COMPANION

F. Matthias Alexander (1869–1955)

Life

Frederick Matthias Alexander was born in Tasmania in 1869. He started to evolve his technique in the early 1890s. It was initially developed to solve the frequent loss of voice he suffered working as a reciter. A successful reciter and teacher of elocution he toured Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. He first taught the Technique as applied to elocution, but he gradually discovered how applicable it is to all activities of living and how fundamental a contribution to health and well-being it makes. He settled first in Melbourne, and later in Sydney where he advertised his Operatic and Dramatic Conservatory in 1902.

Encouraged by doctors, Alexander moved to London in 1904. He had great success in introducing his technique to the acting community and in medical circles and wrote several pamphlets on the health benefits of the Technique as well as its application to breathing and voice production (reproduced in his Articles and Lectures). It was with Man’s Supreme Inheritance (1910), that he first presented his evolutionary hypothesis developed from his practical experience: that we are evolving from the instinctive to the conscious in the use of ourselves. Our innate ability consciously to adapt by the means of the primary control is our ‘supreme inheritance.’

During the period 1914–24 he also taught regularly in New York and Boston where John Dewey became his pupil and supporter and wrote forewords not only to the next edition of Man's Supreme Inheritance (1918), but also to Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923) and The Use of the Self (1932). In these books he developed and expanded his theme, including examples and case stories as illustrations.

During the 1920s and 1930s Alexander’s pupils included Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Leonard Woolf, Sir Stafford Cripps, The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Earl of Lytton and doctors, scientists and performers.

In 1924 he encouraged and oversaw the establishment of the ‘Little School’, initially run by Irene Tasker, where children were taught with attention to the ‘means-whereby’ in contrast to the ‘end-gaining’ mentality which neglects the ‘how’ in every activity.

In 1931 Alexander started a 3-year course, training teachers in his technique, which ensured its survival and continual expansion.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Alexander moved the school to the USA. Here he finished his last book, The Universal Constant in Living (1942). He returned to London in 1943.

In 1945 Alexander sued the South African journal Manpower for defamation and won the case in 1948 after a two-week court case, with expert witnesses on both sides.

In 1947 Alexander suffered a stroke which paralysed his left side. He used his technique to fully recover from his stroke and continued to teach to within a few days of his death.

Legacy

The Alexander Technique is now taught by resident teachers in 39 countries, and more countries have visiting teachers. It is particularly well-established in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Australia, and Israel. There are over 20 societies of teachers worldwide. The Technique is part of the curriculum in music conservatories in England (and several drama colleges), and there are several hundred books and 2–3 current journals on the Technique.

Autobiography

A short, unfinished autobiographical sketch by Alexander (written c. 1950) covers his years in Australia (1869-1904) and was published in Articles and Lectures (1995).[1]

Biographies – Books

  • F. P. Jones’ Freedom to Change (1976) is not a formal biography, but an introduction to the Alexander Technique by way of relating Alexander’s story. Jones knew Alexander from 1940 onwards.[2]
  • Up From Down Under by Rosslyn McLeod (1994) covers Alexander’s years in Australia (1869-1904).[3]
  • The First 43 Years of the Life of F. Matthias Alexander, volumes 1–2, by Jeroen Staring (1996) cover predominantly possible influences on Alexander and his technique until 1912 by comparing Alexander’s writings with contemporary people’s writings.[4]
  • The biography by Jackie Evans (2001) is a family history, providing a detailed family tree, and tells the story of Alexander’s life and immediate family. Evans was a niece to Alexander. The biography does not cover Alexander’s technique.[5]
  • The biography by Michael Bloch (2004) is a traditional life biography, with its focus on Alexander’s life story and the development of his work.[6]
  • Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869–1955 – The Origins and History of the Alexander Technique by Jeroen Staring (2005) is a dissertation on F. M. Alexander and the history of the Technique, criticising the unprofessionalism of teachers, lack of standards, the continued propogation of Alexander’s evolutionary theory, the many hagiographies of F. M. Alexander, the lack of critical writings on Alexander, etc.[7]
  • Frederick Mathias Alexander in New Zealand, 1895 by Jeroen Staring (2005) documents chronologically Alexander’s recital tour in New Zealand March to December 1895, based on newspapers cuttings.[8]
  • Biographical articles
  • A brief biography, prepared by Ron Brown during Alexander’s lifetime, was edited and published later as a pamphlet by Walter Carrington: ‘F. Matthias Alexander 1869–1955’ by Walter H. M. Carrington.[9]
  • ‘A short biography of Alexander’ by Wilfred Barlow was published in his The Alexander Principle by Wilfred Barlow.[10]
  • ‘F. M. Alexander – An historical overview’ by Rosslyn McLeod provides an overview of Alexander’s life in Australia, before moving to London in 1904.[11]
  • ‘F. M. Alexander: The unwritten biography’ by Michael Bloch is a critical assessment of Alexander, asking a number of unanswered questions regarding Alexander’s life story.[12]
  • ‘F. M. Alexander: His life and technique’ by Anne Battye provides a brief overview of Alexander’s life and work.[13]
  • ‘An early history of Alexander in Australia’ by Megan Rathbone is a brief overview of F. M. Alexander’s parents and grandparents.[14]

For specific events in Alexander’s life, see History > Pre-1955 events.

Bibliographies

1300 Alexander Technique References by Jeroen Staring contains sources on material on F. M. Alexander, the Technique, and related (mainly historical) works, up to 2006.[15]

See also Descriptions of F. M. Alexander, F. M. Alexander’s writings, Criticisms of Alexander, Criticisms of Alexander’s writings.

Frederick Matthias Alexander *20 January 1869 – †10 October 1955.

References

[1] Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), pp. 221-49.
[2] Freedom to Change [Body Awareness in Action] by Frank Pierce Jones (Mouritz, 1997 [1976]).
[3] Up From Down Under by Rosslyn McLeod (Mouritz, 2017).
[4] The First 43 Years of the Life of F. Matthias Alexander, Volumes 1–2, by Jeroen Staring (Jeroen Staring, 1996).
[5] Frederick Matthias Alexander – A Family History by Jackie Evans (Phillimore & Co., 2001).
[6] F. M. the Life of Frederick Matthias Alexander by Michael Bloch (Little Brown, 2004).
[7] Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869–1955 – The Origins and History of the Alexander Technique by Jeroen Staring (Integral, 2005).
[8] Frederick Mathias Alexander in New Zealand, 1895 by Jeroen Staring (Integral, 2005).
[9] ‘F. Matthias Alexander 1869-1955’ by Walter H. M. Carrington (The Sheildrake Press, 1979).
[10] ‘A short biography of Alexander’ by Wilfred Barlow in The Alexander Principle by Wilfred Barlow (Gollancz, 1973), pp. 203–06.
[11] ‘F. M. Alexander – An historical overview’ by Rosslyn McLeod in The Congress Papers 1994, The Meaning of Change, 125 Years On, edited by David Garlick (Direction, 1996), pp. 105–106.
[12] ‘F. M. Alexander: The unwritten biography’ by Michael Bloch in The Congress Papers 2004, Exploring the Principles edited by Anna Oppenheimer (STATBooks, 2005), pp. 32–42.
[13] ‘F. M. Alexander: His life and technique’ by Anne Battye in Connected Perspectives edited by Claire Rennie, Tanya Shoop, Kamal Thapen (HITE, 2015), pp. 327–32.
[14] ‘An early history of Alexander in Australia’ by Megan Rathbone in Direction vol. 1, no. 5 edited by Jeremy Chance (Fyncot Pty Ltd., 1989), pp. 179–80.
[15] 1300 Alexander Technique References by Jeroen Staring (Integraal, 2010), booklet.
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