The Speech Sound Etudes: Feeling the Gestures and Finding the Figures

First posted on 10-13-14
Revised January 2017



In this report, I share the fruits of my re-approach to eurythmy after having put it aside for over two decades. I have been laying a fresh foundation for my artistic activity by means of the intensive speech-work I’ve been doing in response to one of Dr. Rudolf Steiner’s first advices to Lory Maier-Smits, our first eurythmist. He had suggested to her that she write sentences focussing on single vowel sounds. As she recorded it, “I should do speech exercises. Speak sentences which had only one vowel, and observe exactly what was happening in my throat, and this I should then … dance! As an example he wrote: ‘Barbara sass stracks am Abhang’ [Barbara sat directly on the slope].” But it is clear by Lory’s further report that she was not able to find speech sound gestures through doing this. Therefore, Dr. Steiner began to give her suggestions for how to do gestures for the sounds.

However, I have discovered that through following his first advices to her – and with proper preparation – one can in fact feel and find the gesture-impulses of the sounds directly and with ever-greater definition and certainty. This applies to all of the speech sounds, both vowels and consonants. This report shares in detail my unfoldment of this work and the magnificent treasure that has emerged from it. A secure foundation for the work of speech eurythmy can be laid “from within” – just as The Eurythmy Meditation directs us to do. Dependence on mental imagery and being shown how to do gestures can be eliminated through firsthand perception and cognition of the speech sound gesture-impulses in the way I describe, as objective facts.

As a graduated eurythmist, I taught lay speech eurythmy; but although I knew that I was a good teacher, I wasn’t able to embody eurythmy at all well enough to command the respect for it that I felt it deserves. I set it aside. Two questions ached in me all these years: What is missing here? And even if I knew what is missing, what would satisfy that need? I always carried the idea that if eurythmy was lost we could find it again. Since the ‘eurythmizing’ of our own larynx is what we are supposed to lead over into the movement of our limbs, we would always have the means of recovering eurythmy from within and of discovering ever-fresh possibilities. My recent work confirms this. Everything we need can be found from within.

This report is firstly for eurythmists, but what I reveal provides speech artists with the means to seek and find a fresh foundation for their work, too. I invite you all into the effort! Speakers might also want to see my article on poetic recitation, “Etheric Bodies are Moving to the Speech Sound Etudes,” in the Spring 2016 EANA Newsletter. A revised version of it with an enlarged log of the poems I have presented so far – along with their respective sound-moods which I evoke through speaking etudes – is contained in my booklet, A Quartet of Articles on Eurythmy and Speech-Work.

Eurythmy and the Four Ethers

By Marjorie Spock

Aphorisms and Exercises

If we were to look really searchingly into the causes of today’s discontents we might find all of them stemming from a sense of having been disinherited. Few may be able to put a finger on just what has been lost or to say how we lost it. But something vital is missing from experience, an exuberant quality of life that earlier ages seem to have possessed. It can still be witnessed surfacing in the hops, skips, and jumps of early childhood and heard in the deep-chested laughs of tiny babies. But by the time adulthood is reached, a sad diminution has usually taken over, and most grown-ups look for it in vain.

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The Eurythmy Figures as Keys to a Deeper Understanding of the Human Being

By Seth Morrison

Rudolf Steiner created his sketches for the eurythmy sound movements and soul gestures in 1922 and 1923. The new art form had grown and performances were seen on stages across Europe. Despite the devastation caused by the World War, the Waldorf School Movement flourished. Therapeutic eurythmy was only a few years old but found an enthusiastic reception among educators and medical doctors. The eurythmy figures grew out of this germinating power of an inspired art form. The figures became a kind of living study material. The trios and quartets of colors, the highly differentiated forms and characters of the figures provide schooling for the artist. When reconstructed in the act of artistic creation, a true inner work fills the experience of visible speech and music. The figures offer the eurythmist an unending source of self education.

In addition to the well-known aspects of color and form in the figures, a whole other pathway of study is contained within them. In a course given by Elena Zuccoli to students at the Curative Eurythmy School in Stuttgart, West Germany, in 1986, an introduction as well as a challenge was presented. Frau Zuccoli arranged the twelve consonant figures according to their relationship to the zodiac as described by Rudolf Steiner. She then asked the class, “What do you see?” Only one student responded! One half of the figures are represented in profile, the other face forward. There are three transitory figures. It is a striking image once it is ‘seen’! But what does this mean? Frau Zuccoli left this image as an unanswered question, a point of departure for her students. This little article will share my attempts to understand the meaning behind the special orientation of the figures, which has become a source of inspiration for my work in curative eurythmy.

Before launching ahead, it might be helpful to explore the experience of the human figure as it appears in profile as opposed to the frontal view. One hundred years ago, the silhouette was still a popular form of portraiture. The profile view of the torso reveals a sculptural impression. The shape of the shoulders, head, forehead, nose, lips, and chin appear fixed and formed. The profile is an image of what has been; the past up to the present moment. It is human destiny sculpted and made visible. The full face view of the human being gives an entirely different impression. The past lies somewhere in the distance, hidden behind the projected personality. The directions of dimensions of right and left fill out the ‘space’ of an incarnated person, be it narrow or broad, robust or hallowed out. There is a meeting with the present and an intuition of the future. The presence of human character, in its immediacy, fills space and projects itself into what will become the future.

When arranged according to their correspondences to the fixed stars, the figures for the sounds V (Aries), R (Taurus), and H (Gemini) are presented in profile. They face outward and away from the center of the circle. The figure for F (Cancer) however, also in profile, faces T and D (Leo). B and P (Virgo) face forward. The figure for Ch stands in a ¾ view. The S (Scorpion or Eagle) faces forward as does the G (Sagittarius). Its double letter K, stands in profile toward the N (Pisces). The N stands in profile toward the V (Aries), which joins the circle together. The figures for F, M, and CH are transitory with regard to the directionality of the entire circle of figures.

Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual research confirmed the idea of an astro-physiognomy of the human being. In countless manuscripts, painting, and drawings, most of which echo the mystery teachings of a forgotten time, one sees the human head marked with the sign of Aries or a ram. The Larynx is connected with the Bull, or Taurus, the shoulders with Gemini, and so on. The science of contemporary embryology was once seen from another point of view: the embryo lies curled up exactly as the circle of fixed stars appears in the heavens, the head in Aries and the feet in Pisces. One can imagine how the human embryo materializes out of the fluid world of the womb, somehow analogous to the creation of dry land in the book of Genesis of the Old Testament. Turning ones attention to the eurythmy figures, one can ‘enact’ this creation of man’s form through the eurythmy movements themselves, beginning with the V, which contours the head and going on to each region of the human form. It is a wonderful exercise. Now the special orientation of the figures begins to ‘speak’: the figures which correspond to the upper region of the human form all stand in profile and face outward into the depths of the periphery. They look away or back into another region of space. Aries, Taurus, and Gemini form a grouping. The human head is enclosed in a bony shell, like the insect. Its activity is contained within itself, invisible and concealed. It is inwardly mobile but outwardly immobile. The throat uses the air element but does not really change it. It adds to the air, instead. Its activity creates an enclosed, half-way internalized acoustic. The shoulders give width through the dimension of right and left. A tension, a dynamic holding together in equilibrium characterizes this region. The human being then acts as giver or receiver of world experienced every time he goes out of himself into the ‘other’; thus the H movement expresses how the arms become the instruments of the forces of Gemini.

Now a great transition occurs: the formative forces seem to turn the orientation of structure inward, as air enters the chest cavity and is transformed by the magic of the blood. The figure faces away from the H figure and directs itself toward the T figure. The T corresponds to that organ wherein the transformation is perceived by the ego organization. The ribs enclose from without, the lungs from within. Doublely embraced, the heart (Leo) an organ of blood perceives itself.

The journey within, intensifies further. Those eurythmy figures whose sounds are related to the zodiac regions associated with the digestive organs all stand facing forward. The figures are grand and immediate. One feels as if real personalities make their presence known… like the gods of the underworld or inner world of man. The B movement expresses this complete containment of an inner realm, like a temple removed from outer light but filled with a self-sustaining radiance. Within the metabolic organs substance is destroyed or reduced to a level which can be called ‘inorganic’. It is then recreated by the rhythmical processes of these organs so it bear the incarnation of the individual ego.

Yet another transition occurs, expressed by the spatial orientation of the CH figure. Within the basin-like structure of the pelvis an environment is created in which another ego, a new person, can anchor itself. Through fertilization, gestation, and birth, the signature of S (Scorpion or Eagle) reveals itself. The S figure is dressed as a renunciate, just as certain monastic orders dress in black and then grey to express their religious journeys, And just as the S movement in eurythmy almost manages to become a separate entity, so do the female reproductive organs sacrifice their autonomy in order to give place to the developing human being. Then, the event of birth gives a separate existence to the child. The S figure shows man’s deepest penetration into the physical world and the moment of victory for the ongoing evolution of the earth.

Through the powers of Scorpio in the human being, the physical world is conquered. Now the human organism can metamorphose further. The thighs  are the mechanisms of walking and express the will forces which seek to propel the human being into the future. The G figure faces forward but the head is turned toward the K figure. The K faces the G. The K corresponds to the hardest part of the thigh, just before it embraces the knee. Both represent the forces of Sagittarius. The knee (Capricorn) is the mediator between the innermost forces of the will and the earth itself. It floats, so to speak, in currents of dynamic forces, fluid-like and ‘sensitive’ to the interplay of the human spirit with the organism of the earth. It lives between levity and gravity. The L figure faces forward but the figure for M faces away, in the other direction. The M forms the shins, which are purely rhythmical organs. A person’s gait indicates the way in which the limb-metabolic system is embraced by the rhythmical system. The lower legs are the primary rhythmical organs of the lower region of the human form. The fact that the M faces away from the other figures of the region is significant. From the knees downward, the human body takes on a new character. It no longer strives toward incarnation but carries itself anew, toward the macrocosm. The head contains an imprint of the cosmos, the feet strive to become active in the cosmos. The foot is really a complex arch, an organ which has the power to overcome the earthly forces of weight. It is an organ of the ego. The freedom of the feet is the signature of human destiny which seeks to become independent through its evolution. The M figure, as well as the N figure, faces the region of Aries so that the past may be dissolved and remolded. The future alters the past.

The spatial orientation of the eurythmy figures reveals a hidden teaching. It tells the story of human becoming, the descent of man into matter and his triumph over it, brought about by his own activity. The human form is really a living sculpture and a hieroglyph of spiritual evolution.

One cannot carry this kind of information with one and this is surely not the intention of this article. Instead, a kind of ‘feeling’ can reside within the creative life of the artist with regard to the different sounds. These feelings or moods, as Rudolf Steiner called them, are objective realities. He brought them to poetic expression in his Twelve Moods (Zwolf Stimmungen).

This study brings questions to mind about the zodiac positions or gestures which were given in Eurythmy as Visible Speech. It is important to remember that of the twelve gestures only Aquarius has a kind of movement. All the others are at rest. It is a silent world, like a summer night when one looks into the heavens. It is as if the zodiac gestures are a portrayal of the Star-Gods themselves, of their contribution to the human figure. The eurythmy movements are dynamic. They speak and sing. They are so alive as to enable an ill person to actively participate in the anabolism of his own etheric body. If one practices doing a zodiac gesture, followed by the eurythmy movement, in light of the figure, a powerful experience can come about. One can feel how the resting zodiac becomes dynamism, creating the human form – which ‘appears’ to be at rest. Yet its life turns within and the formative forces reappear in the life of the soul as music and speech. Through the spiritual activity of art, the powers of the universe become visible. This is the art of eurythmy. One can only stand in awe before this art. It overcomes all our ‘ideas’ about ourselves and all art and shows us that we ourselves and all we do is really ‘evolving cosmos’, ‘evolving being’.


The Scale as a Work of Art

By Marjorie Spock

Judged by any sound criteria of art, the scale is the most perfect of musical compositions. It is a completely resolved, simple, yet subtle and eloquent expression of the ultimate theme, telling as it does in full the story of the growing up of greatness. And it does so with incomparable brevity in seven short climbing or falling steps or intervals, weaving them moreover into the classic pattern of the lemniscate.

Goethe held the test of a work of art to be its necessity. By this he meant not only that it must say something wholly original needing to be said, but body it forth in a whole and living form, every part of which is harmonious with and essential to it. He therefore called works of art a “higher nature within nature.” The scale is in his sense just such an organism of a higher order.

Prime and octave are the beginning and ending points of the scale’s unfolding, seed and blossom stages of a living whole. Each interval holds the full scale implicit in it, the prime sounding out a prophecy of things to come, the octave its fulfillment

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Explorations in Color

A Weekend with Annemarie Baeschlin and Dorothea Mier

By Mark Ebersole

Rudolf Steiner saw himself as a spiritual scientist, and as such avoided like the plague any form of set definitions. He could declare something in a certain way one lecture, and then appear to give a completely opposing picture of the same phenomenon in the next. Nurturing this living, changing knowledge, he defied any Wagner (as in Faust’s colleague) to take Anthroposophic knowledge home with him safely locked up in a book. The hero here is the ever-striving, ever-seeking, often sinful but ultimately redeemed Faust.

At the weekend workshop on color with Annemarie Baeschlin this fall in Spring Valley, we were privileged to experience the fruits of a lifetime of such striving and seeking, of great knowledge penetrated with personal feeling and brought into deed with love and endless effort.

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Introduction to the Eurythmy Performance

At the Christmas Conference, December 23, 1923

By Rudolf Steiner
My dear friends!
Today our guests from further afield who have already arrived make up the majority of those present at this opening performance of eurythmy. There is no need for me to speak particularly about the nature of eurythmy, for our friends know about this from various writings which have appeared in print. But especially since we are gathering once more for an anthroposophical undertaking I should like to introduce this performance with a few words. Continue reading

Journeys to Oslo

Upgrade your Eurythmy Diploma to a Bacholar of Arts Degree at the University College of Eurythmy, Oslo, Norway

By Ute Heuser

Last October I traveled to Norway in order to join ten other eurythmists at the University College of Eurythmy in Oslo. We all embarked on the part-time course to up-grade our Eurythmy Diplomas to a Bachelor Degree. After an introduction, Michael Leber took us through our first lesson. It was the best way to get to know each other and to “find our feet” – especially for the three of us who had travelled from the US. The time change was hard at first.
Soon we began work on two group-pieces: “The Cloud” by Shelley and an Allegro by Schubert (Op.164). Coralee Schmandt guided us in speech eurythmy and Michael Leber in tone eurythmy. Lessons in speech formation were held in two groups, one in English and one in Norwegian. Although I joined the English group, I was fascinated by the sound of the Norwegian language and we all got a little taste of it in our first session. Each of us began to work on an epic, lyric, and dramatic piece. We also had an introduction to a music exam we were due to take. Some frustration and confusion came about as the test needed to be translated for some of us, but in the end we all passed. I guess the language of music is universal.
After ten full and rich days it was time for us to leave. We had become a group, had formed many new connections and lots of hugs were freely shared before we all departed for our many different destinations. We took a lot of home-work with us: A solo form by Rudolf Steiner in both speech and tone eurythmy; the group pieces needed to be “kept warm”; the pieces for our speech formation presentation, and a written paper about an aspect of our teaching experience. Off I went back to Pennsylvania with a Shakespeare Sonnet (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) and the Rondo from the Pathetique Sonata by Beethoven in my luggage. It was hard to fit in practice times in an already busy schedule, but I was glad to have this extra challenge as part of my artistic work.
Last February I was off to Oslo again, this time we only met for six days and a lot had to be done in this short time. We continued our work on the group pieces, and had some quick practices for our solos with a speaker and pianist we were not used to. A good part of an afternoon was needed for each of us to present our epic, lyric, and dramatic texts we had worked on as part of our speech formation assignment. It was a festive moment and a great variety of pieces were shared in different languages. Each of us had to present our eurythmy solos, and again I was amazed at the richness of what was brought and shared. It was hard for me to perform just one piece as part of this presentation. By the time I felt in the flow of eurythmy my solo was already over.
Now I am looking forward to our last session in July. I am busy working on an Adagio by Mozart and a poem by Denise Levertov, both solo forms I need to present in July.  I am glad for this rich experience, for getting to know eurythmists further afield and making new contacts. Coralee and Michael are great guides in this process and I appreciate their ongoing support. If any of you are interested, they are hoping to start another course this fall. I know it is a long way away, but Oslo is well worth a visit and if you are looking for an artistic “boost” as well as a BA, this is a great way to get it both!!

The Rebirth of Poetics out of the Spirit of Eurythmy

Fundamentals of a Goethean Approach to Poetics and Meter
Dr. Hedwig Greiner-Vogel
A summary and translation of Dr. Greiner’s life research, compiled by Cynthia Hoven

“The moving forces of the supersensible nature of the human being prepare the formative speech of poetry.  This hidden eurythmy was, in primeval time, the preparatory step of all language.  Just as all language has arisen out of sacred rituals, so has poetry arisen out of dance, ritual dances, which recreated the path of the stars in manifold, strictly lawful forms.  The rhythms of the stars, which have their microcosmic correspondences in the rhythmic organization, are the primal movement forces of the metered step, the poetic ‘ foot’ and the forms of poetry which have arisen there from.  The meters and poetic forms which have come down to us from ancient cultures still show spurs of these origins, and can become visible once again through eurythmy.”   p. 132

In the art of eurythmy, new perceptions of the nature of poetry are possible.  To assist both eurythmy itself and the enlivening and understanding of poetry, it is necessary to research the basic elements of the latter, namely, sounds, meter, and poetic forms.  Indeed, the study of these should be an integral part of any eurythmy training.

One of the fundamental principles of eurythmy is that speech itself springs out of the spiritual world itself, and that when humans speak, they are expressing their spiritual nature.  Vowels are expressions of the personality, and consonants are the sounds which echo and imitate nature.  The interplay of both, the alphabet, embodies in one sense the totality of the human being.

A study of language reveals an evolution of the relationship to sounds.  Greece, for instance, still ascribed names to its sounds, such as alpha for the first letter.  The Latin alphabet calls the same sound merely ‘a.’  (Such reductionism is also evident in the acronyms which are increasingly common.)  Ancient runes as well as the Hebrew Kaballah reflect the power of single sounds.  It is also said that sounds were danced in ancient cultures: eurythmy is a re-enlivenment of these dances.

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