Marita Günther by Suzanne Weins
Marita Günther was born on the 15th of September, 1928 in Leipzig, and died the 21st of May, 2002 in Northern Germany. She lived her exceptional life mostly in England and France as one of the founder followers of Alfred Wolfsohn’s ‘Human Voice’ research.
Although she was not planning to visit Germany ever again, or even to speak German again in her life, her first and last breaths where taken in her ‘Heimat’. This is the typical German word for home-place, for which she couldn’t find any equivalent in English or French, but which she often mentioned to describe the subtle depth and richness of the German language. German words became warm and meaningful through her delicate understanding and expression.
Marita’s frightening youth experiences in Germany during World War II, the loathsome atrocities of anti-semitism, and the anti-intellectual politics and cultural development in East Germany afterwards didn’t give her the space and freedom which this deep-souled, gifted, sensitive but unpretentious woman would have needed for her further development. So she emigrated to England to study language and literature.
As she said, this step turned out to be the most important move and influence in her life. In London she met Alfred Wolfsohn, a second cousin on her mother’s side, whose philosophy and practice about human expression touched her so deeply that she felt the need to follow this man and his work, as the core thread and the great love of her entire life.
One could say that Marita Günther was one of the closest companions and witnesses of the important developments of Alfred Wolfsohn’s research, as, from the time of their meeting, she was close to him for the whole of the rest of his life, and was with him during his last years of illness leading up to his death.
Marita was thrilled when she inherited Alfred Wolfsohn’s manuscripts and writings. She prized them as her greatest treasure, always with the strong wish and commitment to publish the originals or her translations of them; to give them to the world, in pointing out the importance of Alfred Wolfsohn’s beautiful approach to the human psyche as the creative source of the human being. Unfortunately this dream was never realised in her lifetime, all her attempts failing due to some bad fortune, a fact which left her frustrated, especially because she took this task so responsibly.
As a serious, warm-hearted and wise teacher, she generously shared with her students all the insights and practices she learned through Wolfsohn. Even though she herself never felt the call to be an actress or singer, she could encourage, lead and support her pupils in their artistic growth so skilfully. But she also followed the advice of Wolfsohn for her own creative process: ‘The challenge of doing the impossible, the crazy image of making a stone sing, stayed with me until I slowly accepted or realised that some artistic talent was slumbering inside me.’
Maybe it was this very stony way for finding and expressing her own personal voice which made Marita such a patient and mature teacher. She knew exactly how to bring the voices out of her students. She let each tone grow and be filled with deep personal meaning. Her speciality was surely to encourage an honest timbre which could melt, and break in abundant growth. Marita was not interested in any superficial show; she could look immediately through any deception, and could understand the reasons for hiding or fighting, and brought the soul with gentle hands to a place of self-responsibility and creativity.
But the most beautiful trait in all of Marita’s expression and sharing was her immense warmth and her deep understanding and love for the human condition, as well as for the creative potentials of the human heart and soul. All of her intellectual understandings, all her approaches to writing, lyrics, literature, biographies, myth, psychology, and philosophy were connected with the way she approached the development of the vocal expression.
Her own quotation about this: ‘All the years of my struggle to sing culminated in another favourite saying of Awe‚ ‘Singing means to learn to love’… I find the capacity to love begins to have a different quality, it goes even deeper, it is harnessed to the sum-total of one’s life experiences. Through my teaching I have made many beautiful friendships… which more often than not, have grown into a personal attachment.’
Marita loved to write and all of her diaries, her imaginative letters to Alfred Wolfsohn, and her short stories are witness to the constant inner dialogue she had with her deeply beloved relative, teacher and friend. She was fully convinced about his concept of voice and opened up, developed and enriched it with her own poetry and life experience, where her personal way to love (flavoured with a typical dry German attitude) became a charming attribute.
Finally, and not ungifted at all, she also found her way in acting. In ‘Le Roi se meurt’, directed by Johannes and Rafael, she played the old and the young Queen which she enjoyed very much: ‘I found the whole process very satisfying and most rewarding. I did enjoy playing both roles. However, I will confess that my favourite was the young queen, la Reine Marie was to me the greater challenge. In the eighties I was, after all, well over 50 years old, and to play a rather childish, playful, madly in love creature meant that I had to find myself still untapped resources. The young Marita in real life, had not had very much opportunity to live it out. Here then was a chance to haul these feelings from my depth, as well as being carefully directed… The effect it had on me was almost threefold: artistic growth, emotional enrichment and physiological change. I began to feel younger, even look younger- a visible transformation.’
At 70 years of age she took another great step in her life to fulfil her young girl’s desire and dream: she happily started to study German literature at the University of Hanover! She not only seemed to become even younger in these years, but her soul and presence began to bloom out beautifully, and she even planned to give a little concert at her 75th birthday. I remember how happily Rossignol characterised Marita as an ‘old but blooming young student’ and we all felt that this change was a perfect step to fulfil Marita’s life.
The loss was immense for all her friends when Marita died so early and unexpectedly. But everybody knew that she died after a fulfilled life, not always easy, but taking all the challenges to grow. She died in the presence of one of her dearest friends. She said this in one of her last writings: ‘Awe’s favourite saying has been, in my case, absolutely fulfilled: ‘To love life completely you have to understand and include the other side, death and suffering.’ That is what I mean when I keep repeating: I wish for everybody I care for deep and difficult experiences, so that they are forced to go into the depth of their own psyche.’
Thank you, Marita, for sharing all your deep wisdom so generously with us! It keeps resonating and resonating, but sometimes I would love to sit once again with you for a coffee and cigarette in the morning, listening to your so meaningful and precious advice.