Wolfsohn, Alfred (1896-1962)

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Wolfsohn, Alfred (1896-1962)

German singing teacher who ran a school of psychophysical vocal development in England during the 1940s and 1950s and revived legends of the occult power of sound. During World War I he served in the trenches and suffered a breakdown; he was haunted by the sound of a voice calling for help. When the Nazis came to power, he was deeply impressed by the evil power associated with the voice of Adolf Hitler, which was amplified over street corners and the great square at Nuremberg and moved people to destructive acts of folly, hatred, ambition, and unspeakable cruelty.

Wolfsohn played a significant role in the life of artist Charlotte Salomon, and he features in her posthumous autobiography Leben oder Theater (1981). Wolfsohn had been engaged by Salomon's stepmother, opera singer Paula Lindberg. Salomon, a German Jew, was murdered in the Auschwitz extermination camp by the Nazis, but her paintings and prose had been left with a doctor in France before she was arrested. Salomon's book has been compared with The Diary of Anne Frank, and it was the basis of the film Charlotte by Dutch director Frans Weisz.

Before he escaped from Germany to serve with the British forces, Wolfsohn had the idea that it must be possible for the voice to have positive power. He also believed that ordinary men and women have potentialities seldom seen, but when placed under stress, they could achieve feats of physical endurance, run faster, see further, shout louder, or bear pain in a way they had not believed possible. Wolfsohn became a kind of voice doctor, working to restore fine and beautiful tones to singers suffering from fear or overstrain and also developing a kind of psychotherapy around the vocal possibilities of ordinary individuals.

In his studio in London, England, he experimented to prove that the conventional musical classifications of male and female voices from bass to soprano were artificial divisions, and that any normal human male or female could develop the whole range in a single voice and in the process discover heightened consciousness. Wolfsohn demonstrated a range of eight octaves in male and female voices, old and young. His pupils figured in the Guinness Book of Records after demonstrating phenomenal vocal range.

Wolfsohn's work has been described as a spontaneous revival of what is known as surat shabd yoga (the yoga of sound vibration), as taught by the Radhasoami Sat Sang and other spiritual teachers such as Swami Nadabrahmananda of Swami Sivananda 's Divine Life Society. After Wolfsohn's death, some members of his group carried on under his pupil Roy Hart, and a film was made of their remarkable sprechstimme performances. The group tended to concentrate on a new application of extended vocal range in theater rather than in musical sound. Roy Hart also died soon afterward, in 1975, but the members of his group have carried on his work.

The only extant record of the work of Wolfsohn's pupils is the album Vox Humana issued by Folkways Records, New York, in 1956. Former pupils of Wolfsohn who adapted his techniques to theater under Roy Hart as the Roy Hart Theatre Group can be reached at Chateau de Malerargues, Thoiras, Aduze 30140, France. The therapeutic aspect of Wolfsohn's work has been carried on by Derek Gale at the Gale Centre for Creative Therapy.