Alfred Wolfsohn was born in Berlin in September 1896, into a German-Jewish family. As a young conscript he fought in the trenches and was wounded during a night bombing raid. Picked up the next day on the battlefield by a group of stretcher-bearers who presumed him to be dead,when he woke up Alfred had to extricate himself from a pile of corpses among which he was buried.
When he left the military hospital in 1919 he was still physically and mentally shattered. There were no treatments which helped, and he experienced auditory hallucinations: he still heard the agonised cries for help of an injured soldier who lay just yards away from him during the night which had almost cost Alfred his life. He was also haunted by the guilt of not having known how to get help to this man.
For the next 10 years he tried to combat this precarious state of health, most notably by the many works of art he produced during a trip to Italy. Recalling the emotional pleasure he’d felt whilst singing as a child, Alfred Wolfsohn instinctively knew that singing could help him in his journey back to a sense of self and in giving purpose to his life. He took singing lessons with several teachers without finding what he was looking for.
And so he began his own vocal research into what he called “the human voice”: a voice which would be able to express a vaste range of notes and textures, which would surpass the usual constructs of the male or female range, and convey all human emotions. He set himself up as a singing teacher and got good results, especially with several classical singers who had lost their voice. As he worked with these students, he quickly realised that their vocal problems were always linked to some psychological trauma, and that the way he worked with them improved both their vocal performance and psychological well-being. He became passionate about psychology and philosophy and saw many parallels between his experimental teaching and the writings of Carl Jung.
The anti-Jewish persecution linked to the rise of Naziism, which made it increasingly difficult for him to work, led him to flee Berlin in 1939. Arriving in England he volunteered for service with a branch of the British army. At the end of the war he continued his voice research in London. In the 1950s his work came to the attention of several organisations: the BBC made a documentary about him; his most brilliant student, Jenny Johnson, gave a concert in The Royal Festival Hall, which attracted high critical acclaim; and a recording of his teaching was sold by a US record company.
When ill-health caught up with Wolfsohn, one of his most promising pupils, Roy Hart, decided to continue the vocal research. Wolfsohn died of a lung infection in 1962.
Wolfsohn published the manuscripts (“Orpheus, oder der Weg zu einer Maske”
Germany 1936–1938, and “Die Brucke” London 1947 ) and had an enormous influence on the artist Charlotte Salomon, appearing many times in her work “Life? Or Theatre?” under the pseudonym Amadeus Daberlohn.
To find out more about Alfred Wolfsohn, please visit the Roy Hart Archives on the site run by Paul Silber (where you will also find articles, and books/ cd’s and dvd’s for sale)
Charlotte Salomon was born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1917. At the age of nine she lost her mother and four years later her father was remarried, this time to the famous singer Paula Lindberg.
In 1935 she gets a place at the National Academy of Art, where she is the only Jew in the class. She meets her step-mother’s singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn, whose philosophy and thoughts on life and art make a great impression on her.
After Kristallnacht the situation for Jews becomes unbearable, and at the beginning of 1939 she’s sent by her father to stay with her grandparents; they had moved to the south of France and were living in a house belonging to a rich American.
In September 1939 her depressed grandmother attempts suicide. While she is being revived, Charlotte’s grandfather tells Charlotte that, contrary to what she has been led to believe, her own mother didn’t die of flu, but by her own hand. And that this suicide followed a long line of others. On her mother’s side of the family, six others had killed themselves. Charlotte is devastated. A few weeks later her grandmother succeeds in committing suicide.
In 1940 she suffers another trauma. Along with her grandfather she is sent to the internment camp at Gurs in the Pyrenees. They are released after 6 weeks because of her grandfather’s ill health, on condition that she looks after him. Back on the Côte d’Azur Charlotte falls into a deep depression. She recalls however her conversations with Alfred Wolfsohn in which he encouraged her to surrender herself, body and soul, to her art. She makes a decision to conquer the familial suicidal urges which she is aware of in herself, by creating something ‘really crazy and strange’. In just eighteen months she produces 1325 gouache paintings.
In 1942 her oeuvre is complete: she selects 769 of her paintings to create ‘Life? or Theatre?’. It’s a complex pictorial work which stunningly weaves text and graphics, in places referencing musical works. This autobiographical work is designed like a 3-part fresco: the prelude represents her childhood; the main section is dedicated to Wolfsohn – who she renames ‘Amadeus Daberlohn’ – and to his theories and her relationship with him; the epilogue focuses on her life in France, and on her determination to transform her life-story into a work of art, a book which would ‘deal with the primary truths’. Charlotte puts all her paintings into two large parcels which she gives to her doctor: she tells him to ‘Keep them. They’re my whole life’.
In February 1943 her grandfather dies. In June she marries an Austrian refugee Alexander Nagler. When in September the Germans take over from the Italians’ presence on the Côte d’Azur, the intimidation intensifies. On September 21st Charlotte and Alexander are arrested near Nice and deported to Auschwitz. Five months pregnant and 26 years old, Charlotte is sent to the gas chamber on October 10th, 1943. Alexander dies of exhaustion on January 1st, 1944.
Charlotte didn’t escape the Nazis but she succeeded in her resolution: by her art she avoided suicide and transformed the tragedy of her destiny into an artistic and human masterpiece which is today recognised around the world by public and critics alike.
The first exhibition of her work was in Amsterdam in 1961: and it was via an invitation to that exhibition that Wolfsohn learnt of the enormous influence he had on her. The great irony of history is that, although Charlotte integrated much of his philosophy and teachings into her art, quoting him and even painting him hundreds of times under the pseudonym Amadeus Daberlohn, Wolfsohn died in 1962 having never seen ‘Life? or Theatre?’.
In 1971 Charlotte Salomon’s artwork was donated to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam (The Charlotte Salomon Foundation). The Museum is responsible for educating the public about her work via books, cd’s and exhibitions which tour throughout the world. http://www.jhm.nl/english
In France the writer David Foenkinos has helped to bring her life and art to the public’s attention via his book, ‘Charlotte’ (2014), which was awarded the Renaudot Prize and the Goncourt Student Prize for Literature.
To find out more about Charlotte Salomon, please visit the Roy Hart Archives on the site run by Paul Silber (where you will also find articles, and books/ cd’s and dvd’s for sale) www.roy-hart.com
Roy Hart was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1926. He studied psychology and English at Witwatersrand University where he emerged as a gifted actor, and gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. At R.A.D.A. he was a successful student yet he felt, “that the characters I performed so convincingly were merely figments of my imagination . . . something was lacking”. His chance meeting with Alfred Wolfsohn was decisive and he abandonned a promising career in the ‘West End’ theatre to study with Wolfsohn. In search of that ‘something lacking’ he did not perform in public for the next seventeen years.
He emerged in 1969 to a period of intense international artistic and psycho-therapeutic activity: solo performances in Henzes’ “Versuch über Schweine”, Maxwell-Davies’ “Eight Songs for a Mad King” and Stockhausen’s “Spiral”; and Euripides’ “Bacchae” performed with his own company. He was guest speaker at psycho-therapeutic and theatre congresses throughout the world: Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook and Auther Koestler all came to speak with him in his studio in London.
In 1972, he began to perform as an actor with his own company which by that time had grown to more than forty members. The Roy Hart Theatre company took up residence at Malérargues in the south of France in 1974.
Roy Hart died in a car accident while on tour in May 1975. His wife, Dorothy, and friend Vivienne Young died with him.
They are buried at Malérargues.
If you are interested in researching the legacy of Roy Hart more in depth, please have a look at the Roy Hart Theatre Archives Website, hosted and maintained by Paul Silber.
Photo © Ivan Midderigh
The Roy Hart Theatre
Roy Hart was an actor, so it was natural that he began to use theatre texts with the group that formed around him after Wolfsohn’s death – eventually working with the whole text of Euripides’ “The Bacchae“. He insisted that everyone learn the complete text by heart before rehearsals could begin. As well as rehearsals there were hours and hours of dream analysis and research into the universal and individual unconscious.
“Don’t pretend to be a crazed, blood-thirsty woman, find her in yourself and be her”. Two years later the result was three hours of psychic improvisation that could be played forwards, backwards, jumbled-up or in gibberish, and never the same twice. This production influenced Peter Brook to create his “Marat/Sade”. Jack Lang took it to the Nancy Festival in 1969. The first performance there only had a small audience and half of them left before the end. The second was half full and again half of them left. The third was full, the fourth and fifth were packed-out to the rafters – still half of them left. It was “The event of the festival” and a legend was born. The name came after. At the Round House in London The Bacchae, largely improvised and renamed ” The Front Eye” caused a sensation. Subtly directed by Roy from behind a mobile grand piano on cartwheels, it was a gigantic ‘singing lesson’, but after Roy declared that from then on the work would no-longer be ‘51% therapy, 49% art’ but the inverse, and the theatre was born.
A series of experimental performances were developed which crystalized into “And“, between therapy and art. ‘And’ was an investigation into ‘pre-verbal’ theatre, it was organised improvisation – physical, musical, wordless, and… successful. It ended with “The Magic Chord”, a gradual crescendo by the whole cast from a harmonic chord to screaming – screaming until they collapsed in a heap from exhaustion eight minutes later. But Roy wanted words, even if they were incomprehensible. His last performance with the theatre, “L’Économiste” was in French – too obscure for London.
Interest in the work was much greater in Europe, so the company moved themselves and the production to Malérargues. During its first tour (to Austria and Spain) Roy was killed in a car crash along with his wife, Dorothy and Vivienne. In great pain and economic distress, the company recreated L’Economiste in requiem. “La Tempête“, the first creation without Roy continued the tradition of big touring productions. Meanwhile smaller creations emerged from the personal inspiration of individuals: L’Enthousiasme, Enchanté, Dites-moi, Te Pardi!, Le Roi se Meurt, Pan, Pagliacci, Musiques pour Marsyas, Moby Dick and many more.
Great performances and no two alike. At this apogee of Roy Hart Theatre the company decided to no longer use the name and the Centre Artistique International Roy Hart came into being in 1991 as an umbrella for the whole family of individuals and tendencies. If you are interested in researching the legacy of the Roy Hart Theatre more in depth, please have a look at the Roy Hart Theatre Archives Website, hosted and maintained by Paul Silber. There you can also purchase books, CDs and DVDs.
Photo © Richard Bruston
The Cévennes mountain region of southern France is renowned for its independence as evidenced by its resistance to the genocide of Louis XIV and the occupation of 3rd Reich. The Château de Malérargues has an exotic history bound up in these struggles and we like to think that in moving there in 1974 that the Roy Hart Theatre continued the tradition.
Le Château de Malérargues. We have turned a ruin into a beautiful place for learning, teaching and creation that welcomes students, educators, and the curious from all over the world, who come to find unique approaches to the voice, body, movement and psychology, which can be used not only in the field of performing arts but also in everyday life. The teaching is diverse, but always in the tradition of Roy Hart Theatre, based on the idea – first developed by the visionary, Alfred Wolfsohn and taken up by the actor Roy Hart in London that there is a profound connection between a person’s voice and their psyche.
Malérargues and the Cévennes were home to the Huguenot rebellion and to the protestant Camisards’ last stand against Louis XIV in the early 18th century. 2004 marked the 300th anniversary of the “Camisards War” and also the 30th anniversary of the buying and settling into Malérargues of the Roy Hart Theatre (1974.) This is not the only uncanny coincidence. Many Camisards fled to London where they created a sensation with their “Sacred Theatre” cults, especially with their inspired voices. They were dubbed “The French Prophets”. When the Roy Hart Theatre first performed in the Cévennes it was in local protestant temples with full-out “extended voices” gospel singing and a rumbustious rendering of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. There was talk of “the return of the voice to the Cévennes” and even rumours of “The English Prophets”…
During the Second World War Malérargues became a training school for the Resistance movement. Robert Francisque served under Henri Meyrueis, the owner of Malérargues, in a campaign in Indo-China. Robert left the army to enter into the service of Meyrueis at the Château. Given his military background, Robert “le Noir”, as he was known, was able to train the young cadets. He became one of the leaders of the Maquis of Lasalle and took part in many sabotage activities. He also played a dangerous double game of joining the Milice. In 1944, he was betrayed and paid with his life: he was shot in front of the Château.
Malérargues 1974 During a period from July to March the following year 47 members of Roy Hart Theatre moved from London to Malérargues – in that same period 5 roofs collapsed there. With little money and sleeping 6 to a room, with 2 baths a week (in 2nd or 3rd-hand water) and chemical toilets, we worked on the buildings and created “L’Economiste”. In May, on its first tour, Roy and Dorothy and Vivienne, the three most important persons in our Theatre were killed in a car accident. As well as the huge personal, artistic and inspirational loss, their deaths had merciless financial implications. We wondered if we should not give up and return to London.
We decided to resist.
Roy Hart Theater Archives
LA MEMOIRE / Clara and Paul Silber
“La Mémoire“, the archives room at Malérargues, was created in 2008 & 2009 by Paul and Cara Silber. This room contains the physical legacy of Alfred Wolfsohn, Roy Hart and the Roy Hart Theatre. This archive room is available for students and researchers of the voice work during their stay at Malérargues.
„Giving Context to the Voice Work“, is a life presentation, given by Paul and Clara Silber during the summer months. Paul and Clara give an introduction and show documentary films about the life and work of Alfred Wolfsohn, Roy Hart and the Roy Hart Theatre. They are also available to answer questions and discuss with the participants.
Paul Silber also runs an own archives website, where you can find more information and you can purchase CDs and DVDs on the legacy of the Roy Hart Voice Work.
ROY HART THEATER PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES / Ivan Midderigh
Over the past 45 years he, along with other photographers, Ivan Midderigh produced a huge body of work, consisting of thousands of images which will be added to the material that already existed before theatre was created in 1969.
The Roy Hart Theatre (RHT) Photographic Archives safeguards a visual record of an extraordinary story. A vast amount of photographic material, dating from when Alfred Wolfsohn, the founder of the vocal research work that influenced the Roy Hart Theatre, was a child, up to the present time; a 100 year, plus, history.
The history of the vocal exploration which was later to become known as the Roy Hart Theatre is a fascinating one. Although the company was formed in 1969, the vocal work had been researched for several years by a group of pioneers. They were to become the founder members of the Roy Hart Theatre, a company that grew out of this vocal research work, and whose groundbreaking work with the human voice had received world wide recognition.
The RHT Photographic Archives is an ongoing project by its own nature, since its aim is to witness a story that is continuing to evolve and grow.