|Born||23 September 1896
|Died||5 February 1962 (age 65)
Alfred Wolfsohn (23 September 1896 – 5 February 1962) was a German singing teacher. He taught Charlotte Salomon and figures in her paintings as Amadeus Daberlohn.
He was the founder of a special style of voice training today known as the Roy Hart Theatre approach. His experiences of the cries of dying soldiers during World War I substantiated his intuitions and experiences of singing as expression of the whole human being, rather than singing compartmentalised into the separate categories of Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone and Bass. These intuitive thoughts led him to explore the nature and possibilities of what he termed as the Human Voice, as opposed to the specialised voice. Later his disgust at the artificially broadcast voices heard everywhere in Hitler's Berlin and his horror at the darkest manifestations of humanity perpetrated by the Nazis further provoked his research. A pioneer in the realms of voice research, his avant-garde studies revealed the potential of the voice as not only an instrument of artistic expression but also of human development and therapy. Wolfsohn's goal was to develop an unchained voice which he called The Voice of the Future.
Alfred Wolfsohn was born in Berlin into a German-Jewish middle-class family. His parents were religious but not strictly orthodox. When Wolfsohn was 10 years old, his father died of tuberculosis. He adored his mother singing to him a song with a high voice for an angel and a low voice for St Peter. He received a good education, felt himself to be a loner but loved football.
In 1914, he was studying law at University when he was conscripted into the Army and fought on the Eastern front in World War I, later on the Western front. He suffered terrible traumas from the cries of pain and for not going to help one agonising soldier. He returned shell shocked and broken in health. From 1919 to 1920, he travelled to Italy and re-found strength and inspiration. Returning to Germany, he abandoned law and decided that he wanted to sing. His lack of progress with his teachers prompted him to develop his own theories integrating his appreciation of music, art, literature and current psychological studies of the time (notably Carl Jung).
In 1935, when trying to get working papers for permission to teach singing, he was advised by Kurt Singer (Director of Berlin City Opera) to contact Paula Lindberg, the famous singer and Charlotte Salomon's stepmother, for help. Wolfsohn gave Lindberg lessons and spoke of his own theories on the voice. At that time he met Charlotte Salomon for the first time, and he spoke with her for hours about art and creativity during the next years. He had no idea how much he had influenced her.
In January 1939, Salomon left for the south of France. A month later, Wolfsohn fled Berlin to London, helped by Alice Croner. In 1940, To avoid internment, Wolfsohn volunteered to join the Pioneer Corps; he was later invalided out. In 1943, he was given permission by the British Government to give singing lessons. He began his longest and most comprehensive manuscript The Bridge in 1945.
In 1947, Roy Hart met Wolfsohn and started taking lessons from him.
In the 1950s, Wolfsohn had many students. Articles were written and contacts made with leading composers, musicians, actors, and writers to pass on the work but there was no great response. In 1956 his star pupil, Jenny Johnson, performed in the Hoffnung Music Festival to good reviews. A record “Vox Humana” was issued by Folkways and was released in the US. Wolfsohn's ill health intensified. In 1956, A BBC documentary with Wolfsohn was broadcast. In 1959, Wolfsohn's work was acknowledged by Dr Paul Moses, Speech and Voice Professor at Stanford University, San Francisco.
In 1962, Wolfsohn's health deteriorated and he died on 5 February of that year after developing a chest infection while in hospital. He had been teaching up to 10 days before his death. Roy Hart, one of his most assiduous pupils, carried on with Wolfsohn's work.
- Roy Hart Theatre Archives
- Prophet of Song: The Life and Work of Alfred Wolfsohn
- "The Way Alfred Wolfsohn Taught" by Sheila Braggins; A firsthand testimony of how Alfred Wolfsohn worked with his students from the only living student able to still tell the story
This page was created from material found at Roy Hart Theatre Archives, with authorization.
- Vox Humana: Alfred Wolfsohn's Experiments in Extension of Human Vocal Range (Folkways Records, 1956)