COMPANION

Influences on F. M. Alexander

Influences on early writings

The First 43 Years of the Life of F. Matthias Alexander, volumes 1–2, by Jeroen Staring (1996) covers predominantly possible influences on Alexander and his technique until 1912 by comparing Alexander’s writings with contemporary people’s writings.[1]

Influence on voice and breathing

In his 1894–95 writings F. M. Alexander mentions or quotes from the following voice and breathing authors:

  • Lennox Browne and Emile Behnke (authors of Voice Song and Speech, 1883, and others).[2]
  • Andrew Comstock (author of A System of Elocution, 1841, and others).[3]
  • Leo Kofler (author of Art of breathing, 1887, first published as The old Italian school of singing, 1883).[4]
  • C. T. Hartley (author of Natural Elocution, 1870, and others).[5]
  • T. P. Hill (author of The Oratorical Trainer, 1862).[6]

As some of these are quoted in other books, it is not clear whether Alexander had read the books in which the quotes originally appeared.

Delsarte

To which extend Delsarte’s teaching influenced Alexander has been debated, with some claiming the influence was insignificant and others claiming Alexander plagiarised Delsarte.

It is known that Alexander’s letterhead (c. 1900) refers to him teaching ‘The famous Delsarte system as applied to dramatic expression, deportment, gesture and vocalisation’ among others.[7] Alexander’s prospectus for his Sydney Dramatic and Operatic Conservatorium (1902) advertises the Delsarte System as a special feature of the full course of study.[8]

Alexander, in his teaching, would guide pupils on their toes, and probably got the idea of applying the Technique to raising on to the toes from Delsarte. A book on Delsarte’s system in 1892 states that ‘if correct position is attained, the rising on the toes can be accomplished without swaying the body forward – a good test of correct position.’[9]

In a letter in Direction John Coffin asks where is the evidence that Alexander plagiarised Delsarte for his Technique.[10] Robert Rickover replies in the same issue.[11]

  • ‘Delsarte, Dewey and Alexander’ by Malcolm Williamson examines possible influences of Delsarte’s teaching on Alexander.[12]
  • ‘Speaking with the tongues of men and of angels’ by Malcolm Williamson considers early influences on F. M. Alexander (mainly 1889–1900), including Delsarte.[13]

Evolution

  • ‘F. M. Alexander and evolution’ by Jean M. O. Fischer, a two-part article, considers some of the various 19th century evolutionary ideas which could have influenced Alexander.[14]
  • ‘F. M. and Samuel Butler’ by Jeroen Staring argues that Alexander’s evolutionary views were identical to those of Samuel Butler (a theory of inheritance of acquired habits).[15]

John Dewey

  • Over and above providing forewords to three of Alexander’s books, and being quoted by Alexander (e.g. the phrasing ‘thinking in activity’), there has more recently been an examination of Dewey’s more indirect influence on Alexander’s writings in terms of vocabulary, psychology, and science. The most comprehensive paper is Malcolm Williamson’s ‘Dewey’s influence on Alexander’.[16] For examples it argues that Alexander’s description of his evolution of his technique in UoS follows a scientific step-by-step procedure outlined by John Dewey. (For Alexander’s influence on John Dewey, see John Dewey.) However, Jean Fischer argues against even the possibility of this in his ‘Some thoughts on F. M. Alexander’s story of the evolution of the Technique’.[17]

Doctors

Jeroen Staring argues in a section titled, ‘Spicer’s method: today’s Alexander Technique’s underpinning’, in his book that Alexander was influenced by Dr R. H. Scanes-Spicer.[18]

Magnus

Alexander’s concept, or at least phrasing, of the ‘primary control’, is influenced by Magnus’ concept of a ‘central control’. See Science > Rudolf Magnus’s research for details.

Others

F. M. Alexander quotes Herbert Spencer, J. G. Frazer, and William James, but it is not known to what extent he had read them.

Alexander adopted a number of expressions and concepts of his day, many of which are no longer used by the majority of Alexander Technique teachers, for example ‘mechanical advantage’, ‘ideomotor’, ‘operational verification’, the ‘whole man’.

  • ‘Alexander Technique and its elocutionary inheritance: A view of how we got to here’ by Malcolm Williamson, in two parts, considers 18th and 19th century elocution movement, especially people dealing with stammeing and stuttering, in particular Samuel Angier, Charles Angier, John Broster, John Thelwall, John Gough, Thomas Hunt, and James Hunt.[19] [20]
  • ‘How did the concept of “primary control” evolve during Alexander's lifetime?’ by Malcolm Williamson considers Alexander’s view of the primary control over the years and some possible early elocutionary influences on Alexander’s ideas.[21]
  • ‘Lengthening and widening, and Alexander’s “secret”’ by Malcolm Williamson examines possible early influences on Alexander’s concept of lengthening and widening the back such as the physician Halls Dally and his 1908 x-ray studies of the movements of the vertebral column and diaphragm during breathing.[22]

See also F. M. Alexander’s Writings, John Dewey, François Delsarte, R. H. Scanes-Spicer.

References

[1] The First 43 Years of the Life of F. Matthias Alexander, Volumes 1–2, by Jeroen Staring (Jeroen Staring, 1996).
[2] ‘Elocution as an Accomplishment’ (1894) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), p. 4.
[3] ‘Speech Culture and Natural Elocution’ (1895) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), p. 7.
[4] ‘Speech Culture and Natural Elocution’ (1895) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), p. 9.
[5] ‘Elocution as an Accomplishment’ (1894) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), p. 3.
[6] ‘Speech Culture and Natural Elocution’ (1895) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), p. 12.
[7] Reproduced in Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), p. 13.
[8] Facsimile in Up From Down Under by Rosslyn McLeod (Mouritz, 2017), p. 204.
[9] Gestures and Attitudes by Edward B. Warman (Lee and Shepard, 1892), p. 88.
[10] ‘Counterpoint’ letter by John Coffin in Direction vol. 2, no. 9 edited by Jeremy Chance (Fyncot Pty Ltd., 2000), pp. 32-33.
[11] ‘Counterpoint’ letter by Robert Rickover in Direction vol. 2, no. 9 edited by Jeremy Chance (Fyncot Pty Ltd., 2000), p. 33.
[12] ‘Delsarte, Dewey and Alexander’ by Malcolm Williamson in The Alexander Journal no. 24 edited by Paul Marsh and Jamie McDowell (STAT, 2014), pp. 52-56.
[13] ‘Speaking with the tongues of men and of angels’ by Malcolm Williamson in Connected Perspectives edited by Claire Rennie, Tanya Shoop, Kamal Thapen (HITE, 2015), pp. 137–63.
[14] ‘F. M. Alexander and evolution’ by Jean M. O. Fischer, Part 1 in Direction vol. 1 no. 6 (Direction, 1990), pp. 239-44, and Part 2 in Direction vol. 1 no. 7 (Direction, 1991), pp. 287–91.
[15] ‘F. M. and Samuel Butler’ by Jeroen Staring, in Direction vol. 2, no. 4 edited by Jeremy Chance (Fyncot Pty Ltd., 1996), pp. 22–25.
[16] ‘Dewey’s influence on Alexander’ by Malcolm Williamson in The Alexander Journal no. 26, Spring 2017 (STAT, 2017), pp. 29-44.
[17] ‘Some thoughts on F. M. Alexander’s story of the evolution of the Technique’ by Jean M. O. Fischer in AmSAT Journal no. 17 (AmSAT, Fall 2020), pp. 19–27.
[18] Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869–1955 – The Origins and History of the Alexander Technique by Jeroen Staring (Integral, 2005), pp. 232–34.
[19] ‘Alexander Technique and its elocutionary inheritance: A view of how we got to here–Part One’ by Malcolm Williamson in STATNews vol. 10, no. 6 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, September 2020), pp. 18–22. Re-published in STATNews vol. 11, no. 2 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, May 2021), pp. 18–22.
[20] ‘Alexander Technique and its elocutionary inheritance: A view of how we got to here–Part Two’ by Malcolm Williamson in STATNews vol. 11, no. 1 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, January 2021), pp. 19–22.
[21] ‘How did the concept of “primary control” evolve during Alexander's lifetime’ by Malcolm Williamson in The Alexander Journal no. 28 edited by Paul Marsh and Jamie McDowell (STAT, 2021), pp. 11–21.
[22] ‘Lengthening and widening, and Alexander’s “secret”’ by Malcolm Williamson in The Alexander Journal no. 28 edited by Paul Marsh and Jamie McDowell (STAT, 2021), pp. 78–87.
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