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Eurythmy as Visible Singing

On-line since: 30th November, 2014

Translator's Preface and Acknowledgments

‘A translation has to be made out of the spirit of the language of the country just as if the respective book were written in this language’ (R. Steiner, Soul Economy and Waldorf Education, Lecture 14, 5.1.22, GA303 [RSP/AP 1986]). With this sentence, Steiner encapsulates the translator's ideal. It is echoed by Gerald Vann: ‘Translation must always of course be a rendering not of word for word but of idea for idea; to be content to transliterate is merely illiterate’ (G. Vann, ‘Translator's Note to Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe [Collins, London 1965]). I do not think any translator believes a fixed ‘fundamentalist’ view concerning Steiner's terms is a tenable position. Words with Teutonic roots are not automatically holy or accurate, whoever the author might be. Nor does anybody claim pommes de terre has anything to do with apples! We have all heard of ‘anthrospeak’, that habit of jargonizing which we try to avoid in serious discourse. We all know that language is a living reality, and we try to be sensitive to its development.

These remarks arise from a perception that general awareness of our use of language is not as precise as it might be, that several factors are involved, and that a translator of a text on music inherits a difficult and controversial situation from which, nevertheless, I am convinced much good can result. Questions of terminology began to be aired at last in the Newsletter of the Association of Eurythmists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Aberdeen, Winter 1993. Potential critics may care to know that the aims expressed in Anna Meuss' article ‘Translating Rudolf Steiner's lectures’ (in Anthroposophy Today No. 20, RSP Autumn 1993) match my own. Most translators working in English owe much to her example. With the question of spelling and what to italicize, I have followed The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (1991). The few alternative American musical terms are included in brackets.

The course of lectures on music eurythmy translated here was held in February, 1924, for an audience of eurythmists and musicians. It represents the greatest of Steiner's contributions to music, and should interest all artists. Other lecture courses were planned, including one for musicians, but Steiner's death in 1925 prevented this. Nevertheless a rich fund of insights was offered with which artists can begin working: the lectures published under the title Das Wesen des Musikalischen GA283, most of which are published in The Inner Nature of Music and the Experience of Tone (AP 1983), also Art as seen in the Light of Mystery Wisdom GA275 (AP 1984), and The Arts and their Mission GA276 (AP 1964). Lea van der Pals, a leading eurythmist in Dornach, has achieved a creative synthesis of what Steiner gave on the subject in her book, The Human Being as Music (The Robinswood Press, Stourbridge 1992).

Eurythmie als Sichtbarer Gesang GA278, was first published in English as Eurythmy as Visible Song in 1932. In the second edition (1977) this title was changed to Eurythmy as Visible Music, presumably on the grounds that eurythmy is not practised with singers (for reasons Steiner gives in Lecture 7 below). However, the original designation sichtbarer Gesang is unusual in German, too. The literal translation ‘visible singing’ is what Steiner had in mind, more active than either ‘visible music’ or ‘visible song’. (Steiner sometimes said sichtbares Singen, ‘visible singing’ [14.2.20 in GA277 and Tb642, and in the essay ‘Das Goetheanum ...’ IV, 1924 in GA36 and Tb635, p. 142]; and in Lecture 6, in connection with instrumental music, he said Gesangseurythmie — ‘a singing eurythmy’.) Gesang is translated as ‘singing’ because it points to three central issues:

(1) the human being as creative source of music;

(2) the origin of all instrumental music in singing, intrinsically and historically;

(3) the possibility of expressing this human essence in artistic movement.

Steiner sums it up: ‘Eurythmy is a singing through movement; it is singing. It is not dancing; it is not mime’ (Lecture 7; see GA277, p. 337 too). Ralph Kux explains: The eurythmic artist ... perceives instrumental music through the ear and straight away transforms it into an inwardly heard singing, and fashions this singing into visible movement. Consequently we can speak of a “visible singing” and not of a “visible music” ’ (R. Kux, Erinnerungen an Rudolf Steiner, Mellinger Verlag [Stuttgart 1976], p. 52; translation A. S.).

It also seems reasonable that a conscientious translator should be consistent in following the use of one of the main branches of the English language. Clarity of meaning is thereby encouraged. As this translation aims, in the first place, for accuracy in English as it is used in Britain, we should clarify three words. The German Ton means ‘sound’, more specifically ‘musical sound’, and ‘note’. In the USA the term ‘tone’ might cover some, but not all, of the uses: both English and American musicians sing and play ‘notes’. To British musicians, the word ‘tone’ denotes a major second; it also refers to the quality of sound. Interestingly, Shakespeare's Titania begs, ‘I pray you gentle mortal, sing again / Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note’; Don Pedro advises: ‘do it in notes’. Steiner, too, sometimes uses Note and Noten in his lectures. Eurythmy employs sound as its raw material: Laut — speech sound, Ton — musical sound. For Lauteurythmie we rightly say ‘speech eurythmy’, and for Toneurythmie, logically ‘music eurythmy’. This term suggests itself as one which avoids misunderstanding and consequently one which could be internationally acceptable. But it may genuinely not be desirable to have an ‘internationally acceptable’ term.

Incidentally, Steiner uses the expressions musikalische Eurythmie (‘musical eurythmy’) and musikalisches Eurythmisieren (literally ‘musical eurythmizing’) in Lecture 5; musikalische Eurythmisierende (‘the person engaged in music eurythmy’) in Lecture 6, and Musikgebärde (‘gestures of music [eurythmy]’) in Lecture 1. Owen Barfield, in his article ‘The Art of Eurythmy’, in The Golden Blade (London 1954), speaks of ‘speech eurythmy’, ‘musical eurythmy’, and simply ‘eurythmy’.

The Romance languages use the words ‘music’ and ‘musical’: eurythmie musicale (French), euritmia musicale (Italian), eurythmia da musica (Portuguese), eurythmia de la musica (Spanish). Hebrew possesses only one word for both musical and speech sound (tzlil), and so uses ‘music’ too: oritmia im-musica. Eastern Europe uses the word ‘musical’, for example: muzikalaija evritmija (Russian), musikalna evritmia (Bulgarian). The Japanese, too, use their equivalent word for ‘music’. Since this translation uses English as it is spoken in Britain, Ton is translated as ‘sound’, ‘musical sound’ and ‘note’ according to the context. Here, as in general, I have been guided by the Oxford Dictionary of Music (1985) and The New Oxford Companion to Music (1983), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980), and Collins Encyclopaedia of Music (1976). Those who feel they are closer to the Teutonic tradition, and who prefer the earlier terms ‘tone’ and ‘tone-eurythmy’ that have been hallowed by use, will realize that these terms sound like jargon, at least in Britain. It should also be said that the modern meaning of the word ‘tone’ for acoustics and electronics, for example, as implied in ‘a musical note, without its harmonics’ (from the first sentence of the entry ‘Tone’ in The International Cyclopaedia of Music and Musicians, ed. Oscar Thompson [Dodd, Mead and Co, New York and Toronto / Dent, London; 10th edition 1975], p. 2293), is the opposite of what Steiner means by Ton. However, I have been asked to retain the term ‘tone eurythmy’ in the lectures.

Eurythmists, Steiner explains, have to ‘raise’ their bodies ‘through work’, so that their bodies (their instruments) can appear as if moving in the etheric realm. Translators, similarly, have to ‘raise’ their thinking. In fact, anyone who manages to do this can ‘approach [the archangel] Michael’ (lecture 13.1.24 in GA233a). ‘Christology,’ Steiner says elsewhere (Lecture 1.8.15), ‘has nothing to do with any division of man and mankind.’ But he does emphasize that realization comes only from within. The ‘raising’ mentioned above is also attempted by all those who have contributed their labour of love to the present work. No translation, of course, can claim to be ‘perfect’. Even were this translation good, it could still be better. Any comments in this direction that would assist preparation for the day when a fourth edition is needed, will be appreciated. Endnote numbers in square brackets refer to the section ‘Notes to the Lectures’ in the companion volume to the present lectures. This companion volume also contains eight Appendices on specific subjects.

Eurythmists will be for ever grateful to Marie Steiner for her incalculable contribution to eurythmy. Her main concern, however, was the speech work. Her synopsis of the present lectures which appeared in the first edition (Eurythmy as Visible Song) even contains an occasional misleading statement. Her original titles for these lectures have been slightly revised here. This third edition of Eurythmy as Visible Singing is planned to appear during the bicentenary of Schiller's Aesthetic Letters (1794) and the centenary of Steiner's own The Philosophy of Freedom (1894). Both books are recommended by Steiner for eurythmy students. What worthier companions could be imagined for the present lecture course, which is an attempt to blaze a trail between naturalism and abstraction in art, in order to get beyond materialism? May this edition, planned to appear in 1994 (seventy years after the lectures were held), encourage a further step in bringing about that which Goethe called ‘Nature's worthiest exponent, Art’.

Last Modified: 17-May-2018
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