When Alfred Wolfsohn was discharged from the German Military Hospital in 1919, it was not because he was cured of either the mustard gas poisoning, or from the ‘combat trauma’ that he was still suffering due to his military service in the first world war; on the contrary, it was because the doctors could offer him no further treatment. For the next ten years he struggled with an appalling state of health resulting from his experiences in the trenches.
Before 1914 he had pursued singing as an interest; partly because of the musical training he had had, but also because he had a naturally pleasing singing voice. However after the war, this was no longer the case.
In the ten years following his release from the hospital, one of the first means that he pursued to restore his health was to try and re-find his lost voice. He went to a number of highly reputed singing teachers but none of them were able to help him.
By 1930, he was sufficiently himself again to be able to continue his pre-war work as a singing coach for professional classical singers. They came to him to redress their vocal problems. In working with them, he began to realise that their vocal problems, like his own, were based not on their physical condition but on their psyche. At this time psychology was in its infancy, so those interested in the subject, like Alfred himself, were all searching. He soon began to get some very encouraging results; and many of his pupils showed sustained improvements in their singing capacities, as well as in their psychological condition.
Before he fled to England to escape the Nazis in 1939, one of his pupils was a young girl called Charlotte Salomon. She herself fled from the Nazis only a month before him, to go to the south of France where she painted her extraordinary autobiographical work of over 700 gouaches, entitled “Life? or Theatre?: A play with music”. She died in Auschwitz in 1943.
It was not until 1961 that a first exhibition of her work was presented in Amsterdam. Wolfsohn was utterly amazed to learn that this collection of paintings had depicted him and much of the thinking behind his vocal teachings. She had given him the pseudonym ‘Amadeus Daberlohn’. Her grasp of his work is quite striking. The paintings are held in the ‘Jewish Historical Museum’ in Amsterdam from which one can obtain information on books, a CD and future exhibitions of Charlotte’s work.
In the near future we hope that we will be able to publish of Alfred Wolfsohn’s book “Orpheus or the Way to a Mask”, written during his Berlin days in the ‘30s. Charlotte Salomon refers to this book extensively in her paintings. Tragically Alfred Wolfsohn died in 1962 having never seen “Life? Or Theatre?” so he neither knew what a great artist she had become, nor what a faithful practitioner of his teachings she had always been.
If you are interested in researching the legacy of Alfred Wolfsohn 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.