 1955


Chapter 17: Scientific Analysis and Validation


In August 1955 the voice of Jenny Johnson was examined by Professor Luchsinger of the Zurich Otolaryngological Clinic, the results of which were presented in a lecture before the German Society for Speech and Voice Therapy in Hamburg and subsequently published in an article co-written with C.L. Dubois later that year. This was the first and only objective, mechanically recorded measurement and examination of a voice trained by Wolfsohn and consisted of phonetic examination, laryngoscopy, stroboscopy, electro-acoustical analysis and a tomographical investigation.

Luchsinger's examinations revealed that:

Johnson's larynx showed no structural abnormality, but was small, symmetrical, corresponding to that of a coloratura soprano.

R. Luchsinger and C. L. Dubois, Folia Phoniatrica, 1956.

The recordings verified what Luchsinger described as 'an extraordinarily large vocal range, i.e. from C (65 c.p.s.) to f4 sharp (2960 c.p.s.), or 5 octaves and 6 tones'.107 The authors, accepting the definition of 'register' as 'a series of homogeneous sounds having their own particular colour'108 proposed by the acoustician and voice specialist Nadoleczny, reported:

Jennifer Johnson first sang arpeggi from f3 to a4. What is remarkable here is that the singer still shows a small register even in this extraordinary height; on d4, she is still able to swell the sound, which is somewhat like a whistle, quite noticeably...Then Miss Johnson sang a Russian folk-song (Alabieff) in a range from d to d4. Towards the depth too, her voice is developed to an astonishing degree. The singer can reach the C (65 c.p.s.) apparently without effort and can sing the Aria from Pagliacci (Leoncavallo) in the fashion of a baritone using any desired voice.

R. Luchsinger and C. L. Dubois, Folia Phoniatrica, 1956.

Luchsinger and Dubois conducted further research into the voice of 80 trained female singers of whom only three could reach up to f3, three down to B flat and one who could reach down to A.

R. Schilling, another clinician contemporary with Luchsinger and Dubois, noted that ranges less than 1.33 octaves and larger than three are possessed by only between one and four per cent of the population. Luchsinger and Dubois could thus compare Johnson only with exceptional singers and placed her alongside Ajugari and two other singers of unusually extensive ranges: Adelina Patti (1843 – 1919) who could sing up to g3, and Jenny Lind who could reach b3. The authors concluded that:

Jennifer Johnson was 'next to Mme. Mado Robin in Paris, the only artist in our time with an extremely large range.

R. Luchsinger and C. L. Dubois, Folia Phoniatrica, 1956.


Chapter 18: The Singing Psyche


Following the positive reporting of the demonstration given to Weiser, Wolfsohn decided to attempt to attract other people of repute to see the work. Although the Luchsinger and Dubois paper was not published until 1956, a draft was released to Wolfsohn in September 1955 and he used it as a way of attracting the serious interest of other parties.

In order to decrease the chances of trivial journalism clouding the complex psychological significance of the work, Ernest Cole, a long-standing student, wrote a paper which was used as a commentary to the live demonstrations presented to visitors. In this paper, Cole elucidates further the notion of extending the voice to encapsulate archetypes, and includes reference to the possibility of embracing different culturally determined voice qualities in a single voice:

Take together the extension of the range in the voice of child, woman and man, and you are forced to come to the conclusion that there exists a common denominator, the human voice, as opposed to the specialised voices of which we normally think – the high or low voice, the lyrical or dramatic, the tender or strong, the dark or light – even the female or the male voice. It means, further, that there is in every human being the potential for this human voice, a voice which transcends and yet contains within itself all the apparent 'separate' voices. This transcending and unifying quality of the human voice is not limited to the division between individuals; it concerns also the divisions between nations. When we use such terms as 'English voice', Italian voice', 'Negro voice', etc, we imply a further specialisation of the voice. But here, too, it can be shown that the special qualities possessed by these apparently different voices are contained within the potential human voice of every human being, and can be developed.
Not only do we see division when we look outside, but when we look within; we are split inside also. We ask ourselves, 'Are we beasts or Homo Sapiens?' Sometimes it appears the one, and then the other aspect dominates us. Each of these parts can sing with its own voice, too, and, once again, by developing the human voice throughout the whole of its potential range, by conquering the height and the depth, these warring parts of ourselves can work in harmony and there appears a human being as opposed to a divided self.

Ernest Cole, Commentary, 1953

In the paper Cole quotes from Knut Hamsun's novel Mysteries:

But what was I going to say? – I should be really interested to know in how far you judge me capable of penetrating into the human soul. For instance, I believe I can hear a very subtle undertone in the voice of people with whom I am talking; for my hearing is incredibly acute. As I sit there in conversation I don't have to see him to be able to follow him exactly in what he is saying; I hear immediately if he is putting one over on me or otherwise telling falsehoods. The voice is a dangerous instrument. Understand me right, I don't just mean the palpable sound of the voice which may be high or low, melodious or rasping; I don't mean the material of the voice, the sound itself, but rather the mystery behind the voice, the world from which it springs.

Knut Hamsun, Mysteries, 1892

Cole defined the 'world from which it springs' as the 'unconscious' and proceeded to overtly place the vocal work in the context of a Jungian approach to psychology:

Modern psychology has now arrived at a point where the ancient Chinese philosophy comes once more into its own. The kernel of this teaching (with C.G. Jung as its main exponent) is the concept of the essential unity of opposites: height based on depth; the sky on the earth; the male on the female; love and hate; good and evil, and so on... So far the main proof of this concept has been the visual one supplied by dreams, making possible the gradual development of the 'inner eye'. This work on the human voice makes it possible to discover the 'inner ear', analogous to the 'inner eye.

Ernest Cole, Commentary, 1953

Furthermore, Cole also presented a specific example of how the vocal work links to Jung's psychology. Introducing Jenny Johnson's portrayal of all the main parts of Mozart's Magic Flute, Cole said:

What you will hear now, Miss Johnson singing excerpts from the main parts of the Magic Flute, shows the connection between modern psychology and music, with the help of the 'inner ear'. Seen from the psychological point of view, the different parts represent different archetypes. In the soprano and tenor are not only animus and anima, but hero and heroine – the spiritual beings, in contrast with the materialistic earth people, Papagena and Papageno, who, in their bird disguises, also hint at the animal in the human being. In Sarastro is the archetype of the priest and leader, and in the Queen of the Night that of the demon mother, or mana personality. The illustration, seen as a whole, is an approach, but by a very different way, to the goal of the psychology of C.G. Jung – the integration of the personality.

Ernest Cole, Commentary, 1953


Chapter 19: The Presentations


The next demonstration was a public one given in Birmingham on 19 October 1955. In a preview article advertising the event J.F. Waterhouse wrote rather cynically in the Birmingham Post:

I look forward with mingled interest and alarm to the lecture-demonstration which Alfred Wolfsohn and some of his pupils are to give next Wednesday evening... It is not long since a Peruvian soprano, Yma Sumac, came to England to demonstrate a range of (I think it was) three octaves plus. I missed several opportunities of hearing Miss Sumac, but my regrets now look like being assuaged. One of Mr. Wolfsohn's pupils, an English girl named Jenny Johnson, has a range of eight octaves plus. Dr. Weiser heard her display it... 'A world record?' asks Dr. Weiser. Mr. Wolfsohn shakes his head: 'With one of my pupils I have heard eleven octaves.' Evidently Mr. Wolfsohn's achievements are assisted by equally remarkable ears.

J. F. Waterhouse, The Utopian Voice' in Birmingham: Alfred Wolfsohn's Demonstration,
Birmingham Post, 1955

The tone of this article typifies the cynicism with which many of those encountering Wolfsohn's work out of its context greeted it. However, having heard the demonstration, the author of this article published a review in which he changed his tone radically – also typifying the fascination and interest provoked in many who took the time to witness the work first-hand and contemplate its significance to the human condition:

Readers of an article 'Nightqueen Sings Sarastro,' which appeared in our pages last Monday, may have detected faint glimmerings of skepticism between the lines. These would have been less in evidence had the author previously heard the lecture-demonstration which Mr. Wolfsohn and two of his pupils gave at Birmingham International Centre, Suffolk Street, last night...
Mr. Wolfsohn's exposition of his ideas and principles was only a little hampered by his difficulties with the English language. More serious was the failure of the Centre to discover, in time, a machine capable of doing justice to Mr. Wolfsohn's Reflectograph tape-recordings. It is expected that this drawback will be remedied tonight, and that Mr. Wolfsohn's second audience will be able to hear, for example, an 11 year-old boy's voice covering a range of seven octaves.
But the pupils, Jenny Johnson and Roy Hart, were adequate enough; and although it was hardly possible for the astounded listener to foresee in these flitter-mouse squeaks and sepulchral buzzings, any quite certain future extension of the possibilities of the musical art, the extraordinary notes were there right enough. It is not done with mirrors. Mr. Wolfsohn is beyond any doubt at all an entirely original pioneer whose psychological approach has opened up some sort of hitherto incredible future for something or other.
And one thing emerged more positively. Mr. Wolfsohn's claim to have extended not only the range but also the dynamics, colours and expressiveness of the human voice, speaking as well as singing, was immediately justified. Miss Johnson's shift from ample contralto in Schubert's Der Tod und das Mädchen to virile and resonant tenor in Leoncavallo's Vesti la Giubba was remarkable enough. But still far more remarkable were Mr. Hart's uninhibitedly dramatic and multi-voiced recitations of T. S. Eliot's 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' and 'In the beginning' from 'The Rock'. I wish that my drama colleague 'J.C.T.' could have heard him. And I hope that there were some Schoenbergian's in the audience, for the Sprechstimme of Pierrot Lunaire was knocked right out of the picture.

J. F. Waterhouse, The Utopian Voice' in Birmingham: Alfred Wolfsohn's Demonstration,
Birmingham Post, 1955

The next demonstration was given for Wayland Young, the music critic of the Observer. Young also compared Jennifer Johnson to Lucrezia Ajugari who, he proposed, had a range of 'three octaves and three notes' down to a, and to Yma Sumac who, he wrote, 'in her published records...uses a compass of d – e3, or three octaves and one note.'119 Young claimed to have heard Jennifer Johnson sing only four octaves and five tones:

She has a reliable and effortless command of four octaves and five notes, from F below the Bass clef to the second C above the treble clef (F – c4 ). The top note is the same as Ajugari's, the bottom note a tenth lower. Her voice is both sweet and powerful, though perhaps a trifle breathy, or matte. In the tenor range she can make a clear distinction between sounding like a woman singing very low and sounding almost exactly like a male tenor. On good days and with luck she can sing another five notes up, that is, to a4. These notes are of a wonderfully pure tone and the pitch is exact, but she can do it only pianissimo.
At the other extreme she has clear notes down to C, but they are weak and rather wobbly. Below that again she has another fifth, down to F, but these are faint creaks of no musical value.

Wayland Young, A New Kind of Voice, Observer, 1956

In addition to hearing Johnson live, Wayland Young listened to some tape recordings of other students:

All Mr. Wolfsohn's pupils achieve colossal compasses. He has a tape-recording of Jenny Johnson's sister, Jill Johnson, singing all the main parts in the Magic Flute, from the coloratura imprecations of the Queen of the Night to Sarastro's low F. He also has tapes of four women pupils singing the minuet from Haydn's string quartet Op. 33 No. 6; of a boy of eleven covering seven octaves (no musical value), and of a young man covering something like nine.

Wayland Young, A New Kind of Voice, Observer, 1956

Naturally, given that Young was a music critic, his single-minded focus on the musicality of Johnson's voice is understandable. However, such singular focus surpassed and ignored the holistic intentions of Wolfsohn's work by which he intended the musical value of the sung tones and timbres to be no more important than their psychological value. Consequently, whilst the journalism of Young and others served to perpetrate awareness of Wolfsohn's project amongst the public readership, it did little to represent the integrity and complexity of the work at hand.

Amidst Young's musically orientated description of the work there was, however, a warm and compassionate reference to Wolfsohn's teaching. Young said of Wolfsohn that the 'protean quality of his pupils' voices is very striking' and remarked of his teaching method:

There is a perceptible element of suggestion in his teaching, and it seems that his pupils have an unusual capacity for subduing their own personalities and identifying themselves with the matter at hand. But there is no trace of hypnosis or of a sterile domination of teacher over pupil. Mr. Wolfsohn is an open-minded, modest man.

Wayland Young, A New Kind of Voice, Observer, 1956

On Sunday 26 February 1956 Wolfsohn and Jenny Johnson gave a demonstration for a reporter of the Daily Express which was printed the following day. It read:

Twenty-three-year-old Jennifer Johnson must find a composer to write for her before she can begin her singing career if she is to use the full range of her voice.
In a demonstration yesterday at a Golders Green studio, Jennifer spanned seven octaves – the range of the piano. She can pitch her voice as high as a violin, as low as a cello.
She said: 'I believe mine is the first of a new kind of voice. I want to sing music written to exploit it'.
The first of a new kind of voice? There are about 20 others who are studying under a 59-year-old music teacher with a new method. German-born Alfred Wolfsohn.
Jennifer said: 'Some of them can reach eight octaves. I happen to be the most developed in the practical sense. We are taught on the theory that there is no difference between men's voices and women's.

She Can Sing Every Note: Jennifer Soars Right Through the Keyboard, Daily Express 1956

On the day the above article was published, William Hickey introduced Jennifer Johnson to an amateur composer, Major Hamilton Kirk, and published a short article about this the following day, 28 February 1956:

His [Major Hamilton Kirk] song, called 'The Break of Dawn,' was turned down by publishers because they did not think anyone could sing it.I can report that Jennifer sang it breathtakingly well...
She demonstrated the three C's of a great singer of the future: Composure, Calm and Concentration.

Willima Hickey, William Hickey and the Voice of the Year, Daily Express, 1956

On the same day this was published, an article in the 'Comment' section of the Daily Mail was also printed. The author had read of Jenny Johnson's voice in some of the previous articles and compared her achievements with those of Roger Banister running a mile in less than four minutes. The article concluded:

We have no moral to draw. Merely to say that, in an era when we can blow a city into a handful of dust with a handful of uranium, we can still exclaim with wonder and with Shakespeare: 'What a piece of work is a man!'

Low F to High C, Daily Mail, 1956

In the week following the Observer article on 26 February, Wolfsohn gave a singing lesson to the Observer Science Correspondent, John Davy, who published an article based on his experience the following Sunday. Though Davy admitted to having extended his range he was cynical about how much of his range was musical and in addition how much of the extension was due to Wolfsohn's teaching:

My singing lesson with Mr. Alfred Wolfsohn has left me a bit hoarse and slightly baffled. My normal singing voice ranges from about E below the bass clef to E above middle C. On some days I can produce a kind of low-power buzzing down to C below the bass clef, and, by singing fairly loudly with my mouth wide open, I can manage a slightly strained tenorish sound up to G above middle C.
With Mr. Wolfsohn...I extended this range a bit in both directions. I achieved some almost inaudible creaking noises which took me down to about G below the bass clef. At the other end of the scale, by dint of what is best described as a kind of controlled squealing, I perched insecurely on A above the treble clef. From creak to squeal this was the compass of four octaves and one note.
The snag is that I am not absolutely certain that I could not have produced the same sounds without Mr. Wolfsohn. In ordinary life there is not much scope for experimenting with controlled squealing – you need a properly sound-proofed studio, like Mr. Wolfsohn's, or a lonely hillside. From this point of view, the experiment was uncontrolled, and for that reason unsatisfactory.

John Davy, Creak to Squeal, Observer, 1956

Davy goes on to describe his experience of Wolfsohn's method of teaching:

Mr. Wolfsohn sat for most of the time at the piano while I stood at one side, facing him, backed up against a brown screen. First he played a few notes and asked me to sing them, to discover my normal range. Then he started striking higher notes, which I had to try to sing to 'hah'. When he reached a note which I did not think I could sing at all – somewhere about D about a ninth above middle C – he said I should simply sing out regardless. He got up from the piano and as I tried to sing the note, he took my two hands and pulled my arms outwards and forwards. I then found I could sing – or rather squeal – the note after all, although it was a strain to do so.
Later, while I was trying to produce another note, Mr. Wolfsohn tilted my head upwards and slightly to one side, and also put his hands behind my neck and pulled, not particularly hard, downwards and forwards. When I was trying to reach a low note, he once or twice pushed downwards on my chest. The purpose of these mild manipulations appears to be to get the voice to resonate differently in the body. They seemed to make it easier to sing the very high and very low notes, but the effect was, so far as I can judge, slight.
Apart from this, Mr. Wolfsohn actually did very little, except to play notes on the piano and ask me to sing them. It was impossible to write down my impressions and sing at the same time, and, in any case, I found that the effort of singing the right sounds claimed my full attention, so that I have only an inaccurate recollection of what Mr. Wolfsohn said. But I am satisfied that suggestion did not play much part in the lesson. Just as an athletics coach may suggest to a pupil that he should alter his run up to the high jump, so Mr. Wolfsohn suggested that I should not cramp my throat before attempting a note. But there was no hypnosis, or anything which might be described as mumbo-jumbo.
It is not really fair to pronounce on Mr. Wolfsohn's methods after one lesson. But, for what it is worth, there are two points which seem to be important. Firstly, Mr. Wolfsohn does not seem to regard the voice as a delicate plant to be carefully cultivated, but rather as a potential athlete, in need of strict, but thoroughly strenuous training. He uses a kind of assault course technique, and the voice certainly seems to be capable of putting up an astonishing performance.
When I expressed anxiety that my lesson would leave me completely hoarse – although it turned out that the hoarseness was only slight – Mr. Wolfsohn remarked briskly that one is always painfully stiff after the first tennis game of the season. His strenuous brand of vocal exercise certainly appears to produce a very tough, flexible, and athletic voice. One would like to know, on the other hand, how these voices will wear with time.
The second point is, for Mr. Wolfsohn at least, more important. He is not primarily concerned with producing singers, but with the therapeutic effect on the personality of training the voice in this way. Put crudely, his thesis is that the subconscious fears and inhibitions which cramp the personality are reflected in the 'cramped' human voice. By bringing the 'whole' voice to expression – which means compassing five octaves or more – Mr. Wolfsohn believes that the whole person benefits.
This is the aspect of his work which is most important to him. He regards the 'new kind of voice' as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Whether there is anything in what he says, I do not know, neither I am I qualified to discuss it. Certainly, singing as such is psychologically a healthful activity. It is conceivable also, that we should all feel better if it were socially possible to burst into uninhibited song in the train on the way to work, instead of confining our voices to the bathroom. Very few people know how high, low or loud they can sing if pushed. Mr. Wolfsohn's technique is to push them.
My own feeling is that Mr. Wolfsohn probably does a lot of good for some people. But I am doubtful whether his technique could, or should, be universally applied, either as a way of developing voices or of solving psychological problems.

John Davy, Creak to Squeal, Observer, 1956

In the following Sunday edition of the Observer on 11 March 1956 two letters to the editor were published. The first was written by Franklyn Kelsey which criticised the work from a musical point of view.

SIR – Mr. Alfred Wolfsohn's discoveries raise a number of questions.
First, will this kind of singing enable a hard-worked professional singer to withstand the effects of the most corrosive of all reagents upon his voice – the test of time? This, and not, as Mr. Young suggests, Miss Jenny Johnson's voice as it now is, is the real justification or otherwise of Mr. Wolfsohn's methods. If they do pass this test, Mr. Wolfsohn will have invalidated the entire practical experience of the last four centuries. For, contrary to Mr. Young's belief, the old Italian school of singing never at any time placed emphasis on the widening of the vocal compass.
It was always taught – and hard experience has fully supported the contention – that if a voice is unduly stretched at its two ends, it behaves like a piece of elastic and becomes weak in the middle. If the stretching process is prolonged, the voice eventually develops a 'hole' in this section – a series from six to eight semitones where hardly any sound can be made.
The emphasis of the old school was always placed firmly upon sweetness and expressiveness of voice, and it is largely because that emphasis has now shifted towards largeness of voice that the modern decline in vocal skill has come about. 'Bel canto' has been replaced by 'Below canto'.
If Mr. Wolfsohn's methods do stand the test of time, will they lead to an improvement in the art of singing? I cannot see that a phenomenal compass can possibly effect this; it is much more likely to displace artistry in favour of exhibitionism. The business of a true artist is not to astonish, but to move the hearts of his hearers – and the more he astonishes, the less he is likely to move.
Far too much importance is already laid upon the highest notes of the normal vocal compass; have not musicians already suffered enough at the hands of the singer who thinks to redeem a thoroughly bad performance of an aria by the high note at the end delivered double-fortissimo, and held, out of all proportion, until we begin to think – and some of us to hope – that the criminal will burst his lungs and drop dead?
What is wanted more than anything else is a race of singers who can sing with a sense of beauty and proportion within the normal compass.

Franklyn Kelsey, Letters to the Editor: The New Voice, Observer 1956

The proposition that training the extreme ends of the voice weakens the middle here made by Kelsey is a view also held by the renowned singing teacher Esther Salamon, and it was for that reason that she terminated lessons with Wolfsohn after only a short time. However, it is important to note that none of Wolfsohn's pupils who are alive today have suffered any loss or damage to their voice and those who are still involved in vocal work use their voices regularly to full effect. Furthermore, there is no physiological evidence whatsoever to suggest that training a voice to sing the extreme ends of the pitch range depletes its ability to sing in a middle range.

The second letter published by the Observer on 11 March 1956 came from the psychiatrist Laurence Bendit, who criticised the work from a psychotherapeutic point of view.

Sir, – I have read with interest the two articles on Mr. Wolfsohn's methods of voice production. I myself was taken to see him, in my capacity as psychiatrist interested in psychical research, in order to be shown what was, I understood, an unusual technique to be used for musical ends. The supposed psychotherapeutic purpose was, perhaps purposely, subordinated while we were discussing what we saw. Yet I gather from Mr. John Davy's article that this is now put first.
My own experience bears out the fact that a girl was certainly able to produce a reasonable musical voice over four octaves. That it would ever be useful even in a smallish hall, I doubted – but then in music I am an amateur. A thing Mr. Wayland Young apparently did not notice – though Mr. Davy did – was the immense strain on the singer when producing the very high and very low notes. This was very marked, even where training had gone on for some time, in the tense muscles and flushed faces of the performers. A speech therapist who was with me said she thought that serious damage to the larynx might result.
From my own angle, there is another disturbing thing – if indeed we are to take the psychological claims seriously. Voice is certainly an expression of personality. But it is starting from entirely the wrong end to try to 'uncramp' a person through his voice. For one is dealing there with effects, not with causes. A cramped personality can only ease out safely from within, and it is very well known that the quality of a voice changes of itself as the emotional life of the individual eases out. To deal with the symptom and not with the cause may lead to the two becoming separated, and the result may be some kind of breakdown.
My unease, ever since I saw Mr. Wolfsohn at work, is now clarified. If he is trying psychotherapy, the method is dangerous. If he is aiming at new musical forms, the results so far are not such as to justify undue optimism for the future.

Laurence Bendit, Letters to the Editor: The New Voice, Observer, 1956

The following week on Sunday 18 March 1956, the Observer published two letters of reply to these objections. The first came from Leslie Sheppard who had invited Dr. Bendit to the studio:

Sir, – It is very understandable that Dr. Bendit and Mr. Kelsey should doubt the value of innovations as radical as those of Mr. Wolfsohn. After all, Mr. Wolfsohn's work, which has been in progress for many years, is not yet easily accessible. Mr. Kelsey has not had the opportunity of hearing Mr. Wolfsohn's singers, and Dr. Bendit's conclusions are based upon a single visit (at which I was also present).
Dr. Bendit may be unaware that Miss Jenny Johnson was recently examined by leading Swiss laryngologists, who found a completely relaxed, but absolutely normal larynx, with no anatomical peculiarities. X-ray photographs, taken over a period of a three hour vocalisation, showed no strain, and it will be recalled that Miss Johnson has been training for a number of years.

Leslie Sheppard, Letters to the Editor: Song and Strain, Observer, 1956

The other letter of support came from Edward H. Owen:

Sir, – Commenting on Mr. Wolfsohn's methods of voice production, Dr. Laurence Bendit argues that physically initiated attempts to 'uncramp' the personality are dangerous because they do not deal with the emotional attitude that he regards as the 'cause' of the physical 'effect'. He is thus assuming the emotional attitude to be the factor that primarily governs behaviour – an assumption common to various forms of psychotherapy, but not by any means accepted by those who have worked on the problem of 'uncramping' the personality from a more independent standpoint.
The technique of psychophysical re-education developed by the late Mr. F. M. Alexander shows consistent and well-attested results in freeing people from all kinds of harmful habits and attitudes without any special attention to psychological factors. Although taught by such 'physical' means as getting his pupil to sit down, stand up, walk about and speak, this technique is acknowledged by those who have studied it in action to bring about a progressive change in the pupil's whole approach to life, often giving him a greater feeling of confidence and capacity and helping to relieve him of worry and strain.

Edward H. Owen, Letters to the Editor: Song and Strain, Observer, 1956

In April 1956 Jenny Johnson appeared on the television programme Talk of Many Things hosted by Richard Attenborough; and on 22 April 1956 Attenborough wrote to Johnson and Hart saying:

Everyone to whom I have spoken has been absolutely fascinated by your item, and felt that it was certainly the high-spot of the programme and indeed one of the high-spots of the series.

Richard Attenborough, Letter to Jenny Johnson and Roy Hart, 1956

Around the same time, the BBC broadcasted a documentary showing Wolfsohn's group of pupils practising the vocal work as part of a television programme In Town Tonight, hosted by Fife Robertson.

On 19 March 1956 an article appeared in Time magazine:

The human voice was always man's most expressive instrument, and until a few centuries ago it was also the most flexible. Then part singing was invented, and in time the singer's voice became corseted by custom into one of six categories: soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass. Like any set of muscles restricted to less than full capabilities, the human voice became the slave of the restriction. Individuals once even went to such extremes as castration to break out, but occasionally a voice comes along that needs no adjustment to make musical news: the thrilling voice of soprano Lucrezia Ajugari, which rose almost three octaves from middle D; the freak voice of the 19th century's Eugenia Mela, a woman who sang tenor; the incongruous bass voice of a three-year-old boy in Prague in 1936; and more recently, the voice of Peruvian Yma Sumac, whose singing voice covers four octaves.
In London last week a new voice was making news. It belongs to pretty, pencil-slim Jennifer Johnson, 23, and its useful range is an extraordinary 4 1/2 octaves, or everything from bass to soprano.
Jenny, like Ajugari and Sumac, is no freak. Her range is considerably greater than most, her voice is sweet and powerful, and she has it under reliable, effortless command. (She can cover almost an additional two octaves but with little musical value.) In her tenor range she can sound either like a contralto or a real male tenor. Some critics find Jenny's voice a bit dry, but this can be overcome, she believes, before she makes her professional debut...she sings the high notes of a coloratura selection, then switches to her male tenor voice for Ridi, Pagliacci without apparent strain...
Her biggest problem now is to find music to display her voice in public, for most composers have long helped keep the corset strings tight by writing music to fit the man-imposed limitation on man's voice. Mozart composed killing coloratura arias for his high-singing sisters-in-law, Josepha and Aloysia Weber; Giuseppe Colla supplied music for his wife-to-be, Ajugari; Moises Vivanco supplies it for his wife Yma Sumac. Jennifer Johnson is now looking for someone to write music for Jennifer Johnson.

The Omnitone, Time, 1956.

On 13 November 1956 the first Hoffnung Music Festival, organised by the cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung, was held at the London Festival Hall. The Festival was intended to be a humorous look at live music; it presented many unusual instruments and visual jokes and involved playing classical compositions on make-shift instruments such as hosepipes. At the festival, Jennifer Johnson sang a song called The Lift Girl written especially for her by Donald Swan to show off the range of her voice. Some of the festival was televised by the BBC and on Wednesday 14 November 1956 reviews of the festival which included reference to Johnson appeared in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Morning Post and The Evening Standard:

Mr. Dennis Brain played a concerto by Leopold Mozart on a coil of rubber hosepipe, which emitted a faint but musical sound like a distant bugle call. In the same category was the voice of Miss Jenny Johnson, who can soar to altitudes undreamed by Ajugari (or Miss Yma Sumac) and jump, Fiordiligi-wise, to a very creditable baritone register – aptly she sang a song about a lift attendant.

The Times, 1956.

More than one talented performer came to light as a result of Hoffnung's diligent researches.
Jenny Johnson, for instance, the soprano-contralto-tenor-bass soloist in Donald Swan's delightful Betjeman setting, should be immediately signed up by Messrs. Norman Tucker and David Webster as permanent understudy to all roles.

J. Warrack, Joke Fantasy of Hoffnung Concert: Hosepipe Concerto, Daily Telegraph 1956

Pretty Jenny Johnson – half-a-dozen revue producers should be on her door-step by now – captivated with a voice that shot down to a man's range as well as up above an ordinary soprano's.

A. Jacobs, Mr. Hoffnung Starts a New Musical Fashion, Evening Standard, 1956

In December 1956 The Gramophone referred to Johnson's singing at the festival, speaking of 'an aria written for a truly remarkable (and very attractive) 'bass coloratura' who had to be heard and even then couldn't be believed'.142
Shortly after the festival a record of the performances was made but Jennifer Johnson's piece was not included. Leslie Sheppard recalls that the reason for this was that Wolfsohn believed that Johnson should receive a fee and advised her not to do it for nothing.143 As the money was not available to pay the artists, Johnson did not record her piece. In the Gramophone in January 1957, referring to the record, an article read:

All the 'funnies' except Toch's Geographical Fugue and the delectable Jenny Johnson's vocal solo (and the Orchestral switch, which was ingenious rather than particularly amusing) have been included.

The Hoffnung Musical Festival Concert, The Gramophone, 1957

In 1956 Folkways Records released a long-playing record entitled Vox Humana which comprised the group of Wolfsohn pupils presenting the fundamental vocal exercises of violin, viola and cello along with other sung pieces demonstrating the expanded vocal range. In an introduction published with the record, Dr. Henry Cowell praises the ability of the singers to produce a number of different timbres within the same pitch range, stating:

It is very provocative to consider that human voices can produce a myriad of different timbres, that a composer may call for practically any sort of tone he wishes, and that any Vox Humana-trained singer of any age or sex can sing it according to the composer's desire. It would appear from the techniques already developed that a musical tone of almost any desired quality can be sounded from the bass to an ultra-treble range, continuously and smoothly.

Henry Cowell, Introduction to Vox Humana:
Alfred Wolfsohn's Experiments in Extension of Human Vocal Range
, 1956.

Cowell points out however that in a number of the items on the record, the voices in fact do not stretch to the ranges claimed by the description of the items written by Wolfsohn and the pupils and published on the record sleeve:

The unusually low ranges are produced by what for want of a better word must be called bleating: that is to say, tones of the same pitch are interrupted rapidly with silence. The pitches that are actually sung are low, but not the extreme lows claimed; the rhythm of the tone-interruptions is correct for the vibrations of the claimed pitches, but I admit I cannot hear them, and feel it to be most doubtful whether these sounds are physically produced.The extreme highs are another matter. They are there, in clear, pure, in-tune tones, produced by a combination of harmonics or overtones – a conscious division of the vocal cords into halves (producing the first overtone, a regular falsetto) and sometimes shorter subdivisions (making still higher overtones), in combination with an over-blowing technique like that applied to all wind instruments; higher pressures to produce higher pitches. In this manner, musical tones are formed up to the very top of the piano range.

Henry Cowell, Introduction to Vox Humana:
Alfred Wolfsohn's Experiments in Extension of Human Vocal Range
, 1956.

Cowell suggests that:

Before their experiments become an integrated part of music, composers must create things especially for them...one foresees the growth of a modern sort of English madrigalism.

Henry Cowell, Introduction to Vox Humana:
Alfred Wolfsohn's Experiments in Extension of Human Vocal Range
, 1956.

In a further introduction published with the record, Leslie Sheppard balances Cowell's stress of the musical with a reminder of the psychological side of the work:

It is usual practice to divide the human voice into four main categories: soprano, contralto, tenor and bass. But in the moment in which one single voice can be extended to cover these four registers, they must cease to have their specific meaning, since it is shown that this apparently specific part of the whole is contained in any one voice.
It can further be shown that any male voice contains female elements and conversely any female voice contains male elements capable of being developed fully if desired. This must, of necessity, lead to the basic conception of the human voice, as opposed to the specialized one. Since the voice is not simply the function of an anatomical structure called the larynx, but the expression of the personality as a whole, this is tantamount to the requirement of a personality fully developed in every direction – not stunted in any one way by the over-specialization in one particular direction !...
This extension of the Voice is therefore more than a new system of singing. Pupils are brought face to face with their own hopes and fears as people. Many of them did not start out with the idea of becoming singers, but only of finding a way to overcome psychological problems.

Leslie Sheppard, The Voice of the World, Notes Accomanying Vox Humana:
Alfred Wolfsohn's Experiments in Extension of Human Vocal Range
, 1956.

On 19 November 1957, German Radio broadcast a programme based on a manuscript prepared by Wolfgang von Einsiedel. The broadcaster read:

Up to now...the range of the human voice has been considered as naturally conditioned, and its limitations within a certain stretch as absolute. Timbre and quality might vary, according to different countries and eras, but the voice as such seemed forever ruled by the laws of human anatomy and physiology. Any attempt to strengthen, form, develop, improve this could count on success only if it was undertaken in accordance with those laws. But were we justified in being so sure of their validity? The voice pedagogue Alfred Wolfsohn in London today questions them radically.

Wolfgang von Einsiedel, Six Instead of Two and a Half Octaves: Unlimited Range – About an Experiment and its Possible Consequences, 1957

The author of this manuscript highlighted a number of things about Wolfsohn's work, firstly, that the approach was entirely psychological. Citing Alfred Wolfsohn's remarks published in the Die Weltwoche article by Weiser that 'range and timbre are not conditioned by the shape and size of the larynx but solely by psychological factors', the author continued that Wolfsohn's work:

...has rather grown, as if casually, out of his therapeutic activities through many years. To begin with...Wolfsohn was concerned with remedying disturbances or damages of the voice which were based on psychological factors. Thereby he found that, vice versa, a voice liberated from inhibitions and restrictions caused a general relaxation and loosening. The next step, the decisive one, followed inevitably, as it were. The limits of the human voice could apparently be systematically expanded by chiefly psychological means. This was and is the point where Wolfsohn's method essentially differs from that of traditional voice pedagogues, though of course the two ways meet here and end there.
Incidentally, to Wolfsohn himself the result of his work meant at the same time the therapeutic solution of a personal problem. This work sprang, he considers in retrospect, from the compelling need to banish a 'negative' voice from his ear, namely the cry of agony coming from the comrade fighting by his side in the First World War when a bullet tore him to pieces. This cry shrilled in Wolfsohn's ears for months afterwards, like a nightmare.

Wolfgang von Einsiedel, Six Instead of Two and a Half Octaves: Unlimited Range – About an Experiment and its Possible Consequences, 1957

Von Einsiedel also pointed out that Wolfsohn believed the work to be concerned not with acquiring special techniques but rediscovering a lost ability which was, and possibly still is, the potential of every voice:

He [Wolfsohn] has not only assured us, but demonstrated that the human voice is capable of an extension to twice, if not three and four times its previous range, and, moreover, with certain reservations, every human voice. That which made itself heard in singing up to now, he calls the 'special voice' which only through an age-old habit or, one might say, convention has been established as the natural voice, while the real, original, human voice had not shown any difference of sex, age, or register. Therefore he believes that he has not discovered but only rediscovered, in the course of his work, the potentialities inherent in the human voice which had been neglected all too long.

Wolfgang von Einsiedel, Six Instead of Two and a Half Octaves: Unlimited Range – About an Experiment and its Possible Consequences, 1957

Further, von Einsiedel referred to the importance of transcending gender:

...the prospect opened by Alfred Wolfsohn's discovery is anything but reassuring. Should his not-specialised, extended voice become the 'general' voice some day, it would mean, among other things, that the human voice ceased to be a secondary characteristic of sex. Male and female voice (the singing voice at any rate) would no longer be different from each other.

Wolfgang von Einsiedel, Six Instead of Two and a Half Octaves: Unlimited Range – About an Experiment and its Possible Consequences, 1957

This broadcast was the first to put forward a comparison between the sounds made by Wolfsohn's pupils and the cultural differences in the perception of vocal beauty.

Anyone who shudders at the mere thought of such a possibility should remember that with a speaking and singing technique different from our own (as in the Far East, for instance) the difference of sex appears much less in the voice colour anyway.

Wolfgang von Einsiedel, Six Instead of Two and a Half Octaves: Unlimited Range – About an Experiment and its Possible Consequences, 1957

The programme played a number of vocal pieces published on the Folkways record including Jenny Johnson singing Water Boy, the Russian song Nightingale and passages from six parts of Mozart's Magic Flute from the high coloratura to Sarastro's deep bass; and a male student singing the coloratura of the Queen of the Night in the original key.

In his concluding words after the playing of these pieces, von Einsiedel made some remarks of analytical importance. Firstly, he said:

You will by now have gained some idea of what we shall call, for the sake of convenience, the New Voice.
It is a voice capable of hitherto unimagined steps and leaps and also of certain unusual nuances of tone, but which is apt to lose in the border-regions its expressiveness together with its original fullness. At any rate it has to pay for the extended range with a loss of intensity. At present it seems to master the sudden change between registers far apart more easily than the smooth change from one register to the nearest next. Correspondingly, the natural middle register, as a rule the most powerfully developed, has been obviously neglected. And finally, the relation between tone production and articulation, between sound and word, seems so much weakened (especially in the performance of a song and naturally again mostly in the border regions) that the New Voice occasionally seems to be in danger of losing the ability to serve as an organ of personal interpretation, of intellectual, artistic interpretation.

Wolfgang von Einsiedel, Six Instead of Two and a Half Octaves: Unlimited Range – About an Experiment and its Possible Consequences, 1957

The author goes on to place the resulting vocal style of Wolfsohn's teaching in the context of shifting artistic standards of the time.

The last of the great composers of Opera to lend it a late new splendour (after Verdi and the Italian Versists) was Richard Strauss. And yet, in his Elektra (the work in which he gets perhaps nearest to the split character of his time) the music drama's will for expression pushes beyond the borders of vocal expression. Already in Wagner's Music-Drama the singing on the stage had adopted a declamatory character for long periods. This indicated not only that the dramatic voice had reached the limit of what it was possible to sing, but also that it had exhausted its possibilities of expression. When Schoenberg later on in his Pierrot Lunaire developed the declamatory singing (Sprechgesang) into 'spoken melody' ('Sprechmelodie') which Alan Berg afterwards, in his Wozzek, used once more for music-dramatical effect, he opened for the voice a realm between speaking and singing utterance. This was a symptom that the great time of the singing voice was past, the time of that voice which had found its purest, richest, maturest, fulfilment in the Lied.
In a sense, the final song in Mahler's Song of the Earth, the 'Abschied', half a century ago, was a farewell of the 'beautiful' voice to its own great past, its swansong.
Not as if merely the point of gravity had been shifted from the vocal to the instrumental field. Musical Art as such turned in a direction where it became increasingly estranged from the character of the human voice. To indicate this development briefly: the melodic line (which had been already frequently broken in late Romanticism) became disjoined or more and more forcibly bent, the leaps across intervals wider and more abrupt, the rhythms more changeable and breathless, the keys more elusive, and the instruments (string and wind) 'supporting' the singing voice were more and more replaced by brass and percussion. The voice itself was pushed, as it were, to the outer edge of musical development, to the edge of the sound-picture, and to the edge of its own power of expression.
It became depersonalised, almost instrumentalised. To be sure, there are important Lied-creations in more modern times too.
In two song cycles, Hindemith's 'Marienleben' and Janacek's 'Tagebuch eines Verschollenen', old and new tendencies of expression in music, from diametrically opposed positions, were once more reconciled. But there are, characteristically, no great vocal composers any more who are not in one way or another epigones of Romanticism. In the works of the modernists (the so-called 'Neutoner') at any rate, from Schoenberg to Luigi Nono, the voice is perpetually driven to the border region, is condemned, as it were, to a 'frontier situation' where the sound threatens to become either a wordless inarticulate cry or toneless articulated words. To this development corresponds in the lower regions of musical art the degeneration of popular song to crooning. Cry or whisper – these are the last extremes of individual expression for the 'limited' voice.
If, therefore, during the last half century the waves of the urge for musical expression have beaten with increasing violence against the walls of the earlier, 'natural' voice, Wolfsohn's discovery of the 'wall-less' voice must not be considered as a casual, haphazard, non-artistic phenomenon, and cannot, therefore, be thrown aside as a subjective whim or an irresponsible plaything.
A certain technical point must also be born in mind: Through the development of the microphone the natural voice has gained considerably in volume, sometimes perhaps even undergone a change of colour, in a positive as well as in a negative sense. In a certain way it would seem as if the consciously achieved extension of range represents a kind of natural counterbalance to the increase of volume achieved by technical means. Whether, however, the change of the voice character can be beneficial to the development of that which we still understand as Music, or whether it will be only a complice of empty virtuosity, of a new kind of voice acrobatics – this will depend chiefly on the ability of the extended voice to be also trained and cultivated. And is it not feasible that with all this the establishing of new restrictions within new, wider limits might be necessary?

Wolfgang von Einsiedel, Six Instead of Two and a Half Octaves: Unlimited Range – About an Experiment and its Possible Consequences, 1957

These points raised by the author of the broadcast were to be instrumental in forming the principles of the theatre-idiom envisioned by Roy Hart.

In 1958 Wolfsohn wrote to Aldous Huxley saying:

In your book 'Brave New World' you wrote the following passage: 'Thirty or forty bars and then, against this instrumental background, a much more than human voice began to warble, now throaty, now from the head, now hollow as a flute, now charged with yearning harmonics, it effortlessly passed from Gaspard Forster's low record on the very frontiers of musical tone to a trilled bat-note high above the highest C to which (in 1770 at the Ducal Opera of Parma and to the astonishment of Mozart) Lucrezia Ajugari alone of all singers in history, once piercingly gave utterance...' In view of the fact that this is the only passage in the book containing any allusion to the past history of the world, I cannot escape the conclusion that the human voice and its problems hold a strong attraction for you. From this it follows that you are more likely to be interested if I tell you that your vision has been more or less realised in my work.

Alfred Wolfsohn, Letter to Aldous Huxley, 1958

In his reply Aldous Huxley wrote:

Thank you for your kind letter and the most interesting enclosures. What you write about your experiences with the training of the voice serves to deepen a conviction which has been steadily forming in my mind during recent years – namely, that the supposed physiological or psychological limits to the human being's achievements in every field of activity do not lie where they have been (arbitrarily and on inadequate evidence) placed, but are capable of very great extension, if and when certain conditions of mind-body training are fulfilled.

Aldous Huxley, Letter to Alfred Wolfsohn, 1958

Early in November 1958 Wolfsohn and the pupils gave a demonstration to Aldous and Julian Huxley and afterwards, on 14 November 1958, Julian Huxley wrote to Wolfsohn saying:

I was very much interested in the demonstration you gave me and my brother recently, of the surprising range and pitch of which the normal human voice seems to be capable. This is clearly a matter of considerable scientific interest, as well as of psychological importance, and I hope very much that you will be able to pursue the work successfully and make it better known.

Julian Huxley, Letter to Alfred Wolfsohn, 1958

Around the same time demonstrations were given to Dr. Hermann Scherchen and to Edward Downes, then conductor of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and lecturer in Music at the University of Aberdeen, who wrote back saying:

I believe the work of Mr. Wolfsohn, to which I was recently introduced by Dr. Herman Scherchen, to be one of the most important developments in the music of the present time.
From the viewpoint of the composer, the availability of a vocal range virtually double the size of that previously thought to be practicable, and with it, a correspondingly increased variety of tone colours, opens up an entirely new world of possibilities.

Edward Downes, Letter to Alfred Wolfsohn, 1958

In addition to the abovementioned demonstrations there were, according to the testimony of students, many others for those who came into the studio to witness Wolfsohn's work. They included a demonstration for Dr. Charles Enfield; for Arthur Koestler, who exclaimed that Wolfsohn's work amounted to 'black magic'; and for the actor Peter Ustinov who, as a result, released the comedy record Phoney Folklore in which he displayed a number of different vocal qualities in a cynical and satirical response to what he had witnessed at Wolfsohn's studio.

All of these demonstrations were as much a disclosure of Wolfsohn's teaching methods as they were of his students' resulting abilities. The emphasis was on revealing the potential expressive range of the human voice as a psychological phenomenon, and what Wolfsohn hoped to promote was his method of teaching, not the artistic work or career of the pupils.


Chapter 20: Disatisfaction and Recognition


Despite the growing interest in and support for the work from accomplished and critical witnesses, which out-weighed the scepticism and disinterest, Wolfsohn was deeply unfulfilled by the publicity and felt that the depth and psychological significance of the work still had not been endorsed with recognition by a truly perceptive mind.

There was, naturally, nobody's positive appraisal that would have satisfied Wolfsohn more than that of Jung himself, and in April 1955 Wolfsohn had written to Jung asking whether he would be interested in hearing some of Wolfsohn's work, enclosing both his manuscripts.

On 3 May 1955, Aniela Jaffe, Jung's colleague and secretary, replied with the following letter:

Prof. Jung asks me to thank you for the interesting papers you sent him. Today I just want to tell you that a psychologist from Zurich who has worked for a long time at the C.G. Jung Institute and (analytically) worked with Frau. Prof. Jung – is shortly going to London and would be interested in your investigations. Her name is Dora M. Kalf...
It would be nice if you could get into contact with her. She is musical and would have the necessary understanding for your work.
I don't think that Prof. Jung himself will be able to take note of your investigations. In his old age he has to husband his strength and, in general, leaves such tasks to his pupils. All the better, that just now someone of us is coming to London. I will, after all, also hear more about it.

Aniela Jaffe, Letter to Alfred Wolfsohn, 1955

There is no record of Wolfsohn meeting Kalf and what he perceived as the lack of active interest from Zurich, in particular Jung's lack of personal communication, disappointed Wolfsohn greatly.
Finally an event occurred which was to culminate in a small emblem of the approval and recognition of the so-called establishment that Wolfsohn had forever felt in need of.

The recognition came from Paul J. Moses who was a clinical professor in charge of the Speech and Voice Section, Division of Otolaryngology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, San Francisco.
Moses believed, like many before him, that oral communication is composed of speech and voice; whilst speech denotes what we say, voice denotes the way we say it.

Moses adamantly believed that it was possible to detect in the voice alone any underlying emotional or psychological disturbance. He believed that:

Vocal dynamics truthfully reflect psychodynamics and each emotion has its vocal expression.

Paul Moses, Speech and Voice Therapy in Otolaryngology, Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Monthly, 1953

Moses was deeply influenced by both Freud and Jung. From Freud he learnt that traumatic events which occur during childhood can come back to haunt the adult in the form of physical suffering; and disturbances in the quality of the human voice were for Moses manifestations of such traumas. From Jung, Moses learnt that there is a deeply buried layer of images in the human psyche which belong to a collective unconscious. These images were, for Moses, also evident in the sound of a person's voice. He wrote:

Voice is an indicator of different phases in a person's life. It is free from static qualities. Vocal changes accompany the development of the individual, but in addition, voice contains archaic properties originating in the cradle of mankind. One can go as far as to say that vocal expression is a record of the history of mankind as well as a record of the individual.

Paul Moses, The Voice of Neurosis, 1954

Moses proposed that:

'the child's vocal development, from its first cry' to the acquisition of speech 'retraces the development of the species', that emotional disturbance in adult life can cause him to 'return symbolically to a phase that gave greater security' and that the regression will be expressed through the vocal characteristics which accompany that stage.

Paukl Moses, Reorientation of Concepts and Facts in Phonetics, Logos, 1958

Because of the synonimity between the developmental dynamics of individual infancy and pre-verbal humankind, Moses believed that in the paralinguistic utterances of schizophrenics one could perceive the acoustic remains of an earlier time; just as Jung had perceived in the paintings of psychotics images which mirrored those contained in ancient myths.

Moses was a laryngologist and as such was involved in treating the voice problems of which his patients complained. However, just as Freud had discovered no organic or physiological cause for the broad range of somatic sufferings of which his early patients complained, so too Moses discovered that the larynx of many of his patients was completely healthy. Moses therefore assumed Freud's role of searching for the underlying psychological cause for physical disorder – in this case disorders which affected the voice. Moses believed that treatment of the voice had to run in tandem with treatment of the psyche and his prime aim was therefore to introduce the precepts of psychotherapy into vocal analysis.

Moses believed that the action of phonation at birth and the subsequent pre-verbal noises of a child are extremely pleasurable and releasing. The child draws sensual oral pleasure from the process of suckling at the breast, which becomes associated with the vegetative sounds of sucking to such a degree that the process of vocal sound-making becomes an important source of pleasure whether accompanied by feeding or not. This pleasure is unhampered by any external restriction and the sounds are composed according only to the baby's own whims, feelings, responses and as a result of involuntary physiological operations.

However, Moses proposed that the acquisition of speech is, by comparison, a traumatic experience which interferes with this free-functioning of vocal expressiveness. To learn language the child is required to bring his feelings and instincts, moods and affects, which have hitherto been sung in a fashion reminiscent of the spontaneous vocal music of pre-verbal peoples, under the jurisdiction of words.

This involves the child in a game of punishment and reward which he or she finds terribly traumatic.

According to Moses, therefore, patients who have found this transformation from non-verbal to verbal expression particularly traumatic are subconsciously yearning for an opportunity to once again give free reign to their feelings and instincts via the spontaneous emission of non-verbal vocal sounds. The success of any vocal and psychological therapy therefore depends on giving the patient an opportunity to once more give voice to the psychological dimensions for which no words are appropriate because such dimensions of experience precede language in both individual and collective development.

Moses believed he had discovered that the process of singing was the only adult activity which answered to these needs. It was in this connection that Moses wrote the words which mark the transposition of Freud's cathartic method of verbal therapy on to the act of singing:

In archaic days, when sounds, and not abstract constructions of grammar, were the interpreter of human thoughts and emotions, the complete range of voice was used more freely. Like the infant who lets his vocal powers range to their fullest extent, primitive peoples at the dawn of society used their voices to their heart's content to express their feelings and reactions. Sensual sound phenomena also preceded syntax. As we ceased to communicate in gestures, imitative sounds, cries of sorrow and jubilation, and acquired, instead, words, our vocal range began to shrink to the point where speech melody is now merely a weazened emotional scale on which articulation plays its piece. Only when our controls get out of hand, when we become excited or intoxicated, do we become savages again. We forget our civilised range limitations and the primeval cry can be heard again. Range is the language of emotions, as against articulation, the language of ideas.
Singing is something of a compromise, a willed recall of an echo of the pure satisfaction of primitive vocalisation. It is an auto-erotic activity, releasing the tensions built up by our repressions.

Paul Moses, The Voice of Neurosis, 1954

Unfortunately, it was not until towards the end of his life that Moses discovered, in theory, that singing was an aid to psychotherapeutic development, and he did not therefore have the opportunity to practically investigate the use of singing with patients. But this, of course, was exactly what Wolfsohn had been doing; and in many ways Wolfsohn's research can be seen as the practical correlation to Moses' theoretical proposals.

In 1959 Paul Moses came to London as a delegate at the London World Voice Conference, which brought together doctors, psychologists and other voice specialists to share ideas regarding all aspects of the human voice. One of the presentations at this conference was a lecture by Alfred Wolfsohn, with a practical demonstration by one of his pupils. Paul Moses, who by this time was an internationally renowned figure, respected in many fields for his work on the psychodynamics of the voice – and yet still in search of the practical representation of his ideas on singing – saw in this presentation the confirmation of all that he had formulated in theory.

A little more than a year after this conference, early in February 1961, Wolfsohn ceased teaching due to illness and four long-standing students – Kaya Anderson, Sheila Braggins, Roy Hart and Marita Günther – nursed him and tended to his needs. Later, in mid April, two months after the cessation of his teaching, Wolfsohn received a testimony from Paul Moses which read:

I consider Mr. Wolfsohn one of the greatest experts in problems of the human voice in the world.
His achievements do not only cover the teaching of singing but go far beyond this: they encompass entirely new areas of expression and communication. Mr. Wolfsohn has been able to prove his theories through practical results of his teaching: to me and to many other scientists in the field of vocal expression there is no doubt that it will be absolutely necessary that his work continues since most valuable discoveries have been made by him and should be expected from him if he is able to go on. His work should be known to singers and to singing masters, but just as much to laryngologists, psychiatrists and psychologists. In my own teaching I quote Mr. Wolfsohn's discoveries constantly and do as much from an anthropological point of view.

Paul Moses, Letter to Alfred Wolfsohn, 1961

This was written on 16 April 1961. Shortly afterwards, Paula Salomon-Lindberg sent Wolfsohn a brochure for an exhibition of Charlotte's paintings preceding the publication of Charlotte: Life or Theatre? The brochure included a print of one of the paintings showing Charlotte and Alfred on a park bench in Berlin.

The picture left him mute for hours; for he had no idea that he had been such an influence on Charlotte.

Mary Löwenthal Felstiner, To Paint her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Mirror, 1994

A little under a year later, on Monday 5 February 1962, Alfred Wolfsohn died. The cause of death was tuberculosis, which he had contracted during the First World War.

His obituary read:

Alfred Wolfsohn, aged 65, the well known voice expert, died on Monday, February 5th. Paul J. Moses, M. D., Associate Clinical Professor, Stanford University, has said that he considered Alfred Wolfsohn to be one of the greatest experts in problems of the human voice in the world.
In spite of a long and severe illness he continued his work and was, up to the end, full of plans for the future. Although this has been tragically interrupted by his death, his pupils are continuing his researches.
The Studio, 133, North End Road, London, NW11.

Alfred Wolfsohn Obituary


Chapter 21: In Mournful Aftermath


By way of a mournful celebration, in the year following his death the group of students who had studied with Wolfsohn – some of them for over 14 years – printed and distributed a short paper entitled An Outline of the Work of the Alfred Wolfsohn Voice Research Centre. This document outlined five areas of specialised research to which they believed the voice work to be relevant: science (particularly biology, medicine and physics), psychology, drama, music and philosophy.

A further paper was also produced during this year by Leslie Sheppard, who had been on the periphery of the student group, assuming the role of documenting and recording the demonstrations. The paper, subsequently read at the Sixth International Congress of Psychotherapy, London, August 1964, proposed that:

It is becoming increasingly evident that a large number of individual neuroses reflect contemporary social and cultural mores rather than a specific individual family environment, and that the appropriate therapy may well be a creative cultural activity rather than a specialised psychoanalytical or psychiatric treatment.

Leslie Sheppard, An Empirical Therapy Based on an Extension of Vocal Range and Expression in Singing and Drama, 1964

Calling for a general plea for collaboration between 'cultural specialists and doctors', the paper proposed that the 'cultural system of voice training' founded by Alfred Wolfsohn, had both a 'therapeutic value in the treatment of neurosis' and a scientific value in the 'field of extension of vocal function'.

Sheppard continued:

In the present system of Voice Training, the dynamic functions of singing and acting disrupt habitual negative breathing and muscular reflexes and substitute positive mechanisms, reducing anxiety and harmonising the personality as a whole...
In the Wolfsohn system of singing and drama, the emphasis is on practical work of a dynamic kind rather than passive participation. The student is encouraged and guided to explore and extend his own personality in relation to the more universal human situation which he learns to express artistically...
Freeing the voice in this way also liberates other artistic aptitudes. When a certain stage in the development has been reached, many pupils have had vivid dreams and have spontaneously expressed themselves in painting pictures, without previous artistic aptitude. This interesting connection between the production of certain musical sounds and a heightened visual faculty has been observed but no general hypothesis is put forward.

Leslie Sheppard, An Empirical Therapy Based on an Extension of Vocal Range and Expression in Singing and Drama, 1964

The paper is historically very important because it was the first printed acknowledgement of a theatrical use of the work, and is emblematic of the move towards theatre-experimentation which began to be facilitated by Roy Hart in the period following Wolfsohn's death. The paper read:

So far it must be apparent that exploring the potentialities of the voice means also exploring the potentialities of oneself, and this has two side-effects, both of immense value to creative art – spontaneity and self-control. The immense self-control needed to switch from height to depth, from one timbre to another with smooth and unnoticed breathing, makes for general flexibility in vocal expression that is a great asset when it comes to dramatic production, poetry or play... Acting was at one time a religious function, but only a few of the greatest artists nowadays know how to bestow on acting this dignity. Our work shows that a miscellany of non-theatrical people, working organically to increase their own artistic intuition, are capable of acting with exceptional talent.

Leslie Sheppard, An Empirical Therapy Based on an Extension of Vocal Range and Expression in Singing and Drama, 1964

The initial years of teaching and research which Wolfsohn pursued in England in the late forties and the early fifties were very much an intentionally private and unpublicised affair. The development of each persons' voice was inextricably linked to the intense and unique relationship built up, by regular contact, between the inspiring teacher and each of his pupils. Like the relationship between a therapist and a client, it was inappropriate for there to be any observers or audients. However, as the work unfolded and students began to feel secure in both their voices and their unfolding psychological process, Wolfsohn opened the studio doors to allow all of his students to sit in on individual lessons. This meant that the students were able to learn from both their own experiences and, through observation, those of all the other students.

This led to the organic emergence of a working group, bonded and cemented by the sharing of a common experience of investigating the breadth of expression possible in the human voice. Because each student was observing each of the other students in their process of psychological discovery, many of the members came to know one another very intimately. For Wolfsohn it meant that he could exemplify his points with clarity for all students. For the group of students it meant that they could witness and participate in the vocal and soulful transformation of individuals over a period of time. And for each individual at any time receiving a lesson, it meant being in receipt of the generous support and encouragement of the entourage who sat poised with open ears.

This arrangement of lessons, whereby a teacher and pupil were observed by a group who bore testimony to the effects of the work – evident in the vocal changes in the pupil – led to the practice of inviting journalists, psychologists and other interested parties to presentations, and brought the work briefly to the attention of a wider public, as outlined above. Consequently, during the last five years of Wolfsohn's life – between 1957 and 1962 – the group began to focus less on in-depth training and more on the application of this training to these presentations which were, at first, given only to other members of the group and a small number of invited guests, and then later to journalists and other professional parties.

During the later years of Wolfsohn's life, when his health became poor, the students had, of necessity, continued to train by giving each other singing lessons. In fact, this practice of working both as pupil and teacher with other group members had begun earlier in the mid 1950s, as a way of relieving Wolfsohn of the full responsibility of teaching and of answering to the individual experimental interests of each pupil. The practice was openly encouraged by Wolfsohn who saw it as an ideal way of disseminating the work to more people.


Chapter 22: A New Leader and a New Direction


Among the group of teacher/pupils was a South African called Roy Hart who had studied English and Psychology at Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg before coming to England to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He records:

I came to England from South Africa with the seemingly egoistical intention of becoming an actor of some stature. I won a scholarship to RADA and was told I had a good voice and stage personality. Yet I had known for some time that my voice was not rooted, not literally embodied; that the varied roles I was considered to perform so well were actually only figments of my imagination with no connection with my body. In personal relationships I was an aloof outsider. On leaving RADA I was immediately offered a most promising opening in the Theatre. I thought I was dedicated to the Theatre, and my friends forecast a brilliant future. Yet, at this point, where personal ambition might have been expected to take over, I made an extraordinary choice. I turned down the proffered 'big chance' in order to research into the nature and meaning of the human voice.

Roy Hart, How Voice Gave me a Conscience, 1967

Roy Hart's approach to teaching other members of the Wolfsohn entourage was characterised by a particularly theatrical orientation and Hart was keen to develop the work beyond presentations to invited guests for the purposes of demonstrating technique, towards theatre performances which utilised the extended vocal range in a performance context which stood in its own right as art.

At the same time as acting as vocal teacher to other members of Wolfsohn's group at the Studio in Golders Green – which had begun in 1957 – Roy Hart was also giving drama classes at other venues in London. Some of the students in these drama classes were also part of Wolfsohn's group. It was through these classes that Roy Hart began to further experiment with the idea of fusing Wolfsohn's vocal work with theatrical performance.

There are a number of extant recordings of the work which resulted from the gradual theatricalisation of Wolfsohn's work – and which occurred primarily as a result of Hart's influence – which include Roy Hart and others performing poems and songs using an extended vocal range.

These presentations, preserved in the recordings, were the direct result of the creative activities of each individual, nurtured originally by Wolfsohn in a one-to-one teaching situation and extended by members of the group assuming a teaching role.

With the death of Wolfsohn in 1962, the group of students which had grown under his direction were faced with a difficult choice. Roy Hart announced clearly that it was his intention to further the work towards theatre and invited the group to join him in the pursuit of experiments in a new form of vocal dramatics. In the years following Wolfsohn's death, the loss of the teacher led to a more 'ensemble' experimentation in which each group member acted as teacher and pupil to each other, but with Roy Hart as a primary mover, organiser and leader.

There were those who simply could not accept the decline of the golden years and between the onset of Wolfsohn's illness and the shift into a performance orientated ensemble headed by Roy Hart, a number of long-standing pupils departed. But as old people left, so new ones joined and between 1962 and 1967 a number of people who had not known Wolfsohn began to take lessons with Roy Hart.

One of these new recruits, Barrie Coghlan, records:

In 1962, when Roy Hart came to lead the work, I was accepted to have singing lessons with him. I had been a dancer in the so-called professional theatre for some twelve years, my career culminating in a production where I had worked closely with the American choreographer, Jerome Robins. For me the dance had been everything, and then suddenly I had come to a precipice. I needed answers of great pith and moment. In the midst of theatre I had lost sight of theatre. Where was the meaning of my life? Why had my attempts to relate intimately with my fellow human beings failed? At first Roy Hart did not want to teach me...later we would concur that I had become too poisoned by back-stage atmospheres, musical comedy, the cynicism of the chorus line, by the theatrical agent's office, by sensation and pessimism. He did not want to include me, but I kept asking. I needed a way to survive the torture and agony that the individual soul experiences when the mode of life is no longer in keeping with the reality of the whole of the psyche. One is living a lie, or else life is felt to be without value or meaning; and it becomes necessary to examine every aspect of being, painful though that examination may be.

Barrie Coghlan, The Human Voice and the Aural Vision of the Soul, 1979

With the departure of the old members and the joining of new ones, Roy Hart was able to bring the theatrical concerns to the centre, and as a result he became the leader of a new group.

Marita Günther records:

Roy would never have called himself the 'natural' successor. When Alfred Wolfsohn died in 1962, there was a pause: both for the loss of a special man, and to see who could continue his role. Roy did not consider himself automatically for that responsibility. He took it on reluctantly at first, because he knew what it involved, its seriousness. Roy had been giving drama classes to the group of pupils who had gathered around Alfred Wolfsohn and he began to foster a group spirit. He made it a whole, a working group, regularly calling meetings etc. In these gatherings, Roy would always bring the topic under discussion back to the personal: not necessarily the psychological but, like Alfred Wolfsohn, he was a great disciplinarian... One could say he faithfully continued what he had learnt over the years of working with Alfred Wolfsohn, and brought it a step further with his particular gifts which tended towards theatre. So it evolved. At that time, we called ourselves 'The Alfred Wolfsohn Voice Research Centre'. Later it became 'The Roy Hart Actor Singers', and eventually 'Roy Hart Theatre'.

However, Roy Hart, in a paper written in 1967, says:

Of all Alfred Wolfsohn's pupils I had devoted the most time and concentration to the optimistic philosophy of the work and to the hard practice of constant affirmation which it entailed. Thus, when he died five years ago, I found I had gained such insights that leadership was thrust upon me not only by Wolfsohn's original pupils, but by an uncanny number of people outside the circle also. I had thought of myself as an artist, an actor in the making. But because I took that art deadly seriously, it led me elsewhere. This is the hub of my whole thesis.

Roy Hart, How Voice Gave me a Conscience, 1967

Where it led Roy Hart was to the interface between theatre and therapy, and despite Günther's claim that he would not have described himself as Wolfsohn's natural successor, he nevertheless emerged not only as a strong leader from within the group, but as a capable ambassador for the work in its presentation to the outside world.

In 1963 Roy Hart gave a lecture at the Jung Institute in London; in 1964 he read a paper, written for him by Leslie Sheppard, at the Sixth International Congress of Psychotherapy in London.

In 1965 the group received an invitation to work at Shenleigh Hospital, St. Albans, where they worked under the co-ordinating direction of Hart. In 1967 Roy Hart gave a lecture called How a Voice Gave me a Conscience at the Seventh International Congress for Psychotherapy in Wiesbaden; in 1968 he gave a paper and demonstration at the Third International Congress of Psychodrama in Vienna; in 1970 he participated in the Sixth International Conference for Psychodrama at Zagreb; and in 1972 he read a paper entitled The Objective Voice at the Seventh International Congress of Psychodrama in Tokyo.

Despite the psychological nature of the contexts in which he was invited to speak, the actor in him was still central to his aims and purposes.


Chapter 23: From Therapy to Theatre


The people who joined after Wolfsohn's death formed a very different contract with Roy Hart than that which early students had formed with Wolfsohn. The new contract was firmly built on a shared interest in the use of voice in a performance context. Marita Günther says:

What had been, in the beginning, exclusively a teacher-pupil relationship developed into a cohesive group with a family spirit, what had begun with small voice-demonstrations, slowly took the shape of theatrical performances. The idea of a multi-octave voice which had come about as one man's psychological need to find answers concerning his own voice and which had developed into a good therapeutic/artistic tool – making audible the possible integration of the personality – now underwent a careful change in bias: from the therapeutic/artistic studies to the artistic/therapeutic application...
The group meetings that took the place of this 'synthetic family' – rapidly swelling in number from twenty to forty members, from all walks of life, with as many different nationalities as reasons for coming – gave room to exploring our dreams and to seeing how this dream language related to everyday experience and behaviour. No personal problem was left outside the door. But the aim was not so much to resolve a problem or 'cure' a person as it was to enhance the creative and artistic possibilities in every one of us – which more often than not gave the answer to the so-called problem.

Roy Hart, Paper Read at the Third International Congress of Psychodrama, 1968

In 1965 David Crawford, an associate of Roy Hart and fellow voice experimenter, bought the Hampstead Squash Club and built the group working under the influence of Roy Hart a sound-proofed studio on the top floor which they called the Abraxas Club. Crawford turned the squash club into a combined sports and arts centre offering dance classes, drama classes, meetings and discussion groups.

It was here that the group began working on Sundays and in the evenings towards formulating a basis for using the extended expressive capacity of the human voice in a performance context.

One of the group, Liza Mayer, records that Philip Vellacott, who had translated Euripides' text of The Bacchae, came to see the group working at the Abraxas Club and suggested that they use his translation as a basis for experimentation.

At first they approached the text as an exercise with a view to using it as a demonstration piece, in the same vein as Roy Hart had used the poems of T.S. Elliot under Wolfsohn's direction. Marita Günther records:

His [Roy Hart's] particular interest in theatre eventually led to the production of The Bacchae, in which everyone present as a pupil was involved. Up until then, we had only presented work in the form of 'demonstrations': inviting an audience to see and hear a number of pupils presenting pieces – Roy often did T.S. Elliot's 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night', others would sing arias etc. These were never really fully-fledged concerts. Roy wanted to have a whole as opposed to these fragments, and eventually the text of The Bacchae was chosen.

Marita Günther, Interview with David Williams, 1985

So in 1967 the group began working towards its first theatrical production, based on Vellacott's translation of The Bacchae, the rehearsal methodology for which involved a process which lasted over two years. Marita Günther records:

We would read and re-read the text. Everyone, even those with the tiniest of parts, had to learn the whole piece, from beginning to end. There was a lot of chorus work, in which everyone was involved. Then he [Roy Hart] cast three people for the role of Dionysus: Liza, Barrie and myself. We each put forward different aspects of what this figure Dionysus meant to us. Robert played the woman's part, Agave. Roy was searching for how to apply the vocal richness of the group to a play-text. So we sung it, screamed it, whispered it. Every possible angle was investigated, while maintaining a textual precision and fidelity to the word. Roy was very meticulous: we rehearsed for over two years. He used the dancers in the group to help choreograph movements, particularly Robert. One of the basic tenets in the work with an 'unchained' voice has been to chain it to something rigid to give it the focus of an artistic form. Once the 'mise-en-scène' of this play was fixed, allowing no room for improvisation, Roy would take it to pieces again, restructuring it in fragments, or even backwards. On one occasion, Stockhausen came to the studio and we gave him some excerpts. He was fascinated by the sounds, suggesting that it could be played in gibberish. So Roy made us do the whole thing in gibberish, while retaining exactly (on an internal level) the script: it was a fantastic exercise, and Stockhausen was deeply impressed. It was only possible for us to do that because we had such a thorough understanding and knowledge of every scene, every move, making the gibberish meaningful.
Later, Roy would throw us in performance, to reinject a certain life: he would cut in with a cue word and we would have to jump to another scene. The improvisation came from a firm structure, a framework. Roy would be on the stage during a performance: directing us, interfering in the action, playing the piano. Sometimes directing us as we went along, intervening to change the dynamic and the shape. These were usually the most exciting scenes.

Marita Günther, Interview with David Williams, 1985

Liza Mayer records:

We all learnt all of the words. Three people played Dionysus, two played Pentheus: the main characters sometimes exchanged roles. I think it was quite conventionally directed. Obviously Roy added things. He would have an idea (or somebody else would) and we would work on that. One element added was a thick rope that we used in different ways: as prop or object, it was sometimes used by one character in one way, sometimes by everybody in the chorus. We didn't have the pressure of having to perform the work by any specific deadline. We spent most of the time in rehearsals going through the text, investigating the music of the words, the meaning of the scene; it was marvellous to have the time to go into these areas in such depth. Initially, we stuck closely to the text sequentially. Only after we had it in our bones as a play did we start to break it up, and different pieces of music came into it. For example, it might include an aria from Pagliacci, the Lord's Prayer or 'Happy Birthday'. Roy would try to fracture it in different ways to see what might come out. There were not a lot of public performances.

Liza Mayer, Interview with David Williams, 1985

Initial presentations of The Bacchae for invited audiences were given during 1968 at the Abraxas Club, and among the guests were Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, R.D. Laing, Irene Worth and Jean Louis Barrault, the renowned avant-garde theatre director and innovator who subsequently invited the group to present the piece at The World University Festival of Theatre in Nancy, France, in 1969.

The composer Peter Maxwell-Davies was also present at one of the initial presentations of The Bacchae at the Abraxas Club and in response to what he saw he composed a full length piece for Roy Hart called Eight Songs for a Mad King. The world premiere of this piece was performed with the Pierrot Players at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 22 April 1969, with subsequent performances given internationally, including one in York as part of the York Festival, one in Hamburg which was televised by Norddeutsche Rundfunk and recorded by Deutsche Gramophon, and performances in New York, Rome and Paris during 1970. In a review of Eight Songs for a Mad King in the newspaper Die Welt, Heinz Joachim said:

Roy Hart is an artist who commands not only all the voices of the human register – ranging from the deepest bass to the highest soprano, but also (incredibly enough) the ability to produce several sounds simultaneously; added to which he gives an acting performance which stretches from the most tender allusiveness to the most macabre realism. All this is (as banal as the formulation may sound) simply phenomenal, unique, sensational. Yet it lay beyond all 'sensation'. It was so deeply stamped by immediate experience; it was the art of presentation which, at every moment, uses the means available in a conscious way, and yet never transgresses the borderline that leads to trash...the solo part is specifically written for Roy Hart. Probably no other artist could realise this part so penetratingly.

Heinz Joachim, Die Welt, 1969

In 1969 Roy Hart presented the world premiere of a work composed especially for him by Hans Werner Henze entitled Versuch über Schweine, performed with the English Chamber Orchestra at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. The production subsequently toured internationally in 1970. Also in 1969, Roy Hart performed two works by Karlheinz Stockhausen: Spirale, a work which the composer adapted for Hart's voice, given at St. Paul de Vence in France; and Aus den Sieben Tagen, performed at the Summer School of Contemporary Music in Darmstadt, Germany. In the same year the entire group, under the name The Roy Hart Theatre, performed The Frontae at The Place Theatre in London, as well as their own devised piece called Language is Dead – Long Live Voice which used bodily movement and non-verbal sound but no language. This played for a week at the Round House in London and Herbert Kretzmer reviewed it in the Daily Express:

On an enormous poster on the walls of the Round House are painted the words: 'Language is dead. Long live the voice.' Inside the building about two dozen dedicated and mostly very young people celebrate and explore and bend the human voice. They are not acting in a play, not inviting the audience to lose itself in some fiction. They are people seeking to liberate their tensions – and ours – through sound. They enact anger, joy, mob lust...creating a kind of abstract collage of sound and movement.
Watching this is like chancing upon a group therapy session in full cry. Rejecting the repressive and limiting cadences of traditional languages, they croak, scream, cry like seagulls, sing sweetly, and shout hoarsely. The impact and the insight are sometimes stunning.
I have never seen actors giving quite so much of themselves. Anyone interested in new directions should see The Roy Hart Theatre, who are at the Round House until the end of the week. It's not so much a performance as a trip.

Herbert Kretzmer, Stunning – this Trip with the Human Voice, Daily Express, 1969.

Between 1970 and 1972 The Roy Hart Theatre presented performances at the international season of theatre at Rennes, the Second International Theatre Festival in Madrid and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Angers, as well as presenting The Singer and the Song at the Cockpit Theatre in London. In 1972 Radio Autrichienne, Vienna, broadcast Roy Hart performing Beschreibung einer inneren Erfahrung, a work composed for him by Meinhard Rüdenauer, and in the same year The Roy Hart Theatre toured Europe with a performance entitled AND, playing at venues in Bordeaux, Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao and Geneva. They were also invited by Jean-Louis Barrault to present this piece as part of the Journées du Théâtre des Nations, the subject for which was 'Breath, Voice and the Birth of Language'. Roy Hart also gave a performance of Biodrome, a work written especially for him by Serge Béhar. Peter Brook's actors also took part.192 In Lettres Françaises under the title of 'Voice and Madness; Echo of the Origin of Man', Catherine Backès-Clément wrote of AND:

The myth of the origins of Man is defined in this performance, in all these situations where animality, so close, is at the same time both assumed and rejected. The echo of the origins, which makes itself felt before us: in the evocation of the 'horde'; in the simulated presence of a new-born baby; in the loss which a child feels and its deep distress – is at the meeting point of voice and myth: at the precise point where the voice alone, apparently liberated from the constraint of rational meaning, finds meaning on the Other Stage; in the presence of the Unconscious.

Catherine Backès-Clément, Voice and Madness; Echo of the Origin of Man, Lettres Françaises, 1979

In 1973 The Roy Hart Theatre participated in the Festival of Tunis; in the same year they presented Mariage de Lux by Serge Béhar and Ich Bin by Paul Pörtner, both works especially written for the group, at the Cockpit Theatre in London. In 1974 they presented Mariage de Lux and Biodrome at the Theatre Elf in Zurich and toured Austria with L'Economiste, a collective creation after a text by Serge Béhar.

In the summer of 1974 the group began a move to France where they started converting the buildings of an old château into studios for vocal and theatrical research. In 1975 the group performed songs and choral works in churches in the areas surrounding the château.

In 1975 Roy Hart and two other members of the group – his wife, Dorothy Hart, and Vivienne Young – died in a car accident while en route between performances in Austria and a tour of Spain.
Since then the group has expanded and continues to work under the name of The Roy Hart Theatre from the Château de Malérargues in the South of France.

Central to the work of The Roy Hart Theatre has been the teaching of voice workshops based on the same philosophy as that initiated by Wolfsohn as early as 1933. Their performances and their approach to rehearsals, which utilise the human voice to stir up the depths of the human soul, have not only astounded audiences world-wide, but have had significant influence on the use of voice in the avant-garde theatre. In particular, both Peter Brook and Jerzy Grotowski have acknowledged their debt to the work.

It is, however, important to remember that behind the theatrical back-drop of dramatic and musical expression which The Roy Hart Theatre have fashioned, is a story emanating not from an artistic impulse but from a psychological one. And it is the infrequently-heard name of Alfred Wolfsohn which, if justice is to be done, should be used in association with the field of experimental music and theatre which seeks to push back the boundaries of human vocal expression.

Furthermore, Alfred Wolfsohn has bequeathed to the therapeutic world a body of work which begs us to ask whether the non-verbal act of sound-making may not facilitate personal development and therapeutic recovery with as much success as the endless variations of the 'talking cure'.