1928 - 2002
Photo: Kaya Anderson. Marita with her teacher Alfred Wolfsohn, a year befor his death
PUBLIC NOTICE FOR GERMAN SPEAKERS
After the death of Marita Günther in May, 2002, all the original German manuscripts and personal papers of ALFRED WOLFSOHN that were in her care during her life time, these were donated for safe keeping to the Berlin Jewish Museum (Judisches Museum Berlin).
The archives staff of the Museum have carefully catalogued all the material and now invites researchers to help expand the scope of their work, by following any different information links that can be further supplied by you.
If you are interested in this research in either German or in English you can contact us here at the Roy Hart Theatre Archives , where we keep all the copys of Alfred's documents, or you can go to the Archives Department at the Berlin Jewish Museum at Lindenstrasse 9-11, D-10969, Berlin.
Carol Mendelsohn. Malérargues 2003
Here is Marita's English preface to Alfred Wolfsohn's "Die Stimme".
You are about to hear a tape in which Alfred Wolfsohn speaks about his work, elucidating it with vocal examples. Allow me, beforehand, to tell you about a little miracle. This tape has survived nearly 50 years in the archives, under the most awful conditions. Paul Silber, one of our Roy Hart teachers, who is now looking lovingly after these archives, was able to put the tape on a CD. My joy, my astonishment, to hear this fresh, this almost young voice. This for me was a great gift, because all the other tapes we possess of Wolfsohn, were made in later years, when his voice had become, through the many years of illness, hoarse and brittle. We can no longer ascertain exactly in which year the tape was made, but in any case, it was after 1953, as he speaks about the transgressing of limitations, world records, fantastic achievements, which excited mankind at that time and which gave him new incentive to rank his explorations on the human voice, with these illustrious records. As Wolfsohn mentions the conquering of Mount Everest by Tensing and Hillary, we know that the tape was made after the 29th May 1953. This was the date. Eugen Herrigel's Book, "Zen in the Art of Archery" came out in London in the same year. Wolfsohn marked a passage in it, which could serve as a motto for my experiences as his pupil.
"The teacher-pupil relationship has belonged, since ancient times to the basic commitments of life and therefore presupposes, on the part of the teacher, a high responsibility which goes far beyond the scope of his professional duties".
When I met Alfred Wolfsohn in 1949, he was a man of 53 years and I had just turned 21. I had fled from the eastern zone of Germany and was, thanks to a labour permit, allowed to enter Great Britain.
During the first two years, I saw him only now and then, and we had merely long talks. I had gained, perhaps some maturity through the war experiences, but otherwise I was rather unformed and had no idea of what to do with my life. Now I was allowed to listen to a man, who had built up something in the midst of the post-war destruction, which showed a way which was life giving and life affirming. There were, as yet no workshops, only single lessons. In a tiny little studio, I heard for the first time how Wolfsohn worked with his pupils. I was impressed by the virtuosity of their voices, their wide ranges and different timbres. What moved me most deeply however, was what happened between teacher and pupil. It was the give and take on both sides, an incredible concentration and intensity emanating from both. It was the physical exertion, the supreme effort which seemed to transform facial expression and posture. And then came the day I had my first singing lesson. The experience was of such a nature that I knew, I must follow this way. I believe we all have, once in our life, such a central experience, which touches us in the deepest roots of our being, an experience where heart, soul and mind are so equally engaged, that it can radiate over our whole life.
Alfred Wolfsohn expresses this, this way.
"Here I want to stress once more that when I speak of singing, I do not consider this to be an artistic exercise, but the possibility, and the means to recognise oneself, and to transform this recognition into conscious life. Singing is, however, the primeval field of the application of music, the gift, bestowed on everyone by nature in order to express himself. For the communication between mankind takes place through language, which does not just consist of a neutral combination of sounds, but is used in an up and down of a musical movement. In my attempt to discover the secret of singing, nothing has compensated me more for all my searching and worrying than the discovery that, that which I had one sidedly understood as expression in its symbolic and spiritual sense, had to be taken in its literal meaning. I found that the sound of the human voice, gained its fullest expression exactly at the point, when the singing person, having found the right balance of concentration and attention, could express it bodily. However simple it may sound, important are only three factors which constitute the elements of singing: concentration, intensity and, as a result thereof, expression. Whoever is convinced, like me, that exactly the simplest things in life, contain the most complicated problems, also knows that the mastery thereof, leads to the desired goal.".
I lived through, even contributed a little, to the era of the fifties, which we also called the pioneer years. I would like to add to the terms of concentration and intensity, yet another: ENTHUSIASM. This was of the utmost importance, as it was, once again, a time of crisis.
Arthur Koestler formulated it thus:
"We live in an age of uncertainty, an age where the accelerating process of technology has led thinking man to the question whether mankind is perhaps a mistake of evolution".
At the time, it was the atomic bomb which could have been thrown and quickly and thoroughly extinguished the human race. Not much has changed. Today we have the climatic catastrophe and various plagues, which promise the same. How topical are Alfred Wolfsohn's thoughts even today. If we really are only a mistake, if life is utterly meaningless, if there is perhaps, no God, then we have two possibilities: either, we resign that things take their course, or we give this seemingly senseless life, a sense. That is to say the possibility to occupy ourselves with what happens in our inner being, in our bodies and heads. He believed that the means for this internal journey was the exploration of the human voice which was given to everyone of us. This apparent simplicity of his philosophy is rather overwhelming. Maybe it has to be so, in order to counteract the hypothesis, that we are totally in the wrong place. Out of deepest suffering, out of experiences of two World Wars, he created a life affirming philosophy. He invented nothing new, but went back to the ancient wise sayings: "Recognise thyself" is one of them.
He taught us pupils to take ourselves seriously. He taught us to bring art into life, and life into art, knowing very well, that art without love, is like an empty shell. And that love, if it is not integrated into constant repetition, in the creation of rituals, in the ability to bear pain, all that what theatre could mean, is but a sensation.
Singing means, to learn to love. All this is very far removed from perfectionism, but rather allowing for the human vulnerability and fallibility, in the search for his voice, the only instrument which is not subject to technology. It was his great concern that we commit ourselves to uphold the dignity of man, the inviolable dignity of man, which we, who continue his teaching, affirm and testify to up to this day."
Marita Günther for "Roy Hart Theatre Archives" 22nd March 2002
Marita in 'The Bacchae' 1970. Photo: P Silber
Letter from Marita
On the 30th May 2002 Paul Silber's mother, Irene, will have her centenary. To celebrate this, event Paul asked Marita, who was a close friend of Irene's, to write something for the dust jacket of the CD that Paul had produced from some of Irene's dialogues with him over the years. Here is what she wrote:-
Here is the extract of the letter I wanted to show you:-
"December 20th 1980
One day in the future when Marita will stand at the Gates of Heaven, St Peter will ask her: "Well, my child, now tell me, what have been your good deeds, while you were on Earth??"
And Marita will answer: "Let me think! O yes, one of them was that I introduced my friend °Alice Croner° to my friend Irene Silber."And St. Peter will say : "You need not tell me of any others. Come on in!!"
Again reciprocating all your good wishes
Irene wrote a note on the left hand corner of the letter:
"Thought Paul might enjoy this! Alice is unique! Marita might also enjoy it!"
Just these few words brings both these personalities clearly before my minds eye. When I looked at my Diaries from 1980 backwards I found this entry, recording their first meeting together:
"13th March 1979 - We meet for lunch at Lindys - Irene to meet Alice"
So you see they hit it off immediately - they telephoned each other, wrote letters to each other, met for lunches at the Cosmo, for coffees at Lindys - I believe rarely in each others houses;
Each time I went to London I would, of course, visit Irene. The ritual would be a Sherry while giving her the news - especially any news about her Paul - followed by an exquisite little lunch in her big room, finishing with coffee. An affectionate good-bye at the front door and the promise to come again soon.
Both these two extraordinary Ladies had one thing in common and that was their intense engagement in life. With Irene, this was through her life of Theosophy and with Alice it was through her life's work on her dreams for The Jungian Institute.
I think Irene's love of me had something to with my very special link to Paul.
Alice died on the 26th August 1985, and Irene on the 17th April 1988. This means that their relationship lasted about 6 years. To this day I am happy and proud that I was the instrument of bring them together.
So, dear Paul, when we three Ladies come together at the gates of St. Peter to drink our glass of Sherry together, we will speak to him of you very favourably!
Much love Marita"
Malérargues Jan 2002.
°Alice Croner was one of Alfred Wolfsohn's earliest students. She was responsible for his escape from Germany to England in 1939.
A letter from Ralf Peters from Köln, a student of the Roy Hart Theatre for some years. This letter was written in May 2002 shortly after Marita's death:
I have just read the letters that I wrote to Marita during the last three years. I didn't know her for a long time, nearly four years except for a brief meeting at Malerargues six years ago. But she belonged to the very few people to whom I wrote about the death of my father last year in spring. This tells (me) something about her importance for me. During my stay at Malerargues springtime 99 I asked Marita if she would give me some voice lessons although I knew that she didn't want to work with new students. But Clara encouraged me to ask her because she knew that Marita was very much interested in philosophy and I had just finished my studies of this subject at university. This was the key! She accepted me as a student and in the evening we met having a glass of red wine and philosophical talks. We both enjoyed these few evenings very much. She was glad to have someone she could tell about her studies in Hannover and I learned a lot about the philosophical implications and the cultural sources of Awe’s understanding of the human voice. In these talks she helped me to build a bridge between philosophy that was for years the centre of my (often not very vital) life and the new challenge that already had started to change my life: the voice.
From this time on we stayed in a not very regular but deep contact. We had telephone calls, we wrote some letters, I visited her in Minden, I was once a guest in a workshop in Hannover with her "women" (she was so proud of them!). I sometimes complained that we couldn't meet more often but I at the same time knew that the 'contacts from the distance' were also part of her teaching. She liked to say that Awe taught how to sing in teaching how to live. This is what she learned from him. As far as I know she did everything in her life with great seriousness, nothing was only peripheral, but at the same time she did it with great joy. Who knows better ingredients for a good life? Seriousness and joy.
When I heard that Marita was gone, I was very sad. No more opportunity to talk, to sing with her. But the way we could say good bye to her in Minden, the possibility to be with her lying in the house of Frau Born, the strong peacefulness in Marita’s face made it easy to say good bye. I am sure in one way or the other the "contact from the distance" will last.
Thank you Marita.
Ralf Peters, Koln, May 2002.