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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

VII. The Plastic Formation of Speech

2 July 1924, Dornach

My dear Friends,

The possibilities inherent in eurhythmy will only be realized when the eurhythmist is able to create the movements, in all their detail, out of the nature of speech itself. In eurhythmy it is almost as important to have an intimate understanding of the sounds of speech as it is to have a knowledge of the actual eurhythmic movements. For this reason I will show you to-day the way in which the plastic formation of speech can definitely influence eurhythmy. Now the plastic, formative element is in the ordinary way not fully manifested, for it passes over into sound. It is the task of eurhythmy to bring the plastic element to visible expression.

When we direct our attention to the plastic element in the sounds of speech, – and here we naturally take the consonants, for they lend themselves more particularly to plastic interpretation, imitating as they do the things and processes of the external world, – we find that the sounds divide up into four types. First we have the sounds which are quite definitely built up after the pattern of f or s; then we have the sounds of the type of b, p, d, or t. When you compare the sounds of these two groups you will find that they are completely different from one another. The s and f-sounds are formed by allowing the breath stream to be blown freely outwards. With the other sounds, d, t, b, p, the breath stream is first inwardly controlled, and it is released much more consciously; it is not blown out in this case, but thrust out. Thus we must distinguish between the ‘blowing’ or breath sounds, and the ‘thrusting’ sounds, or sounds of force.

The nature of these two types is therefore completely different. The breath sounds yield up, as it were, the inner being of man more or less passively to the outer world. They make use of the outgoing stream of the breath in order to release the inbreathed air from the body. So that these out-breathing sounds entirely depend upon the fact that the air passes outwards.

Now this breath stream always takes to itself the form, the shape of the body. 'It does not, however, assert itself in the outer world, but scatters itself abroad, so that the breath sounds, always have the characteristic of yielding themselves up to the world outside. It is essential to grasp the character of the breath sounds and to realize that they yield themselves up to the outer world. Man allows this outer world to do as it will with him not, naturally, as regards his physical body, but as regards the form which he has transmitted to the out-going breath stream.

In the case of the consonants of force this is quite otherwise. Here we master the form given to the breath. We permeate: it, as it were, with our ego; we do not permit the sound to scatter itself immediately, but compel it to retain its form for a time in the outer world. Thus in the consonants of force man appears as master in his relation to the outer world, so that here, one cannot speak of a yielding oneself up to the outer world, but, of an assertion of one’s own inner being.

These two types of sound comprise the great proportion of the consonants. In reality the breath sounds express sympathy with the outer world and sounds of force sympathy with oneself. The breath sounds are free from egoism; the sounds of force are egotistical. We shall always find that when we make use of the consonants of force we do so in order to express what needs, to be expressed in sharp outlines.

You know already that there is a strong plastic element in the German language. And now, bearing this in mired, let us take a word beginning with a consonant of force: Baum, b. You will invariably notice that a consonant of force produces the effect of sharp outlines. The breath sounds, on the other hand, will never produce such outlines; they describe the reverse of everything clear-cut and definite. For instance s in the word: sei is a breath sound.

One must of course keep strictly to essentials when dealing with such matters. You will naturally be able to find any number of words which seem as though they should be expressed by means of sharp outlines, and which, nevertheless, contain breath sounds. You will, however, usually discover in such a case, that you must try to introduce a more indefinite element into the movement, in spite of the necessity for sharp outlines which may also be present.

Now the breath sounds are: h, ch, j, sch, s, w, v. The sounds of force are: d, t, b, p, g, k, m, and n. These latter are all consonants of force, sounds which express the more egotistical attitude of soul, the assertion of one’s own individual being, which one wishes to safeguard in the world outside.

Then we have a sound which lends itself particularly well to the imitation of something which is turning, which is revolving. This is the r-sound, which is produced by a vibration in, the outgoing breath-stream. R is the vibrating sound.

Then we have another sound in which, when articulated rightly, the tongue must imitate a storm-tossed sea: l. We must make undulating movements with the tongue. L is the wave-sound.

Why do we need these two sounds? We need them when we wish to express, not merely the merging with the outer world, nor the strengthening of the self, but something which has movement actually inherent within it. Movement and form are, of course, expressed both in the breath sounds and the sounds of force, but these sounds are not to the same degree an embodiment of self-contained movement as such.

When we understand the true nature of the r-sound, we find that it contains something which lies midway between the yielding up of oneself and self-assertion. The r expresses a certain reserve; it calls up a feeling of reserve in the spiritual and soul nature of man. For this reason we express with the r-sound everything which we are able to grasp and take hold of as we take hold of our own being, when forming a resolution, when making a resolve (raten). Resolve (Rat) is a word which illustrates particularly well the special characteristic of the sound r. When we make a resolution we turn something over and form a judgment. This feeling of turning something over in order to make a resolution is always to be found when we enter into the nature of r; so that we express with words containing the sound r those things in the outer world which have a certain similarity to this mood of turning something over and thereby forming a judgment. Thus the r-sound has an egotistical quality. It does not yield up what it has created to the outer world, but retains it for itself and in itself.

And the l is the sound which expresses reaction, but reflection mingled with a certain yielding tendency. One would rather listen to what is said than come to a decision for oneself; one allows someone else to decide; a feeling of waiting lies in the inner experience of l.

Now the point is to bring the plastic nature of these sounds to actual eurhythmic expression. The special characteristic of the breath sounds can best be shown in eurhythmy by moving the body in such a way that the sounds are carried with it, or, in other words, by trying to follow the direction of the sounds with the body. Try, for instance, to make an s, moving the body in such a way that it follows in the direction of the arms as they form the sound. Make the movement d or s, to begin, with quite quietly; now make it very clearly, so that one sees that you are following the movement with the body. If the movement tends in a forward direction, let the upper part of the body follow after it, if it tends backwards the upper part of the body must be thrown backwards also. You must have control over the whole body, and allow it to swing with the sound, to swing in the direction of the sound. Try this also with f, for example; let the body follow after the sound.

Now we will turn to a consonant of force. Here, too, the point is to bring the nature of the sound into the movement of the body. In this case the body must not be allowed to move, but must bring about the desired effect by means of its posture. The body must show that it intends to come to rest, to fix, as it were, the movement which is indicated by the sound. Take b to begin with, make it just as you like; and now stiffen yourself, stand quite still and stiffen yourself, so that one can see clearly , that the sound is held. This stiffening of the body must be carried out in such a way that you actually feel it in your muscles. This inner rigidity gives to the consonants of force their special character.

It is deeply interesting go consider such things, for in the breath sounds what really comes to expression is this: I will have nothing to do with Lucifer; everything which is Luciferic must disappear.– And the consonants of force express this feeling: I will hold fast to Ahriman, for if he escapes me he will poison everything; he must be held fast.– Thus the influence of Lucifer and of Ahriman has been implanted into these sounds.

R can only be expressed fully when one tries to move the body, gently but with a certain swing and grace, in an upward and downward direction.

In order to carry out the I-sound correctly there must be a free movement of the body forwards and backwards, not following the movement in this case, but showing two independent activities. When making the movement for a breath sound, the body must follow the direction of the arms; it must, as it were, accompany the movement. When making the wave-sound, the body must have an independent movement, free and rhythmic, – forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards. This rocking, which is carried out by changing the weight alternately from the heels to the toes, must be made externally visible. You will find how well you are able to do this if you imagine that you have a rod under your feet, and see-saw, as it were, to and fro, keeping the rod – which you may picture as rolling slightly, midway between the toes and the heels. The best way to practise it is to swing so far forward that you nearly fall, only just retaining your balance,– and then to swing so far backwards that you are once more in danger of falling. If you should happen really to fall it is of no consequence; it will only serve to impress upon you the feeling of the movement.

If you practise the movement in this way it will gradually become habit, and you will be able to make the rocking so pronounced that you only stop at the very moment of falling, so that the onlooker would be inclined to say: How clever not to fall! With practice such skill may be attained in the carrying out of the l sound, that the onlooker is left with the impression: How clever to be able to do that without falling!

By such means you will be able really to enter into and grasp the whole inner character of the sounds of speech.

Now we can gain a further understanding of speech and language by trying to enter into the nature of the diphthongs. The diphthongs naturally consist of a combination of two separate and essential parts. (Frl. S.... will you demonstrate the movement for eu.)1In the German language eu corresponds to the Eng1ish oi as in ‘toil’

What lies in this sound? It consists of e and u; both these sounds are contained within the eu but are, as it were, left uncompleted. Try to indicate an e, and an u. Stop the e movement just as it is being formed. What would it become if it were formed completely? We will assume for the moment that the movement has been completed.... But now check the movement half-way.... You have not yet carried it out fully, and instead of doing so must lead it over into the u-sound. What do we do when completely forming an u? The arms approach one another so closely that they actually touch. The eu-movement must be carried out in such a way that the arms do not merely cross one another as in the case of the e-sound, but lie side by side, the definite contact being indicated by a feeling of trying to raise the arms up towards the head. This gives you the feeling for eu.

Thus we begin to enter into the nature of the diphthongs. We bring together the two component parts, but in such a way that they are only suggested, not carried out completely.

This, at the same time, leads you to an understanding of a very essential characteristic of speech, of sound as such. It is in the diphthongs that you can best study the transition from one sound to the next. And at this point we must consider what kind of text is most suited to the eurhythmic expression of such transitions. I know of an Austrian philosopher, Bartholomäus Carneri by name, who, during the last years of his life, wrote even his most difficult philosophical works in such a way that they could easily be expressed in eurhythmy. This philosopher would have been driven to distraction if he had come across such a sentence as the following, for example Lebe echte Empfindungen.—He would have thought it appalling. And why? He was simply disgusted when a word ending with a vowel was followed by another word beginning with a vowel. He asserted that such a thing should never be allowed to occur, but that wherever possible one should avoid a vowel sound at the end of one word being followed by a vowel sound at the beginning of the next. Indeed, he went so far as to write whole articles in which he endeavoured never to bring vowel sounds into juxtaposition, but always to let the transition from one word to the next be brought about by means of the consonants

When two vowels, or a vowel and a consonant come together, and you wish to express this in eurhythmy, you will find that you have to do so by means of gentle, soft movements. On the other hand you will make the movements decided,—they will become decided by themselves,—when one word ends and the next word begins with a consonant, it is important in eurhythmy really to observe what takes place when different sounds, sounds of a different character come together. This can best be studied in the diphthongs, for the diphthong is only truly brought to expression when the movement for the first sound is shown in its beginning and then led over into the latter part of the movement for the second sound.

Bearing this principle in mind, let us now form the ei-sound.2The ei in the German language corresponds to the English i as in ‘tide’. Let us, in the first place, make the two sounds concerned,—’ that is to say the e and i sounds as such, Now try not to complete the e-sound, but to check it as it comes into being, leading it over immediately into the final stage of the movement for i. In this way we have really formed the ei. Take as an example : Main Leib ist meiner Seele Schrein.’ (My body is the shrine of my soul.) Do this in such a way that you take into consideration the order of the consonants. First two sounds of force, then the ‘wave’ sound, again a sound of force, then a breath sound, followed by three sounds of force, breath sounds ‘wave ‘ sound, breath sound, vibrating sound, and lastly a sound of force.

Now you must fit the ei-sound satisfactorily in between.

You see how these things bring movement and life into Eurhythmy, but they must be really carefully studied.

Now we must try to realize the effect of the sound ei when it is specially strongly emphasized. (Frl. B. ... will you show us this example): Weiden neigen weit und breit. (Willows are swaying from side to side.) You must imagine that this picture of the swaying willows has to be portrayed in paradigmatic language. (I have omitted the word ‘sich’.) Thus we have w (English v), breath sound, then d, n, n, g, and again n, all sounds of force, again the breath sound w, followed by four sounds of force, t, n, d, b, then the vibrating sound r and lastly t, once more a sound of force.

Try now to bring all this into the sentence you are showing and those of us who are looking on must observe carefully how the characteristic ei-sound makes its appearance again and again. ‘Weiden neigen weit und breit.’

We can take still another diphthong, the au.3The German an corresponds to the English on as in ‘ground’. Here again we can let the first movement merge into the second. Try to hold the movement for a as it first arises, thus checking it when it is about half-formed and leading it over into the u. Make an a forwards and now turn it aside before reaching the final position, finishing with the movement for u. When you pass over directly from the a to the u, you get the movement for au.

But this movement, although correct, will always lack character if we merely pass over from one sound into the other.

The effect will not be sufficiently strong. On the other hand when you carry out the movement in such a way that you begin to form the a-sound with one arm, at the same time bring the other arm into contact with the body, thus forming an u,—when you do this, then you have a characteristic au. This is not the only way of making u (bringing the arms together)) but I have also made an u when I simply stand up and touch the body with the left arm, bringing it slowly downwards. Try to show these words in eurhythmy: Laut baut rauh.—The point here is not the sense of the words it is simply a eurhythmic exercise.

All this must of course be studied. Naturally you can make au in all kinds of ways; for instance, you can make it by simply bringing one arm into contact with the body (right arm in the position for a, left arm laid across the breast). You must try really to penetrate into the spirit of these things.

Now in order to enter further into the forms of the sounds and their connection with language, let us take the sound ö (as in vögels, the German word for birds). The movement is similar to the o, but accompanied by a spring. The o-movement is, as it were, torn apart. This tearing of the o-movement must be carried out with a certain lightness and grace,—and now add the spring. The spring must be made just as the o-movement is broken.

Now we will make the sound ä.4This movement is made use of in English eurhythmy for the sound a as in ‘and’. First make an a and then an e. Make the a with the legs in such a way that you step from the front backwards, at the same time making a with the arms. Thus you get the movement for ä.

There still remains the ü. It is an u, but its special characteristic is that it is carried out with the backs of the hands laid against each other, thus indicating the i-sound also. You must show the u with the feet and at the same time you must suggest an i in the movement of the arms. Instead of making an i in this way (stretched movement), it must be shown more like this (backs of hands together, one slipping past the other), Then you have the ü.5Rudolf Steiner mentioned the word ‘sweet’ as an instance in ‘which this movement could be made use of in English eurhythmy.

Take this sentence in order to see how beautiful it is when the ü-sounds are really brought out:

Prilfe dich, Schiller,
tjbe mit Muhe,
(Test thyself, Pupil,
Practise with diligence.)

These words might well be taken as a eurhythmist’s motto

Prüfe dich, Schüler,
Übe mit Mühe.

In this way we enter into the true nature of those sounds which we feet to be made up of more than one element.

What then do these diphthongs represent in language? Where do we have a diphthong, where a modified vowel? What do the diphthongs, what do the modified vowels represent in language? Wherever we have the diphthongs or modified vowels we have some such feeling as this : Now everything is becoming vague, indistinct and nebulous. This very often occurs when the singular becomes plural. For instance one brother (Bruder) makes a quite definite impression, but if we take the plural, that is to say, several brothers (Brüder), the feeling immediately becomes more indefinite. Thus the modified vowel represents impressions which are less sharply defined, and the same may be said with regard to the diphthongs.

If we enter into the nature of the diphthongs, we shall always find that something is present which cannot be looked upon as being entirely in the singular, but we are, as it were, given an impression of the plural, of things which are interwoven, bound together, or separated one from the other. We must always look for this in the diphthongs.

This is why in eurhythmy it is so wonderful when the directly visible movements which we have for a, or for i, for example, take on in the movements for the diphthongs something of a fluidic nature, something shading off into the indefinite. Eurhythmy is really able to bring to expression the deepest elements of sound and language. Thus we see how the character of the individual sounds comes to visible expression in the movements of eurhythmy.

Let us try the following exercise. We will ask Frl. Sch, and Frl. S stand here) you (Frl. S. . . .) making the sounds i, e, u in succession, and you (Frl. Sob. . . .) making the two remaining vowels, a and o. Now in order to show the exercise quite clearly, will you (Frl. S. . . .), make an i, and you (Frl. Sch, . . ,), follow this with an a, and so on alternately, e, o, u. Do this in such a way that the character of the sounds is brought clearly to expression.

Let us go back to the beginning and see what it is that we are doing (Frl. S. . . . i, Frl. Sch. . . . a.) The eurhythmist making i enters right into the form of the movement, while the eurhythmist making a, creates, as it were, the movement from outside. When Frl. S. . . makes the i-sound there is a flashing of fire, a flashing of fire outwards (this could, of course, also be done with the hand). When Frl. Sch, makes an a she attracts to herself from without the clouds and the winds.

You see how warmth, fire lies in this sound (i), and how form lies in this sound (a). In the former you have a radiating outwards, and in the latter a plastic, form-giving element. Thus Frl. S. . . has shown us the true Dionysos, the Dionysian vowels, and Frl. Sob. . . . the true Apollo, the Apollonian vowels. This is clearly to be seen when the movements are properly carried out. So that one may say that when a poem consists mainly of vowels o and a, it is a plastic poem, a poem with little movement, an Apollonian poem. On the other hand, when a poem consists mainly of the vowels i, u, e, the fire-element is predominant; it is a Dionysian poem.

From this you see how much may be expressed when we learn to read between the lines. One has only to say to Frl. S..... Make an i or an e, -and to Frl. Sch . . . make an a or an u, -and one has really said : You are a child of Dionysos; or: You are a child of Apollo.—In other words we may see in these vowels something of the cult of Dionysos, something of the cult of Apollo.

When one really experiences such things as these, it becomes possible, through eurhythmy, to draw out in the most wonderful way the inherent characteristics of speech, and to enter int0 the whole being of man.

Breath Sounds: h. sch, f. ch. s. f. v.
Letting oneself go with the outer world.
Sounds of Force : d. t. b. p. g. k. m, n.
An assertion of one’s inner being.
Vibrating Sound: r
Wave Sound: l.